Really, stress is unavoidable in life. No matter how stress-free you try to make your life, if you’re an adult with any form of responsibilities, it’s just not possible. We likely all know that stress can have numerous negative impacts on our health, such as sleep issues, chronic headaches, even leading to digestive problems. Unfortunately, the impacts of stress can also extend to our physique.
Personally, I’m a chronic worrier (thanks dad…). Kyle often says that he’s terrified of what goes on in my mind on a daily basis, which is a valid statement considering the ridiculous concerns I voice to him – and it barely skims the surface of “what ifs” I think of. In high school and undergrad I actually suffered anxiety attacks, which I truly don’t wish on anyone. Thankfully, they stopped occurring during my masters and I haven’t experienced one in ages. Kyle always tells me to stop stressing out about everything, but really, this is just who I am – I over-think and analyze everything, constantly doubt myself, and spend far too much time living in the future than in the present. It’s how I’ve always been, and (likely) always will be – I’m working on it though.
I had mentioned this in a previous post, but Kyle definitely suffered some negative physical outcomes from stress early in his competition prep this spring. He was worried about the house renovations, balancing work, training, construction, and just general stress about the competition and being ready on time. As a result, he started to hold water, gain weight, and lose muscle definition – basically moving backwards from where he needed to be. Frustrating to say the least. Thankfully, we managed to adjust some plans and he took the pressure off himself to build an entire house during prep and his body started to change positively – and quickly!
It’s amazing the connection between your mind and your body, how simply altering your outlook or expectations and pressure can make a difference. How? Well, the physiological explanation is that stress ignites hormones in your body to prepare to handle the issue you’re facing. One of these hormones is cortisol, which impacts a variety of functions from your metabolism to cravings to fat storage. When cortisol is high for a prolonged period of time, your metabolism can slow down, causing you to gain weight even if your eating and training habits stay the same. When we’re experiencing stress, what kind of foods do we reach for – chicken and salad? Nope. We crave salty, sweet, and fatty foods to provide comfort and enjoyment, another way you can gain weight when experiencing stress for any length of time. Finally, cortisol tends to lead to fat storage around the mid-section, which is frustrating AND unhealthy. Fat stored here can increase your risk of developing other health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and increased risk of stroke… and hide those abs.
Obviously, stopping stress from happening altogether is next to impossible. However, what you can do is change your outlook to limit stress. Ultimately, stress results from YOUR INTERPRETATION of an event / problem / situation. So, if you don’t interpret the event as stressful, your body won’t react that way. Easy right…? Start by understanding that stress is both good and bad, depending on how you perceive it. For example, an upcoming interview for a job you really want can lead to good stress, whereas fearing that you’re going to bomb the interview is bad stress. One promotes anxious and excited emotions, where the other results in worry, fear, and concern.
Developing the ability to either turn off or ignore the bad stress, or turn it around to something positive, is the best way to put a stop to any negative physical outcomes. Next time you catch yourself worrying about something, STOP the thought, and find a way to turn it around. Try going through this list of questions when you find yourself dwelling on a stressful thought:
- Do I have control over the outcome?
- Have I done everything possible to be successful?
- Does the outcome negatively impact the people I care about?
- Is life going to end if this happens / doesn’t happen?
Ok, #4 is dramatic, but really, when you’re able to put things into perspective in the BIG picture of life, it can help decrease the stress you’re feeling about it – even if it just makes you laugh a little bit!
So, stop worrying about those last five pounds, the piece of cake you ate, if you have enough money saved to retire, or having too much to do and too little time to do it. Stay focused on your plan and check things off your list one day at a time and you’ll be happier, healthier, and your body will thank you for it.
Now, go put your feet up and RELAX, you earned it!