Fitness and Stress – Some Thoughts On How To Manage Yourself

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Stress. It’s something we all deal with on a daily basis, whether we think much about it or not. Some of it’s good, but a lot of it, not so good.

Stress can help us in various ways, making us stronger as we adapt to new stressors. The first thing that comes to my mind is weight training.

Placing a barbell on your back and squatting it is a form of stress. Our ability to cope with that stress, and thus resurface stronger a few days later, is all about what we do outside of the gym. Sleep, rest, eating well, and the general chilling out can go a long way in making the most of this stress.

On the other hand, stress can bring us to our knees. Even in the literal sense.

It may be an injury caused by a weak link in the system (underdeveloped muscles, weak ligaments/tendons, or crappy leverages).

Or it could be an overuse problem.

Other times, it’s an issue with moving at a pace you’re not yet equipped for.

And then sometimes it’s one of those everything in my life is a train wreck kind of things where your system says “I’ve had enough!”

This past Monday I gave a lecture at Belmont University. As I wrote out my presentation, I got the jitters – much like I’d had way too much coffee or ephedrine. Right before I went in, I was nervous. I could feel my pits moistening. But as soon as I began speaking, I got lost in the moment. Calm as a Hindu cow, actually.

This stress is actually good because I can direct this nervous energy toward my performance. In this case, I used my jitters positively.

Sometimes, our lifestyle can get turned upside down, creating stress from things that were normally not an issue.

As for the latter, I recently got an email from a reader who’s obviously dealing with some stress in his life right now.

The bold is my emphasis.

I’ve been pretty consistent with a fat loss mindset and workout routine. Results were also consistent.

Then, bam! I started night shifts and my nutrition sucks. I ended up with a muscle strain and am out for a week. 

It’s all compiling into one epic fall off the wagon. I think the problem was originally rooted in the injury; I ate crap to make myself feel better. 

Unsurprisingly enough, it has made things worse and I’m sure I have negated some of my hard work the past two weeks. I tried cleaning the diet back up until I can work out again, but the sugar demons call to me from every corner.

Do I just suck it up and make the changes? How can people on a crazy work schedule keep eating and working out consistent when it is nauseating to eat real food in the middle of the night.. And it’s impossible to wake up for a workout in the day…?

Thanks, 

Kz

 

I think a lot of people can relate here.

Large shifts to our normal routine can throw us for a loop, even if what we’re used to doing doesn’t seem that difficult.

As you’ll notice in the email above, emotions are running high. It seems when one problem arose, another one appeared, then another, well into a downward spiral.

While I don’t have a quick ‘n easy solution for this, I do have some thoughts to share on what stress is, how it affects us, and some ways to cope.

First of all, I know all about stress. If you’ve not read my story, then open this in a new tab, and read it later. I also wrote about my struggle with hypothyroidism.

Stress is no joke. Add a healthy dose of barbell training and high intensity cardio on top of that, and burn out is coming, my friend.

Our bodies, while being amazingly well at adapting to various loads, cannot run full bore all the time.

I like to think that we should ebb and flow throughout our training/fitness journey (not to mention the bigger events in our lives).

Why do bodybuilders spend most of their time in the off season eating well, lifting and resting, only to spend a short amount of time in extreme contest prep?

It’s because their bodies cannot deal with the stress of competition indefinitely.

Sure, you have the outlier with an adamantium-laced metabolism, but for most mere mortals wishing to abstain from drugs, maintaining a competition-ready six pack is not simply being overzealous.

It’s just not reality.

Why do powerlifters utilize heavy training sessions followed by lighter workouts?

What about Olympic lifters who dodge the volume for sake of intensity, or the physique model who forgoes maximum intensity for near daily training?

It all comes down to how much stress we can manage.

Some of us, unfortunately aren’t as robust as others.

Also, let us not forget about training age. This is another factor often overlooked or unthought of.

Building work capacity for volume, intensity, and frequency all comes with time, and experience. Someone who’s been training for 10 years has experienced adaptations someone with 1-2 years of training simply can’t relate to.

We’re not just talking about strength here, but mainly their ability to handle volume, intensity, and most importantly, how to manage it all intelligently.

Stress is not the same for everyone, for we are unique in this regard and have our own experiences to draw from. Some can seemingly traipse along this fine line for years with little negativity to show for their playing with fire.

Others seem to completely fall apart after a moderate 8 week diet.

Now it’s not to say that diet/training are the only stressors that affect a persons life in a negative fashion.

Perhaps their other life stressors (sleep habits, career, relationships) were already crumbly, and the extra training or extreme dieting sent them into the fire, causing a cascade of negative events to manifest.

And let’s not forget that stress is indeed chemical. Chemicals like testosterone, estrogen, serotonin, dopamine, cortisol, T4, T3, etc, all within our bodies being secreted, or bound, or whatever based on what’s going on outside or body, as well as what we’re putting into our bodies.

In fact, I was reading Roman’s post on Tim Ferriss’ blog about his new book Engineering The Alpha, and I had no idea he went through some of the struggles he did.

engineering_alpha

I was 25-years old and had spent the majority of my adolescent and young adult life as a very sexual being. Like most young guys, to an extent, I defined myself by my aspects of sexuality—virility, desirability, performance… every part. And then one day, it was gone.

My lack of sex drive infiltrated every area of my life; it affected my assessment of my manhood, which crushed my confidence. Sex drive is strongly tied to all drive. When it drops, so too does your ambition, and your motivation to achieve. I suffered from depression and barely slept. My physique went to hell, and I just couldn’t muster up the energy to fix it. Without exaggeration, ever part of my life was negatively affected: my relationships, my sleep patterns, my body, and even my mind, as productivity and business were all hampered.

In short, I suffered all of symptoms of low testosterone, as well as the consequences of those symptoms. The worst part of it all was that, since I was so young, it never occurred to me to consider testosterone as a cause. That was a problem for the older men, or so I thought. So, I’d become a different person, a lesser man, all seemingly without reason.

– John Romaniello

It’s odd. I can relate to Roman’s feelings as I suffered from low testosterone back in 2007 when I was first figuring out all my thyroid issues, which I later found out was most likely a result of the maddening levels of stress I was experiencing.

I can wholly resonate with the bold as I remember waking up every day wondering what life would be like if it weren’t. It was a dark place… all because the chemicals in my body were out of whack.

So keep in mind, stress can cripple us… even the guys my age or younger.

The message here, albeit wordy, is to pay attention to stress, and then figure out what you can do about it.

So, to get back to our readers’ question:

Do I just suck it up and make the changes? How can people on a crazy work schedule keep eating and working out consistent when it is nauseating to eat real food in the middle of the night.. And it’s impossible to wake up for a workout in the day…?

My opinion is this.

No, you don’t just suck it up and make the changes. You should first pay attention to everything going on around you. What possibly could be the biggest limiting factor in your life right now?

Is it sleep issues from the new schedule? Is it actually accepting the fact you may have to work through the injury slowly, allowing it to heal at a necessary pace?

Have you given yourself enough time (2-3 weeks at least) to adjust to your new schedule? Have you tried reestablishing eating habits?

Are you making sorry food choices because of emotional problems outside of your fitness routine?

Have you evaluated how much time you can make for fitness? Are your willing to make a compromise for a routine that fits your life better as opposed to something that’s impractical?

This is something to highly consider in the case of managing realistic expectations. I’d also recommend trying some mindfulness and meditation.

You have to start by asking the right questions. Only then can you begin to find the possible solution to coping with various stressors.

Comments

  1. Val says

    It’s amazing how stress can effect us. It almost seems like it gradually happens and we don’t make the connection between shifts in emotion/sleeping/eating and the small things in our lives that could be adding more and more stress. When there is a big event, then we can usually pinpoint it after some thought; I find it’s harder to stop and evaluate sections of life over time to figure out if there have been little things that are just adding up and taking control.

  2. Kinza says

    What a wonderfully satisfying article! Sometimes we need people who have “Been there, done that” to show us the return to normalcy and routine. Thank you!

  3. says

    Solid advice JC.

    Another thing people often forget is that most of the time, the stuff we’re stressing out about really just doesn’t matter that much. For instance, being late to work is not great, but if you have a good track record over all, it’s not the end of the world.

    My best piece of advice to myself and others for managing stress is:

    Worry about the things that are in your control, and learn to deal with not controlling everything else.

  4. Josh Carter says

    Great article! I like how you mentioned using meditation at the end to get in the right mindset for managing these kinds of problems. This is a trend that is slowly becoming more and more acceptable in our western culture. Meditation can really help in this case though. It gives you time to slow down and think about the problems and limitations that are your current circumstances and some peace of mind to deal with them. That is not to mention the healing abilities that you harness within yourself when you practice meditation on a regular basis.

  5. says

    Excellent article, JC.

    Perfect timing for me, as I’m currently working on my ability to deal with every day stressors. I’ve committed myself to meditating for at least ten minutes per day for the next two months, and I’m interested to see where that leads me.

    Keep up the good work.

    Jake

  6. says

    Some great advice there JC.

    It’s important to take control of the situation – even in seemingly insignificant ways – so that the situation doesn’t start taking control of you. That’s a downward spiral waiting to happen.

    Kz – hope it all comes good for you.

    Cheers, Tim

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