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Stress: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: “stress”. We can’t actually see it, but so often we let it run our lives. It feels like something we can’t control and yet it’s connected to all aspects of our life.

Before we dive deeper I want you to think about what mental imagery comes to mind when you hear the word stress? Better yet how does it make you feel? It is likely you have already had a physical and emotional reaction to the title of this blog. 

If you are anything like me there is a visceral sensation that overcomes your body. And it is a negative association tied to feelings of worry, anxiety and being overwhelmed. We have become conditioned to view stress as a bad thing. We associate stress to things like deadlines, money problems, and negative experiences in life, not to mention a global pandemic or election year. 

GOOD VS. BAD

Most often in our westernized society we use stress interchangeably with “worry” or simply focusing on what we don’t want to happen. This can lead to increased heart rate, blood pressure, poor sleep and a myriad of other health issues.

And so we easily fit “stress” into the box titled: BAD. While these can all be aspects of stress it’s not the full story. Stress is a necessary part of life and we wouldn’t adapt or evolve as humans without it. From a training standpoint stress is the factor that allows us to be bigger, stronger, faster. 

I’m sure you have heard of our “fight or flight” response within our nervous system. This is an integral part of our physiology and is triggered by a stress response. When you hear of people doing superhuman feats like lifting a car to save a loved one or athletes finishing a sporting event with a broken bone due to adrenaline it is because of our bodies natural stress response.

WHY ZEBRA’S DON’T GET ULCERS

The problem with our modern society is that we now take stress with us everywhere. It is no longer a single event which leads to health issues and poor performance. Let’s consider a Zebra in the wild. They are minding their own business living their best lives when all of a sudden a lion shows up out of nowhere. Their “flight or fight” response takes off and their stress goes through the roof. Next one of two things happen, 1) either the lion catches them and they die or 2) they escape and can go on their merry way. And the result is the SAME: they are no longer stressed. 

Once they have skirted danger the zebras are no longer stressed and are able to down-regulate to a relaxed state. While fighting for your life may seem different than the fear of losing your job, our body views stress as stress. And the difference is when you leave the office after a rough day you take that stress with you. When you are at home and up at night worrying about everything that may or may not happen your body is in a constant stimulated and up-regulated state.

And thus begin the negative effects of stress. However, I challenge you to view stress as stress. And rather than it being labeled as good or bad it is something necessary and more about how we recover from it. Because without stress you won’t lift more weight, run faster or be more resilient to the common cold.

WHY WE NEED STRESS

In order to build muscle and improve strength we must stress our body. This looks like lifting a weight that is challenging. Our body builds and repairs our muscle tissues during the recovery process to be stronger so we adapt to that stress (the weights lifted). This way in the future we are more prepared to handle that load from a survival standpoint. Next time we perform the same load it should feel more comfortable. Whereas attempting a load beyond our capability could lead to injury.

My main role as a strength, conditioning and fitness coach is to simply be a manager of stress. It is my job to apply enough stress to my athletes so that we have a positive adaptation to the stimulus. And at the same time not too much stress to where my athletes cannot recover properly.

We call the ideal amount of stress the minimum effective dose. We want just enough stress to create a stimulus for adaptation, but not so much that we can’t recover properly.

WORK HARD, RECOVER HARDER

So whether it is physical, mental or emotional stress just know that is a part of life. Rather than focusing on the stressor I encourage you to be more intentional with how you cope, manage and recover from that stress. 

Physically this looks like sleep, proper nutrition and different mobility techniques. From a mental and emotional standpoint this could be mindfulness practice, meditation, talking with friends, practicing gratitude, breath work or even exercise as a way to release energy.

Stress is always going to be a part of our life. The one thing we can control is how we choose to respond to it. Because how hard you train only matters if you recover enough to allow your body to adapt to the stimulus. And if you never get a hold of managing the life stress you can never reap the full benefits of your training.

If you feel lost with how to cope and manage stress send us a message and we will help you troubleshoot ways to regulate stress in your life. 

Coach Taylor

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