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Stress comes in all shapes and sizes, and physical growth does require some degree of stress beyond what your body is accustomed to—this is referred to as the progressive overload principle. You will need to push yourself and put stress on your body in order to achieve your greater fitness goals.
However, not all stress is nearly as beneficial. A lot of physical, mental, and environmental stress can have negative consequences on your mind, body, and general well-being. More importantly, it can also negatively impact your physical fitness.
How Does Your Body Process Stress?
When dealing with stress, the brain increases the production of cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol then suppresses the digestive system and alters the immune system, while adrenaline increases blood pressure and heart rate.
Usually, the point of this process is to self-limit the body’s response to stress—with all bodily functions going back to normal when the source of the stress dissipates. But what happens in the event of chronic, long-term stress?
A host of behavioral, physical, and emotional symptoms start developing, from sleeping disorders and digestive issues to high blood pressure and exhaustion. Additionally, stress weakens the immune system over time. And while it’s certainly not possible to eliminate stress entirely, managing it better is imperative to quality of life.
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Combatting Stress with Regular Exercise
While this may seem like a cliché, exercise can help lower our stress levels. When working out, the body releases more endorphins—i.e., the ”feel good” hormones. Even taking a half-hour walk can improve your mood and lower your stress levels. Regular exercise is also known to relax, elevate mood, and increase confidence—all of which can lead to better sleep patterns, and more energy as a result.
Exercise-induced stress can be overkill, though, so overcompensating for other sources of stress by working out more than your body can handle in the long run will also lead to chronic issues. In other words: Be careful of overtraining.
The Impact of Stress on Fitness Goals
When the body is pushed beyond the workout volume that it can reasonably recover from, exercise stops being an avenue to relieve stress and becomes an additional stressor. While training is important, recovery is just as crucial when it comes to physical fitness. The body can’t adapt to the tempo of your workout routine without the sufficient opportunity to recover.
If your stress is related to sleep deprivation, you should also approach your workout plans more carefully. A lack of sleep can reduce your reaction time and working memory resulting in a less than optimal gym performance and increasing the chances of injuring yourself during particularly intense workouts. Under extreme stress conditions, it’s always crucial to be mindful of adequate recovery times.
How to Handle Stress
At the end of the day, it’s extremely important to recognize the build-up of stress within yourself when it starts to affect your daily performance—both in the gym and beyond.
Some people strive on limited amounts of stress; they complete tasks more efficiently and it motivates them. Others have strong negative reactions to even the tiniest notion of stress. Most people are somewhere in between. Identify what stresses you out specifically, and how to take care of your physical health as best as possible to manage the consequences of that stress.
Make sure you take care of your body—day in and day out. Working out is beneficial, but it’s not the end of the world if you take a break and allow yourself enough time to rest and recover. Also, don’t forget that proper sleep and nutrition matter just as much! Learning how to balance your stress levels can help you succeed in the long run.