When you think of a good fitness routine, what comes to mind?
It’s likely that your list would include regular exercise, eating healthy food, and maybe getting good sleep each night. Here’s another item to add: Making time to de-stress.
Almost everyone faces a little stress from time to time, but when that stress builds up or becomes chronic, it can be powerful enough to prevent fitness gains from happening altogether.
Here are three reasons why stress can be such a fitness killer, followed by some practical techniques for de-stressing.
1. Stress Increases Food Cravings
Oftentimes people struggle to lose weight and are perplexed as to why. They are doing everything “right” but still aren’t getting the results they want. Stress might be the culprit.
Have you heard of the “fight or flight” response? This is a survival mechanism that causes the body to produce adrenaline when faced with stress. Historically it was helpful when the stress was physical danger (like being attacked by a hungry bear in the wild!), but today the response is triggered by much less-dangerous stress.
Stress from your job, school, or relationships can trigger adrenaline production. This is problematic because adrenaline is accompanied by cortisol, a hormone that causes hunger.
When stressed, your body will crave food even though the stressful event likely didn’t require much energy to deal with — You don’t burn calories stressing over a deadline at work like you would running away from an angry bear!
2. Stress Decreases Motivation
Think back to a time when you were really stressed out. Did you feel motivated to exercise? Were you compelled to cook a healthy meal for yourself?
Stressful situations often lead to feelings of being overwhelmed. Things in life seem too much to handle and it’s difficult to even consider doing something as simple as going for a quick jog.
This is one reason why exercise and healthy eating fall off track during stressful times. Your mind (and body) is focused on getting through that stress – Making healthy lifestyle choices gets put on the backburner.
3. Stress Reduces the Effectiveness of Your Workouts
Some people see exercise as a way to deal with stress. Yes, it can be a good way to take your mind off other things happening in life, but exercise is actually just another form of stress. It’s a physical stress on your body.
That sounds like a bad thing, but it’s really not. Physically stressing your body is what allows you to make progress. You push a little further and get better as a result. Unfortunately, when you are already dealing with other stressors in life, whether they are physical, emotional, or relational, your body has less capacity to deal with the stress of a workout.
Not only does your chance of injury increase during stressful times, but recovery from your workouts is also inhibited due to reduced quality of sleep. This means that you won’t get the same results from exercise that you would during less stressful times in life.
How to Fix Your Stress: Some Helpful Resources
It’s pretty clear that stress can have a huge impact on your ability to get fit and stay healthy. What can you do about it?
One of the most important de-stressing techniques is simply taking a few minutes each day to relax. This will look different for different people, but it can include any activity that allows rest for your mind and body.
There are some really helpful online tools that can be used to practice stress-reducing relaxation. One is Calm, a quick meditation that you can do on your computer or phone. You choose the length and the style of relaxation and Calm does the rest.
Another great tool is called Do Nothing For 2 Minutes. This simple website “forces” you to stop working. How you spend that 2 minutes is up to you, but the idea is to take time to just relax, perhaps practice some deep breathing, and allow your stress to dissipate.
One other great resource is the 42 Ways to Live Stress-Free guide. This is a compilation of the best techniques and resources that you can use to beat the stress that creeps into various parts of your day.
From waking up in the morning to dealing with stressful relationships, this guide has something for every type of stress you may be dealing with.
Stress is going to happen – It’s part of life. But learning a few techniques to prevent that stress from becoming a chronic problem is key for your mental health and your body’s ability to make the fitness improvements you’re looking for.