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working out to relieve stress

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What If Exercise Stresses You Out?

When it comes to stress and fitness you’ll often hear them tied together in one way or another. Some will say stress helps them to lose weight. Some will say stress makes them gain weight. Some people will say exercise alleviates stress and some will say it further exhausts their stressed bodies. The problem isn’t who is right or wrong, the problem is that we aren’t paying attention to our own bodies signals. Identifying what type of stress you are under, making adjustments to your routine and adding in more stress managements measures will be the key to reducing stress and choosing the right activities for you.

There are three different types of stress: acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress. Acute stress is the most common and is usually short-term and specific. Acute stress is what happens when a big test is coming up, you’ve been given a huge project with a short deadline, or are experiencing an imminent physical or emotional threat. Episodic acute stress is what happens when acute stress becomes a regularity. Chronic stress is what happens when stress is no longer fleeting but is persistent over a long period of time.

People often struggle with identifying their type of stress because they are using measurements of comparison. For example, telling yourself that you shouldn’t be stressed about your home life because at least you have a home is not actually changing the fact that you are stressed. Being realistic of your level of stress without comparison is going to be beneficial in addressing your particular stress management measures.

Exercise has consistently (and correctly) been deemed as a stress reliever.  Changing how we view exercise will also be something that changes the way you are able to utilize it as a tool to alleviate stress. The idea of exercise usually sends people's minds straight to long runs, jumping, and anything that causes significant panting and sweating. Exercise, in all its forms, produces endorphins - hormones that fight stress; but pounding the pavement and sweating it out may not be the best way to alleviate stress.

Physical and mental fatigue affect the same region of your brain - the anterior cingulate cortex - so if you are mentally fatigued, you’ll likely be physically fatigued. Stress can interfere with your workouts including impaired coordination, slower recovery, and higher risk of injury. This means that when your mind and body are fatigued and you decide to go for a run or do a high intensity workout you may be setting yourself up for exhaustion, injury, and even more stress. The secret isn’t to skipping your workouts but making adjustments to your routine, changing the way you see exercise, and adding in more stress management measures.

Yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, hiking, leisurely walking, leisurely swimming can all produce the same endorphins without further fatigue and actually help to prevent injuries. These forms of exercise will also help produce the same results like weight loss and building strength. You don’t always have to be panting and sweating to call it a workout or see results.

Living a better, happier, and healthier life involves a giant learning curve. Taking the time to adjust your routine and try new things will teach you everything you need to know about what works best for your specific body. Listening to the signals your body is sending you to let you know it is too tired or too sore to carry out a workout will not only help you in the long run it will save you from impaired recovery and potential injury. The next time you are feeling stressed, or if you have been chronically stressed, it’s time to let go of comparisons, adjust your routine, and tune in to the signals your body is sending you.

Sweat & Smiles (and less stress),

Melissa

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Do You Feel Stressed?

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Do You Feel Stressed?

Do you feel stressed? Let me guess, you feel stressed but instead of honoring that you tell yourself that you have no reason to be stressed because you have a good life (which you do) and that you shouldn't be stressed (except you are). Stress isn't always bad, bones and muscles need a certain amount of stress to stay healthy but like all things there is a good and a bad. Knowing when to take a step back and even out is going to be the key to a better, happier, and healthier life. 

Comparing your life to others whether it's feeling inferior or convincing yourself that you shouldn't feel bad because others have it worse is unproductive in actually changing your thoughts or your life. Even if the stress you experience seems to be a creation of your own, it's still very real. When I'm working with someone and they say something like 'I know it's all in my head' I always think of a line from Harry Potter (yes, I'm a big Potter fan). In the final movie Harry asks his mentor, 'is this real or is this just happening in my head' to which he is answered, 'of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, by why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'. The fact of the matter is this, everything that you think and feel is very real. Most importantly, everything that happens within your body: both in your head and physical produces the same response from your body. 

The autonomic nervous system controls the actions in the body that you don't normally regulate through conscious thought, such as digestion and eliminating food, releasing hormones, sweating, and regulating blood flow. The autonomic nervous system is made up of two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is where energy goes out and fibers get broken down, sometimes we do this purposefully through exercise. The sympathetic nervous system is also our fight-or-flight response if we are in danger (both in real danger like being chased by a bear and the danger we may perceive in our heads). The parasympathetic nervous system facilitates digestion, repair processes, immune function, it is the yin to the sympathetic yang.

When you are repeatedly stressed, you're continually exhausting the sympathetic nervous system and suppressing the parasympathetic. This imbalance as you can see can cause chronic fatigue, chronic disease processes, autoimmune diseases, not to mention emotional imbalances and distress. Long term stress causes the constant rise of cortisol which can also create excess fat in that beautiful area near your belly button. 

Another major problem lies if you top all this off with more sympathetic nervous system in the form of high intensity and long duration exercise. In fact, there are have been clients I've worked with that are working out more than ever and not seeing the results they're working so hard for so we rework their program with less exercise and shorter durations of movement designed to increase energy instead of exhausting it. Like all things, there is a balance to be found and moderation to practice. 

For me personally, I do three high intensity workouts a week that last between 30-40 minutes. Everyday I practice some form of gentle movement designed to promote more energy and take care of any places in my body that need extra attention or repair. Once a week I like to get out for a longer period of time: a long walk, a hike, a bike ride. That's it. No seven days a week, two or three hours a day for me. And you don't have to either. 

What you eat and drink plays a role in your nervous system, your stress, and your overall ability to connect the mind and body. If you're nervous system is imbalanced that means you're struggling with energy so you may be reaching for more caffeine, sugary drinks, or anything you fill will give you a boost... and also put more stress on that sympathetic nervous system. I love coffee, but I do my best to not exceed one cup a day, on the occasion I go for another cup it better be before 2pm or that coffee will not be loving me back. It doesn't cause chaos in the moment, I don't even have trouble falling asleep, but the next morning I wake up feeling unrested and crappy and I bet you experience something similar even if you don't know why.

If any of this sounds like you, it's time to honor the stress and move forward in balancing it. You may have heard 'the first step is admitting you have a problem', in this case, 'the first step is identifying the primary stressors'. Alleviating the chief stressor in your life creates the most beautiful domino effect you'll ever experience. Make a realistic plan to address your primary stressor and set small progress goals so you can move in the right direction and celebrate each step forward. Surround yourself with positivity and positive people. 

Eat and drink to support a healthy system and healthy balance. Instead of worrying about what you should not be eating starting focusing on foods you can eat to support you. Make it a goal to drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water (example: 150lbs = 75 ounces of water). Move and exercise balancing both high intensity and recovery, energy balancing movement.

Practice mental exercise. You may be familiar with things like the secret, the power of positive thinking, or meditation. There is a reason these things have been practiced for thousands of years. I read a book a couple weeks ago with interviews from over 130 of the world's top performers, there was a reason that nearly 90% of them mentioned meditation. Be mindful of the words you use, the thoughts you follow, and the people you surround yourself with. 

The truth is, you really do have a good life and you deserve to feel good in it. Honor that.

Sweat & Smiles, 

Melissa

 

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