I know that sounds like an obvious statement, but it is still hard to do in everyday life. Even when things are a bit chaotic, most of us seem to under estimate the effects of stress on the body. As athletes we look at our training, equipment, and nutrition in hopes of a faster race and improving our fitness level. However, the majority of us never consider our stress levels. As an athlete stress can hurt your performance in many ways including an increased heart rate and oxygen consumption. It can also harm your exercise efficiency and cause a workout or race to feel tougher than it actually should. Increased muscle tension and reduced leg turnover are also contributed to stress. On a cognitive level, stress prevents you from handling your tough workouts and races (i.e. instead of relaxing and focusing on the task at hand, you are preoccupied with stressful thoughts and emotions) so the quality of your performance decreases. The body also does not differentiate between positive and negative stress. So even if you are having fun you need to take that stress into account.
What is Stress?
Stress is a physical, chemical or emotional factor that increases muscle and body tension. Most people only associate stress with negative experiences. However, scientists and physicians use this term to denote any force that disrupts the stability and balance of bodily functions. Stress also has a direct impact on Cortisol levels. Cortisol is referred to as the “stress hormone” that is released by your adrenal glands in response to either physical or emotional stress. Whether it is several sleepless nights, an extremely low calorie diet or getting caught in a traffic jam, your body responds in the same way. It secretes Cortisol into your bloodstream, which then leads to more complications. The dangers of having high levels of the hormone have been associated with storage of abdominal fat, diabetes, heart disease, a weakened immune system and chronic depression. What can high levels of Cortisol do to the body? Well just take a look at a Salmon after they have finished their exhausting migration. They will be dead and primarily from high levels of Cortisol.
The key to dealing with stress is to first recognize its presence. This is not hard to do considering it is usually a part of our daily lives. The second step is to look at what is causing the stress. And finally, it is time to find a way to wipe out the stress or to decrease the level to which it is affecting you. Of course there is also the thing I call “stupid stress.” This is the type of stress that has convoluted your mind and has no actual value in everyday life. This type of stress is not a result of work, family or relationships and is a complete waste of mental energy. “Stupid Stress” is created by you in response to factors you can not control and needs to be eliminated by you.
I find that dealing with stress becomes a catalyst for positive changes in your life. If you are serious about your training and race performance and the effects stress has on it, you should take a strong look at your lifestyle. As I mentioned before, stress can impact your performance greatly, and all the high end equipment and time spent training will be wasted if it is not handled properly. By breaking down each area of your life that creates stress, you can understand where it is generated. If you are stressed from family/ relationships, it is up to you to find out why, and make the necessary changes to decrease that stress. If work is causing you stress, then find out why and develop a plan/ schedule to alleviate it. If training itself is becoming stressful remember that above all it better be fun. We are spending way to much time and money on our chosen sport for it not to be an enjoyable part of our life. If it is not fun then take a few days off to rest. Many times you might just be over extended a bit. Remember you get fit when you rest not when you train. A few days rest would allow you to recover and allow your body to soak up all the training. It will also give you some time to focus on other areas of your life that cause you stress and time to make changes to those areas.
-Sr. Wellness Director, Downtown Orlando YMCA
-Bella Multisport Coaching