September 18, 2021 5 min read

What makes you stressed?  Stress comes in many different forms and effects each person a little differently, but the reality is stress is everywhere.  Americans are among one of the most stressed-out populations and according to The American Institute of Stress about 33% of people report feeling extreme stress, 77% of people experience stress that affects their physical health and 73% of people have stress that impacts their mental health.  With those types of numbers, it is a very good chance you are one of those that has stress effecting you in a negative way somehow. 

So, what do we do about stress and how do we handle it?  I want to discuss what stress is, the negative effects that it has on us not only mentally and physically but how it can be having a negative impact on the progression of your fitness and nutrition goals.  I also want to give you some ways to reduce stress and tips to start implementing daily to help you manage the stress in your life.


First off, what is stress? Stress is the body's response to pressure.  It is the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or physical pressures that are happening around you and is a normal human reaction that happens to everyone.  Everyone reacts to and handles stress differently and is subjective.  It cannot be measured by tests, but only the person experiencing it can determine whether it is present and how intense it feels.  Your reaction or stress response might be different or change with every situation and type of pressure that is being placed on you. Stress responses help your body adjust to new situations. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. But stress becomes a problem when stressors continue without relief or periods of relaxation.


Now, let's take a few deep breaths and dive into the negative effects that stress has on your body and on your progress towards your fitness goals.  The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress is a normal part of life. Many events that happen to you and around you and many things that you do yourself put stress on your body. You can experience good or bad forms of stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts. Over time, continued strain on your body from stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.  


Your body responds to stress by releasing hormones that increase your heart and breathing rates and ready your muscles to respond.  Yet, if your stress response doesn’t stop firing, and these stress levels stay elevated far longer than is necessary for survival, it can take a toll on your health. Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and affect your overall well-being. 

Symptoms of chronic stress include:

- irritability

- anxiety

- depression

- headaches

- insomnia

All of the above items can play a significant role in your well-being.  But there are also ways that stress can affect your body composition directly, which will have a negative impact on your fitness and nutrition goals and ultimately your process.  First, the decision-making center of your brain, known as the prefrontal cortex, is highly sensitive to stress.  When you are stressed, your brain focuses more on the problem right in front of you and not on your long-term goals.  This problem for example, will lead your brain into choosing take out for dinner instead of making dinner because under stress you are bound to choose the easier option, which is not usually goal friendly.


Stress also impacts your hormones, specifically cortisol which is your main stress hormone.  When you are stressed your body releases cortisol to keep your body on high alert.  High levels of this hormone for too long can lead to an increased appetite, cause you to crave foods high in fat and sugar and it also changes the way your body stores fat.  Another way stress can have a negative impact on your progress is that it can prevent you from gaining muscle.  During training your muscles endure tiny tears before rebuilding and becoming stronger.  When cortisol is high and you are under stress muscle growth is prevented by not rebuilding those tears efficiently.  Lastly, another big factor that could be hindering your progress during a stressful time is that stress threatens your immune system.  Certain body systems take a back seat when you are stressed so that your body can focus on the stressor instead.  When your immune system is compromised you are more likely to get sick and stay sick which may cost you valuable time you could be working toward your fitness and nutrition goals.  


It is very apparent that though some stress can be a good thing, too much stress for too long can be very detrimental to your mental health but also can significantly impact the progress you are making toward fitness and nutrition goals.  If stress is so prominent among Americans, how are you currently dealing with your stressors to ensure that you are not running into the several negative side effects of too much stress?


Here are some key strategies to managing stress which, in-turn, will lead to having less of an impact on the progression of your fitness and nutrition goals.  If you take practical steps to help manage your stress and implement these steps into your daily routine, you may reduce the risk of negative health effects of stress.  First you need to determine what your stressors are.  Pinpoint what it is that is making you stressed and make a note of those items or situations.  Some of the suggestions and steps to take to manage stress are:


Be observant - Recognize how your body is reacting to certain stressful situations and what you are currently doing as a coping mechanism.  If how you are coping with your current stress does not align with your goals, you need to rethink those coping mechanisms.


Get regular exercise - Just 30 minutes of activity a day can boost your mood and improve your health.


Try a new relaxing activity - Explore relaxation or wellness programs, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities.


Set goals and priorities - Decide what must get done now and what can wait.  Make sure you are not piling too much on your plate.  Learn to say NO if you feel like you are taking on too much and be mindful of your accomplishments at the end of each day.


Stay connected - You are not alone. Keep in touch with people who can provide emotional support and practical help. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.

Now it is time for you to take a few minutes and do some deep breathing or go for a short walk and determine where the stressors are in your own life as well as how you are currently dealing with them.  Are those stressors in your life having some of the negative side effects mentioned above?  What are the ways you can implement some ways to manage stress that will allow you to positively impact your life.  Start relieving yourself from some stress by implementing stress management and progressing your way forward toward your fitness and nutrition goals!


Until we chat again next week, remember if you fail to plan you will plan to fail.  It's never too late to get started!


Happy Hunting!


Jess




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