What is Stress?
Stress is a response designed to get our attention, manage a threat, deal with any damage(injury) and return the body back its own baseline. For example, when we exercise, we break into a sweat and feel thirsty. These are stress responses – your body is trying to regulate its own core temperature (manage threat), and feeling thirsty (getting your attention to drink more water) helps your body return to normal function. There are many other factors contributing to stress, such as physical, mental, emotional, existential, social and environmental stress, but I will just be focusing on the physical (exercise) stress for now.
Stress and Recovery should be linked in exercise planning
When we respond, recover and adapt well, stress make us better. However, if we don’t respond effectively, stress can break us down.
The graph above shows how stress can make or break someone. With the right stress and recovery protocol and with proper planning of an exercise routine, you can make adaptive progression and increase your performance. However, if recovery and planning is not done correctly, you will see a decrease in performance, loss of motivation, lower immunity, and even injury in the long term.
Less may sometimes be more
Ask yourself: have you been pushing your workouts too hard and neglecting your rest days? Instead of seeing improved performance, has your performance gotten poorer, or even worse, have you gotten injured? This is a sign that A) you did not create enough stress for you to see improvement, or B) you did not recover well because you pushed too hard.
Recovery does not just refer to rest time or days off. Poor recovery can also be caused by the lack of proper nutrition or sleep, or too many stressors in your daily life. These stressors may lead to a snowball effect, ultimately causing decreased motivation to workout or even injury.
How to recover well
Recovery is a conscious process. There are three major factors that improve recovery: nutrition, sleep, and mental well-being.
Poor nutrition, sleep and mental health can affect energy levels and recovery. Take for example a tired mother of three kids who gets only 5 hours of sleep, has a day job, and manages her kids after work. The lack of sleep, stress at work, and stress at home all contribute to her low energy levels and poor recovery.
Eating well is the key for losing weight, but it’s also very important for recovery. If you do not feed your body well, the amount of stress you put on your body might overwhelm you, slow the recovery process, and may even lead to lower in immunity, or even worse, injury.
- Eat lean protein in every meal. Proteins are building blocks for your muscles and cells.
- Eat fruits and vegetables in most meals. They contain most of the micro nutrients you need for immunity and recovery.
- Eat minimal processed food
- Drink enough water. Adults need about 3 liters daily.
Everyone knows sleep is important, but did you know that not all sleep is equal? Have you ever felt refreshed after a good night’s sleep? This means your body is fully rested. When you get enough quality sleep, your body’s parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, allowing your body to relax fully.
Here are some pre sleep rituals you can try:
- Invest in blackout curtains to block out street lights or other light that may come from outside . Lights give your brain the signal to be awake.
- Shut off all electronic devices two hours before bedtime
- Avoid caffeinated drinks at least 8 hours before bed time.
Good mental health is necessary for good sleep. Chances are, if you’re suffering from poor mental health, you’ll suffer from poor sleep.
For example, you may be worried about your kids’ school performance, an important presentation at work, or paying next months’ bills.
Here are a few ways to improve your mental health:
- Schedule 60 minutes of daily “me” time to destress. It can be anything you enjoy or relaxes you, like a fun workout or a hobby. However, if it is too stimulating, try not to schedule it too close to bed time.
- The occasional social media detox
- Get active, whether outdoors or indoors.
Some extra help
Sometimes it helps to have a coach guiding you through your fitness journey. Consider hiring a personal trainer. It is a trainer’s job to learn about your current situation and plan an exercise and recovery routine to suit your needs and condition.
You might be interested in my new online fitness coaching monthly subscription, where I build a fitness plan for you, complete with video tutorials and nutritional advice. For 1-on-1 attention, I also offer in-person and virtual personal training sessions.