The Sneaky Element That Is Preventing Your Progress, And How To Get Past That
There is enough evidence to prove that stress is a root cause of major problems both physically and mentally. Research shows that one out of every three adults feel stressed on a daily basis with younger adults being influenced the most.
Oftentimes, stress is talked about as something emotional and to do with the pressure exerted on the brain to work or act. In the medical context, stress is defined as something entirely different.
Psychologists and psychiatrists say that stress is a very real physiological phenomenon that causes actual changes in our bodies and brains. It refers to a response triggered by the brain when a situation we find ourselves in demands our mindful effort. The brain might have detected a situation that is happening or might happen that requires us to react.
This explains a lot why we feel stressed only under certain situations. Be it an interview, first day at work, a project deadline or even an examination.
Our stress system is designed to adapt to short-term stress very well, but when stress becomes chronic, it leaves major impacts on the body.
Let us separate the impacts of stress on us into physical and psychological elements to get a better understanding: Both these elements have a role to play in how well we are able to adapt to a new fitness program, and have profound impacts on habit formation, performance and subsequently, the way we feel about ourselves over time.
Physical Impact Of Stress
- An increase in stress causes the blood flow to major muscle groups to be constricted over time. As a result, their ability to recover after exercise is compromised.
- Chronic stress can sometimes leave the muscles fatigued as we tend to tense them under stressful conditions.
- Tension-headache is another common phenomenon associated with chronic stress. With no way to diagnose other than to accept that you are stressed, a tension headache can severely hamper your daily life and activities.
Psychological Impact Of Stress
- Stress is the root cause of almost all major psychological illnesses.
- It is a preceding factor for depression and anxiety. It also causes occasional panic attacks, phobias and OCDs.
- Chronic stress triggers extreme emotions and mood swings which is why one under stress often ends up having a breakdown.
How Is Stress Measured?
One might ask why is it necessary to measure stress? The very fact that stress causes major health issues in itself speaks a lot about the need to study and assess stress. Also, measuring it enables one to cope.
Stress can be measured physiologically by:
- Using blood or urine samples to measure hormonal levels in the body. Stress causes some hormone levels such as those of prostaglandins to be higher, which the feel-good hormones such as endorphins are much lower.
- Using a polygraph machine to check for physiological arousal. A polygraph machine measures blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate and galvanic skin response.
Subjectively, stress can be perceived and identified by counsellors and psychologists by asking a series of questions and gauging individual response.
Overtraining: When The Body Is Too Stressed Out
Overtraining is an extreme mode of exercise wherein trainees exert themselves beyond usual limits in a short period of time.
- Overtraining is often linked with stressed-out individuals who spend hours at the gym venting it out in the form of exercise.
- While this can be a good conversion of energy, overtraining leaves a person sore and can cause serious injuries and fatigues.
- Researchers at University of Colorado have found that extremes of exercise can elevate cortisol levels.
- Excess cortisol affects tendons, ligaments and muscles and leaves a person susceptible to tendonitis, ligament sprains and muscle strains.
- This condition is often observed in athletes who may feel the psychological pressure to perform even better, and may convert this into the physical stress of overtraining.
Warming Up And Cooling Down
As part of training, the importance of warm-up and cool-down must always be kept in mind. A proper warm-up raises the body temperature and helps prevent injuries and muscle soreness as an increase in the temperature decreases the viscosity of the joint capsule.
A general warm up involves the major muscles of the body and includes activities such as jumping or jogging.
A cool down and stretching session after a training is recommended to prevent any muscle soreness and helps increase flexibility. Also, cooling down should ideally be a period of relaxation for the mind, to help it process the workout that has just been completed- this practice is often followed in Yoga.
Recovering From Physical Stress
A balance is always required in life. So is the case with training. We need to give muscles enough time to recover after a training session before we jump into another activity.
- Rest days are usually recommended to give muscles time to relax but if that cannot be the case, then a training session can be spread in such a way that after a set of muscles, another set is targeted the next day in order to give some muscles time to relax and recover.
- Weight training strains muscles, creating minute tears in muscle fibres. A couple of days’ rest gives muscles time to recover and in the process muscles grow firmer and stronger as a precaution to cope with an effort greater than the previous strain on them.
In essence, the body is able to repair itself with the right kind of nutrition and time, but very often, our eagerness is the cause of physical stress, which then hampers our growth and progress. Extending this to the psychological realm, we are able to explain why some people feel ‘burnt out’ after a period of intense mental work.
Recovery is an important part of growth. Recovering from physical activity can help your muscles develop endurance over time. The risk of injury and chronic pains is also reduced significantly. Likewise, recovering after a long day at work, or from a stressful situation, can give you the resilience to cope, and also help you avoid the common lifestyle problems of today.