Managing Stress

Training is about managing stress.

From a physical standpoint, what this boils down to is sets, reps, intensity, total volume, amount of training sessions, etc.

However, there is so much more to it than that.

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I’m fascinated by stress. I’m not sure when it started, but my passion for understanding what causes stress and how it can affect your everyday life has been going on for years now. I strongly believe this passion is closely intertwined with my own struggles with depression and anxiety, and most likely stemmed from my pursuit of knowledge in an effort to understand and manage these better. Along the way I have learned a lot, but also stumbled upon more and more questions that I have a relenting desire to answer.

One of the questions I ask all new clients is how stressful their work and personal lives are. Sometimes they look at me funny when I ask this, wondering how this could possibly be something their trainer needs to know. Besides, I’m not a therapist, what could I possibly know about stress?

The answer to that question is, actually, quite a bit.

As a trainer and a coach my job is quite literally to manipulate and manage the stress in your life. Granted, in a perfect world I would be able to manage all the different stressors in your life, both inside the gym and out. I would also make a lot more money if I could do this. Like I said, in a perfect world….

Unfortunately, I’m limited to just managing the stress that you put into your training sessions. I do this by manipulating things such as volume and intensity to make sure that you are getting enough of a stress stimulus to drive adaptation, but not too much that you can’t recover. To be honest with you, this is the easiest of all the different sources of stress in your life to manage.

Where things get tricky is managing the stress that stems from your relationships, your mental state (I’m a lost cause), your work, and so on. Although you can’t necessarily take care of these in the gym, there are a variety of proven ways to make progress on your own.

Sleep:

sleep

If you get one thing out of this article, please let it be that you need enough sleep (7-9) hours, and at a high quality. I won’t get into the amount of sleep you need too much, as the guideline provided by most professionals of 7-9 hours a night isn’t something that needs to be changed. However, you also need to take into account that this number may change based on the other stressors in your life.

Suffering with some mental health issues? You may want to be closer to the 9 rather than the 7 hours that are recommended. Not sleeping enough? Same story. On the flip side you may be able to get away with being closer to the 7 end of the spectrum if you dialed back your training a little bit, and nailed your nutrition. You get the idea.

Sleep hygiene also plays a huge role in the quality of sleep you get. I won’t get into that today, but stay tuned for more information than you would ever want to know on sleep in the near future.

Nutrition:

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Nutrition is another critical aspect of stress management. If you eat like an asshole, you stress your body more. It’s as simple as that. Well, not really. As always there’s a bit more to it…

I’m starting to become a huge fan of the Paleo Diet, and I’ve seen it do some pretty cool things for myself and those I’ve worked with. My biggest fascination with this diet, and I should say lifestyle, is the emphasis on healing the gut. Over fifty percent of the seratonin in your body is produced in the gut, not the brain. Think about that for a second. Seratonin is a chemical found in your body that helps regulate mood. Normal seratonin levels leave you feeling happy and content. Low seratonin is linked to depression, increased anxiety, and a variety of other mental health disorders as well as insomnia. So if fifty percent of the seratonin in your body is made in your gut, wouldn’t you think that it is a good idea to promote gut health?

When your gut is unhealthy and riddled with inflammation and lacking in good bacteria, less seratonin is produced. Less seratonin means less happiness, which means less gains. Long story short, fix your gut health people.

Do some research on the interaction between seratonin and the gut, as well as some research on the Paleo Diet and how it affects gut health. You can be sure I will have some posts on these topics rolling out in the near future, but a little initiative to learn on your own never hurt anyone 🙂

Relationships:

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People are naturally a social species. This means that in order to be healthy and live our lives to the fullest, we need to have social interaction. We also need to feel like we belong. This is why crossfit does so well. They have created a system of exercise, diet (usually paleo), lifestyle factors, and community that fits so well together.

The last part may be the most important though. This community and sense of belonging not only increases compliance, but also benefits the members from a social standpoint as well. A well run CrossFit gym has successfully managed almost all aspects of stress including training, nutrition, sleep through lifestyle changes and education, and relationships. It’s almost a thing of beauty if you ask me.

Another way relationships can influence your stress levels is how individual relationships affect you on a personal level. Have you ever gotten into a fight or an argument with a spouse or a loved one before going to the gym? How did you feel while training? My guess is drained, exhausted, tired, or any combination of those and more. This is just one example of how relationships can have a huge effect on both acute and chronic stress in your life.

Everyone seems to have that one person in their life that drags them down, and limiting the time spent with that person may go a long way towards managing your stress and improving your performance in the gym. Sometimes you don’t really have a choice, but you can always try to find ways to make these relationships healthier or distance yourself from those people.

On the contrary, surrounding yourself with like minded people who motivate you, challenge you to be better, and bring happiness into your life will always improve your mental health and stress levels. In turn, this will lead to improved performance in the gym
So there you have it, a little primer on how outside stressors can have a huge impact on your training and performance. I hope this helped to get you thinking about how you can better manage the stress in your life to improve your training and, more importantly, improve your overall happiness and sense of well being.

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