How to Stay Fit in the Face of Stress
No doubt, you're aware that there's a built-in reward system between fitness and reduced stress.
- Reduced stress encourages healthy behaviors
- Healthy behaviors reduce stress
But, sometimes we may allow a certain stress to become so distracting that we put our fitness routine on the back burner. It can become a vicious cycle - we feel stressed and too distracted to exercise - which then leads to additional stress from a drop in endorphin levels, a general lack of feeling healthy, insomnia, a perception that our appearance is suffering, and sometimes depression.
Below are some tips to help get your mind in the right place, so that you can resume your fitness routine and your feeling of mental and physical health, circling back up the spiral.
Start by Reducing Stress In Other Ways
Stress is not just a feeling - it is a tangible factor that has significant consequences to our health - chemically, biologically, and psychologically.
Don't take it lightly - take concrete, proactive steps to reduce it. If you feel too overwhelmed to exercise, maybe feeling too tired due to lack of sleep, take other actions to get yourself in a place where you can exercise. Try the following:
- Relaxation: This can take many forms such as the traditional meditation or just pursuing any activity that is relaxing to you such as a hobby, reading, journaling your thoughts to see if they're rational, listening to music, and more.
- Get outdoors and into the sun as often as possible. (Walk the dog!)
- Laugh as much as possible: whether the source is a friend or a funny movie - tests have shown that the effects of laughing through a one-hour sitcom, last 12 hours.
- Seek out tips and advice from supportive family and friends - maybe they've been in your situation and can tell you how they addressed the problem - or maybe they can just give you some outside perspective. Maybe the problem is not as big as you think. But, avoid negative people who have 'given up' on improving their lives.
- Make concrete changes in your life, whatever applies: Talk to your manager about adjusting your work schedule or job duties; seek out relationship counseling, listen to discs on self-esteem, take up a new hobby, plan a trip, reduce your overall obligation load - anything to get you out of your current state of mind - even for a time.
- Gain proper perspective of the stressor. Become an optimist, and face the stress head-on: Is it really mountainous? Take responsibility for your life: view the stress as a challenge to which you are able to supply productive solutions. Start by making a list of possible solutions, then consider the pros and cons of each, maybe running the ideas by an optimistic friend.
- In some situations, seeking temporary advice from a Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy (CBT) expert can get your thoughts back on track and out of the negative cycle.
Taking action, rather than stewing in the problem, can reduce the duration of the stress and improve self-esteem. But, save huge, life-altering decisions for a time when you're back on track and are thinking with a clear head.
Based somewhat on our genetics, somewhat on our current situation, and somewhat on how we were raised, we may be the type to turn to our favorite comfort foods during times of stress. Eating unhealthy foods can also contribute to a downward spiral since we feel physically worse and worse and don't get that positive-minded incentive to be more active.
There are a few methods I've found helpful in this case:
- Think about what you're eating - try not to choke down fast food while you're obsessing about your stress. Look at your food, focus on the smell, taste, and texture.
- I don't keep junk food in the house. If my only options are snap peas and carrots, although I might feel disappointed at the moment, that's what I'll snack on, and I won't have the after-guilt of consuming unhealthy food.
- I hang out with healthy eaters and avoid those who just sympathize with me and drown their own sorrows in ice-cream.
- If I do have comfort food easily available to me, I make a deal with myself: Work out for 45 minutes to one hour (whatever kind of exercise is most readily available to me - before I change my mind), then I can have the comfort food. What actually ends up happening is that after I work out, I don't want to pollute my body with that food, and I often have the fortitude to send it down the garbage disposal.
Stay as Active as Possible
Even if you're not currently running miles, conquering the gym for an hour, or whatever is your fitness routine of choice, you can still walk outside on your work breaks, take the stairs, park far from the store entrance - anything that keeps your blood circulating. Any type of exercise helps clear your mind so that you can effectively tackle your stresses, and it helps keep you ready to take up more challenging fitness routines as soon as you can.