Like sleep and proper nutrition, stress-management is absolutely critical for recovery.
Also note that it’s called stress management, and not stress elimination.
You can’t totally eliminate stress.
That’s because we need stress.
You see, stress is basically a call to action. You notice a problem. Action is taken to resolve the problem. You learn from it for next time. BOOM stress gone and you’re better for it.
Short-term stress can motivate you and can be used to get up off your a*s and make sh*t happen.
Physiologically, short-term stress like exercise, calorie deficits, and fasting can help your body become stronger (adaptation).
Two features in particular make the stress response adaptive. First, stress hormones are released to make energy stores available for the body’s immediate use. Second, a new pattern of energy distribution emerges. Energy is diverted to the tissues that become more active during stress, primarily the skeletal muscles and the brain. Cells of the immune system are also activated and migrate to “battle stations”. Less critical activities are suspended, such as digestion and the production of growth and gonadal hormones. Simply put, during times of acute crisis, eating, growth, and sexual activity may be a detriment to physical integrity and even survival.Schneiderman N, Ironson G, Siegel SD. Stress and health: psychological, behavioral, and biological determinants. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2005;1:607–628. doi:10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141
You see, we are designed to handle acute stress… for short periods of time.
The key words here: for short periods of time.
You do not want the stress adaptations above to be an ongoing, long-term thing.
So in short: short-term stress can be good, but it must actually go away.
If stress doesn’t dissipate after the stressor goes away… or the stressor doesn’t even go away… we have what’s called chronic stress.
If you live your life chronically stressed out, you’re living in fight or flight mode, and this messes everything up. Note the quoted passage above again: during times of high stress, hormones such as Cortisol skyrocket, and hormones such as Testosterone and Growth Hormone plummet. Not even close to an optimal environment for six pack abs and epic fitness.
Indeed, this excessive stress can lead to impaired athletic performance, zapped strength, and difficulty gaining muscle and losing fat (in fact the opposite is more likely to occur, gaining fat while losing muscle).
And that’s not all. Here are some other nasty things that could happen from extreme chronic stress:
- Increased risk of depression
- Increased risk of developing anxiety disorders
- Increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and hypertension
- Impaired sleep
- Increased risk of disordered eating
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lower energy levels
- Decreased libido
- Impaired digestion (which could make it harder for you to absorb vital nutrients)
- Lowered immune function, opening you up to getting sick more often and increasing your risk of chronic disease
- Premature aging
- Increased risk of substance use (tobacco, alcohol, drugs to cope)
See why managing stress is so important?
“Push the limits… but be able to recover from it.”
Keep in mind that just about everything in your daily life is a form stress (whether it be physical, psychological, or environmental), and stress management, like many things, is going to be an individual thing.
Some can handle a high-stress lifestyle quite well. Others thrive living more low key. Some can handle loads of cardio or weights. Others may need to take a less is more approach.
One is not better than the other, they’re just different and different approaches need to be taken.
Either way, always remember that it’s not what you can do, it’s what you can recover from… and drill into your head that recovery is not optional for anybody.
No Bullsh*t Ways to Manage Stress
Alright, enough with the long talk, eh?
Let’s get into some ways that we can manage the stress that we do or will have.
Numero Uno: Nutrition, Sleep, Exercise
Those who have been at it awhile already know how nutrition, sleep, and exercise can help combat stress.
But if you’re new to the game check it: proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise absolutely crush stress.
And wouldn’t you know it, less stressed people also make better nutrition choices, sleep better, and are more likely to train hard (or even train at all).
BOOM… a positive stress-busting cycle is created.
What I find beautiful about nutrition, sleep, and exercise is that they’re mostly within your control. The world can be crumbling around you and you can choose what goes into your mouth, what time you get to bed, and that you’re going to train hard.
Indeed, it’s usually the first thing many successful people find success in (see: Arnold Schwarzenegger).
It’s your body, it’s your life. You have the power to eat clean. You have the power to go to bed earlier. You have the power to regularly workout.
Use this power.
I’ve learned that 90% of stress can be avoided in the first place by taking swift and decisive action.
Stressed about losing your job? Call a meeting with your boss and express your concerns.
Stressing about money? Start filling out job applications or get a side hustle.
Stressed about your health? Start making some changes to how you eat, sleep, and workout.
Don’t let things simmer. Take care of them swiftly and decisively.
Learn to Say No
The more things on your plate, the more stressed you’ll be.
Now, this isn’t an excuse to be an ambition-free loser.
But it does mean you must guard your time with your life.
Figure out what’s important, REALLY important to you and your goals, and say no to everything else.
Learn to Breathe
Take control of your breathing, take control of your life.
I’ve been in some stressful situations, and when I take control of my breathing, I control my reaction to these situations. I go from nervous wreck to cool as a cucumber.
So how do you take control of your breathing?
Start with being more mindful of it.
Are you breaths short and shallow? This isn’t optimal.
Start taking mindful breaths deep into your stomach. I like to go ten seconds in, hold for 2 seconds, 10 seconds out, hold for 2 seconds.
Find your own cadence, and use it when you need to “reset”.
Work Sucks? Take a Look at Your Job
Maybe you love your job. Maybe you’re making a difference. Maybe you feel useful and needed. Maybe your job provides good stress that leads to your personal development and makes you better.
If this is you, you can pretty much skip this one.
But I’m going to bet that for most people, their jobs are their biggest source of stress.
Idiot bosses and co-workers, long hours, profits over people, and even the risk of becoming unemployed all lead to hella stress.
And I know it’s hard to just get up and find a better job.
I also understand that you got bills to pay, mouths to feed, etc.
So we can only control so much about our work.
But what we can control is our reaction to our work.
I also know that a lot of you are ambitious and hungry (as am I) and want to get ahead, and the best way to do this is to make work your life. Showing the boss that you’re working over the weekend or staying late is what separates you from the pack, right?
Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.
But ask yourself if it’s worth it.
You can also institute some changes at your job to make it less stressful, like:
- Take your vacations. Many neglect vacation time to get more done much too often.
- Actually take regular breaks at regular intervals. I’ve been guilty of this one myself. Skipping breaks in the name of productivity usually makes you less productive on top of being more stressed out.
- Don’t take work home with you. Draw an imaginary line where work ends and home begins. Work thoughts are not allowed past this line.
Control What You Can (With Mindset)
Yes, the future can seem scary.
But the future was scary for every generation everywhere.
You can’t let this stop you from living your life.
As Stephen Covey says, focus on the things in your circle of influence. You can’t solve the all the world’s problems, but you can solve your own and those of people close to you.
The Missing Link: Meditation
Meditation gets a bad rap because it seems like a woo-woo kind of thing.
But it’s definitely not some woo-woo thing… it’s benefits are REAL.
I can tell the difference when I don’t meditate. My concentration is less focused. My thoughts are more scattered. I’m less centered and mindful.
And it doesn’t have to be a long drawn out thing, either.
10 minutes, 5 minutes, even 2 minutes can give some benefit.
Be Social (Social Support)
There’s no way to kill stress faster than to have a strong social network to confide in. Any situation you’ve been in someone has likely been in the same situation. Seek the support of others walking your path.
Also, get out and do stuff with good people.
Yes, you may be stressed, but I bet you have a lot to be thankful for.
List off all of the things you have that you can be thankful for. You’ll find that once you count your blessings, the headaches don’t seem so bad.
Keep a Journal
A journal is not only therapeutic, but it’ll help you notice patterns. You can look back and see that on certain days you felt certain ways, and ask why.
Maybe there’s one or two things in your life that cause 90% of your stress. By finding what these are you can take action to resolve them.
Ditch the News
There’s only one thing you get when you read or watch the news: anxiety.
How could you not?
Feel good stories aren’t really newsworthy, so you’re usually just getting a big dose of the bad stuff.
What does this lead to? Thinking that the world is a terrible place and that danger lurks around every corner.
Get Out of Your Head
Sounds weird, right?
But a lot of stress is just being in our own heads, continually thinking about the things that are stressing us.
For this reason you must get out of your head.
Again… go do stuff!
Supplements can help, but don’t rely on them, as most lose effectiveness after a while.
Once in a while I’ll do some green tea. I’ve also tried L-Theanine… there are tons of things you can look into.
Hopefully you’ve found one or two things that can help you live life a little less stressed.
Look, there’s no reason to be a stressed-out wreck. Life’s too short for that. Plus it’ll kill your physique… and if that doesn’t motivate you to take action, I don’t know what will. 🙂