Fit, Fierce & Stress-Free: The Power Of Stress Management to Transform Your Body & Mind
By Andy Pilides MSc
More Than Muscle
Hey, did you know that stress can totally mess with your weight?
This Hungarian scientist, Hans Selye, was one of the first to figure that out way back in the day. He came up with the eustress-distress continuum in 1974, and now he’s known as the “Father of Stress”. Stress is a really tricky thing, though, because too much of it can really mess up your body. But, on the other hand, the right amount can be good for you. Unfortunately, when stressed out, it can seriously affect your digestion, emotions, and overall health, leading to weight gain and loss. So if you want to be fit and healthy, you gotta figure out how to deal with stress.
The Science of Stress and Weight Loss
Stress is like when your brain and heart say, “Whoa, this situation is NOT cool!” It’s your body’s way of dealing with stuff that feels threatening or overwhelming. And almost everyone has felt stressed at some point, right? About a third of grown-ups deal with some severe stress. And get this, when you’re stressed, it’s not just in your head – it can affect your whole body!
Understanding Stress: The Stress Response
When you’re freaked out, your body changes, whether in danger or just thinking you are. Your stress reaction involves the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, also known as the fight or flight reaction. It’s like your body’s way of getting ready to either fight or run away from something that’s freaking you out, either mentally or physically.
Your heart starts racing, your blood pressure rises, and you start breathing faster to prepare for whatever’s coming your way. But sometimes, people deal with chronic stress, which lasts way longer than the fight or flight response. This can make you feel super worried, exhausted, overwhelmed, and messing with your head. It’s often caused by modern-day issues, like pressure from work or just life in general.
How Stress Affects Weight Loss and Muscle Building
Cortisol is a hormone that gets pumped out when you feel super stressed. It helps your body deal with stress by giving you a boost of energy. It turns proteins into glucose, like a quick energy source for your body. But, if you’re constantly stressed and have too much cortisol hanging around, it can indirectly cause weight gain because you’ll feel like eating all the time!
That’s because stress makes you crave all the good stuff – like sweets, fatty foods, and stuff high in calories.Your body is looking for a quick fix to feel better. And on top of that, cortisol can make it harder for your body to recover from exercise and mess with your sleep. Not cool! Plus, it’s a real bully to testosterone, which is super important for building muscle.
Identifying Personal Stressors
Did you know that figuring out what’s stressing you out is helpful in chillin’ out? Just look at the things in your life that make you feel like you’re in danger or uncomfortable, and you’ll be on your way to finding ways to eliminate them. This will make you feel more relaxed in no time!
Think about the stuff that really stresses you out. Like, work, relationships, and money issues. Once you can figure out exactly what’s causing your stress, you can start to work on ways to deal with it. You gotta check out what makes your stress symptoms flare up and start keeping tabs on your habits. That way, you can begin to kick your stress out of your life – or at the very least be able to manage it better!
Assessing Individual Stress Levels
Using a log can be super helpful! What do you think about? Does stress impact your physical abilities? And most importantly, what causes stress for you anyway? It’s a big move towards figuring out how to overcome your stress problems. We coaches call this ‘inward labour’ – it’s about growing and improving.
Stress Management Techniques
Below are 5 stress management areas you should consider when addressing your stress:
1. Mindfulness Practices:
Meditations & Breathing Exercises
- Is it really worth it? Well, let me tell you, taking a few minutes to sit silently and focus on your breath can do wonders for your mind and body. It can help reduce stress, increase focus, and boost mood. So, if you’re in a funk or just need some chill time, try meditation. Trust me, your mind will thank you for it!
- Another one of those practices that helps you centralise your thoughts and connect that with how you move. A great way to channel your mind and get the blood flowing. Motion is the potion!
- Studies show that not only do ice baths possess the challenge of building mental resilience, but they also have good regenerative properties. With the summer coming, it could also be a refreshing practice for your mind, body and soul.
- Gratefulness log Looking at the things you’re in appreciation of gives a sense of positivity. Making a daily habit of doing this will help your mindset and your stress levels. There is likely a lot for you to be grateful for, and this may just put a better perspective on things for you!
2. Physical Activity:
- This has been shown to have a host of benefits that help you not only look good but feel great. Resistance training builds robust bodies and helps us feel good about what life has to throw at us. For me, it should be a staple of anyone’s life.
- Your aerobic base is the foundation of everything you do. It’s recommended that you do some daily aerobic work to keep your heart healthy and mind clear. Aerobic training helps you recover and sleep well too.
- Why even bother with leisure activities? Isn’t life already crazy enough without adding more stuff to our schedules? But hear me out – taking time to do things you enjoy can be a game- changer. Whether going for a walk with your dog, playing a sport with friends, or even just taking a relaxing holiday away, leisure activities allow us to unwind and recharge our batteries. So, why leisure activities? Because they’re fantastic, that’s why!
3. Nutrition And Diet:
Eating a balanced diet
- A well-rounded diet is an excellent way to stay healthy. This means you’ll get a healthy mixture of the relevant macro and micronutrient requirements to serve your body and its immunity. There are numerous studies linking stress and poor-quality nutrition. Aim to keep your plate colourful, and your food choices varied.
Enjoying foods you love
- Sharing a healthy mixture of some foods you love is also essential. Keeping a good relationship with your food choices and what they represent is vital for your stress levels and mindset.
Identifying and managing emotional eating
- Food can often be the go-to mechanism to cope with our feelings and emotional state. Consequently, you must recognise when these feelings are triggered and try to manage your food choices. Food shouldn’t be the reward. That builds terrible relationships with your nutrition and your weight fluctuations.
Avoiding the reliance on stimulants (too much coffee and alcohol)
- Relying on stimulants to get you by is a surefire way to run purely on cortisol. This also triggers you to look into why you feel you need them. You need more quality sleep, hydration, or sufficient diet nutrients.
4. Sleep and Relaxation:
The importance of quality sleep and a sleep routine
- Quality sleep is essential for maintaining good physical health, cognitive function, and emotional well-being. Sleep plays a vital role in the body’s restorative processes, help ing to repair and rejuvenate cells and tissues, support immune function, and regulate metabolism and hormone levels. Establishing a sleep routine can help improve sleep quality and quantity. A sleep routine is a set of habits and behaviours you regularly engage in before bed to prepare your body and mind for sleep.
Avoiding too much blue light stimulation
- Blue light is a type of light that has a short wavelength and high energy. It is present in many artificial light sources, such as computer screens, smartphones, and tablets. Blue light exposure has been shown to disrupt the sleep-wake cycle and cause eye strain, headaches, and other health problems.
Epsom Salt baths
- Taking a bath with Epsom salt is a common practice that is believed to offer several health benefits. The bath water helps relax muscles and ease tension, while the Epsom salt provides a source of magnesium and sulphate that can be absorbed through the skin. Epsom salt is thought to help promote relaxation and reduce stress by soothing the nervous system and easing muscle tension.
- Massage involves applying pressure and manipulation to the body’s soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It can be performed using various techniques, including Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, and sports massage. Massage is generally thought to increase muscle blood flow, reduce muscle tension, and promote relaxation.5. Social Support
Building a supportive network
- Having the right people behind you is essential. They can help guide you when you need advice, support you when you need confidence and reassure you when you need confirmation. Your social network is vital for many aspects of your stress management.
Sharing your fitness journey with a like-minded community
- Fitness is essential, but being a part of a community of like-minded people pushing in the same direction is powerful. Don’t be alone and work with others in your situation. Culture!
Finding accountability partners
- Life isn’t static, so having a partner on a journey with you can keep you both accountable.
Integrating Stress Management into Your Fitness Routine
So, when you’re trying to add some stress relief to your workout routine, you gotta think about these five things:
1. Set realistic goals
Having goals is super important, but you gotta make sure they’re realistic. Keep yourself from setting yourself up for failure by aiming for the stars when you can only reach the roof. That’ll just stress you out and won’t get you anywhere.
But here’s a tip: winning can give you confidence, so set yourself up for success by making achievable goals. Trust me, you’ll feel great when you start achieving them! And remember to take things one step at a time. It’s way less overwhelming that way, and you’ll be stressing less in no time.
2. Prioritise self-care
When trying to get fit, you gotta look out for number one – you!
Put yourself first by prioritising your goals and getting all your personal stuff done. It’s not just good for your physical health but also for your mental well-being. And remember, you can only help others if you’re running on empty, so take care of yourself first and foremost!
Self-care activities include:
- Engaging in hobbies and interests
- Practising gratitude and positive affirmations
- Scheduling regular breaks and holidays
- Hanging out with people you care for
3. Create a sustainable workout schedule
- Balancing workout intensity, volume, and frequency
- Understanding your current personal fitness level
- Mixing high and low-intensity workouts
- Listening to your body
- Pencilled in rest days
- Adding in active recovery days
- Being flexible to adjust your workouts around your work-life balance
4. Adapting to changing life circumstances:
- Staying flexible about your fitness journey
- Embracing change and setbacks (there will be loads)
- Learning from the challenge
- Creating contingency plans
- Maintaining motivation during difficult times – you learn more about yourself throughadversity
- Finding internal and external sources of motivation
- Re-evaluating your goals and priorities
5. Tracking your progress to keep perspectives on things
- Celebrate the wins
- Assess your mental state and stress levels
- Reflection on your journey
Stress is actually our body’s way of defending itself when we feel threatened. But sometimes, stress can be a real bummer. That’s why knowing how we react to different situations is essential to manage our stress levels. Stress can be good if we know how to use it to our advantage. The only problem is that sometimes stress can make us want to eat everything, and before we know it, we’ve gained a few extra pounds.
But don’t worry. Getting fit can help us tackle both our mental health and our waistlines. And remember, life is constantly changing, so just roll with it and keep things in perspective!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can stress cause weight gain?
When stressed out, you might find yourself craving more food than usual. And if you keep giving in to those cravings, you could pack some extra pounds. It’s just one of the many ways stress can mess with your body!
How does stress affect muscle recovery?
When stressed out, our body releases cortisol, which messes with our muscle gains. It’s like a total killjoy for muscle growth because cortisol breaks down protein to make glucose, which is catabolic, not anabolic. So, when cortisol is high, our muscle-building potential is low.
How can I tell if my stress levels are too high?
It’s essential to do some ‘inward’ work to figure out how you’re feeling and what that means when it comes to stress. You gotta recognise your triggers, emotions, and how you’re performing. “How’s your sleep game?” and “Did you recover from that last workout?” Look at, and try to track these kinds of things!
What are some quick stress relief techniques to use during the day?
Try taking deep breaths, moving your body daily, avoiding caffeine and energy drinks, chatting with your buddies for moral support, and jot down things you’re grateful for. Give ’em a go and see how you feel!
How can I find the right balance between exercise and relaxation?
First things first – let’s take a good look at your situation. How are you feeling about all that stress you’re dealing with lately? Can you handle talking about it? And what about your work-life balance? Are you getting enough time to kick back and relax? Oh, and let’s remember your exercise routine. How’s that going? It’s a good idea to keep track of your workouts and see how you’re progressing, but make sure it aligns with your goals and what you can realistically achieve.
About the author
Coach Andy Pilides
Head Trainer, More Than Muscle
Andy has over 10 years of experience in the field of training, nutrition, and exercise science. He has a lifetime of practice, using various methods of weight-room & field-based training principles, on himself and in abundance on a vast amount of people of all different body types. Andy holds a Masters degree in Strength & Conditioning.