I’m sure we can all agree: 2020 feels like one. long. day. All of us, whether we admit it or not, are under more stress than usual. Regardless of our individual situations, one thing is certain: succumbing to stress inhibits our progress in the gym.
Cortisol: The Stress Hormone
There are a number of ways stress impedes our fitness goals. A primary reason is cortisol. When we are stressed, our body releases this hormone as a part of our natural “alarm system.” However, when we are chronically stressed, all the cortisol our body releases can have a number of negative effects. One of these is that cortisol increases our desire for high sugar, high fat foods; simultaneously, it tells our body to store more fat.
What’s more, it can lower our
immunity—the exact opposite process we want in a pandemic and flu season!
Certainly, our body’s alarm system is necessary for us to survive. The problems arise when our
body doesn’t shut that system off.
There are many ways to retrain our brain to not live in a fight-or-flight state.
The following four suggestions are a good place to start:
Detach from your phone. Not every notification, text message, or email needs an
immediate response. Frankly, most of them don’t. “Your phone isn’t a dog whistle…you don’t have to go running to it every time it makes a noise. Have it be a tool that works for you, on your terms,” says Jenny Evans, an exercise physiologist, speaker, author, and executive coach around resiliency, performance, and health. Evans suggests turning off notifications and your ringer when working, exercises, or during other focused times. This is going to be hard at first if you are used to responding to everything immediately; however, when we immediately respond, it tells our brain that everything is an emergency.
Why do pro athletes have their sleep monitored? Because they take recovery seriously, and so should you. What’s more, when you live in a constant state of sleep deprivation, not only is your body more stressed, you aren’t able to work out as hard as your body is already fatigued. “Sleep is the #1 tool our bodies and brains have for recovery – both from our workouts, as well as from stress,” explains Evans. “Ironically, when our lives get busy and stressful, sleep is often one of the first things that gets sacrificed.” Take your sleep seriously, and consider checking out some of TN’s sleep aids to enhance your shut eye.
Get mindful. This doesn’t mean you need to sit for 30 minutes and chant—it simply means to be more aware. Try shutting off the phone or television when eating. See what it feels like to turn off music for some of your sets and really focus on counting during your reps.
Even the most independent people in the world need a support system. Checking in with others, and allowing others to reach out to you, can help to minimize stressors. Evans explains, “We’re tribal creatures – we don’t thrive when we’re disconnected. Spending face-to-face time with people we care about decreases cortisol. While it may be hard to get adequate in-person connection right now, regular video or phone calls, text messages, and emails can go a long way.”
In short, stress is no joke— the effects of unmanaged stress on our bodies are real. Staying as intentional with training our mind as we do with our bodies can help us see progress in both areas and stay as healthy as we can, no matter what the world throws our way.