Let's start with a high level over view. Just looking at quality of life, when you're dealing with an inordinate amount of stress you're likely to see your general mood and interactions with other suffer. Stress is often linked with anxiety which can together compound upon the emotional effects. Perhaps you find yourself wanting to sleep all the time because you feel so over loaded. Or maybe you're so amped up all the time that you can't sleep, you can't sit still and you certainly can't focus well.
Now let's get into the nitty gritty of what goes on in in your body when you're chronically stressed. I'm sure most people have heard of the hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is a hormone this is used, like most hormones, to keep the body at homeostasis. It fluctuates throughout the day, typically being higher in the morning and lower in the evening, and in small doses helps regulate metabolism, blood glucose, and immune function.
Cortisol, however, is also released during times of stress as part of the body's "fight or flight" mechanism. Even this isn't always bad. In small, infrequent bursts it can help to give a boost of energy, boost memory, and lower sensitivity to pain. The problems arise when you have chronic stress, and your levels of cortisol never get a chance to taper off or opposing hormones never get a chance to regulate it.
Studies have shown chronically high levels of cortisol to have the following effects:
- increase in abdominal fat storage
- decrease in bone density
- decrease in muscle tissue
- impaired immunity and healing processes
- increase of blood glucose levels and facilitate insulin resistance
So basically it does all the things that a person trying to get in shape DOESN'T want to happen, as in its effects are completely counter to exercise and sports training. So what do we do about it? The fact is that in today's world, we are going to have times where we can't avoid some level of chronic stress. We can't quit our jobs or not pay our mortgage every time it puts a strain on us.
A few techniques we can use to recuperate and reduce our stress levels will help reduce our cortisol levels as well:
- Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has a dose dependent effect and is as easy as taking fish oils
- Get a massage, not does it feel good, but human contact does wonders for relaxation and stress releif (we'll have to discuss oxytocin sometime).
- black tea can help your body recover from the effects of chronic and acute cortisol spikes with all its antioxidants, phenols, and phytochemical.
And what ever you do, don't stop working out! Stress makes you tired, lethargic, and you might see your numbers and times suffer in the gym. But the positive effects of your training can stave off the negative effects of stress. Plus, it forces you to interact with others, and being around people and having a sense of community it a powerful stress reliever.