The Athlete's Guide To Stress

Stress has played a part in keeping humans alive for thousands of years. When a saber tooth tiger was planning to make our ancestors dinner, stress kick started their fight or flight response which kept them alive.

The body was designed to receive stress in small doses. Unfortunately, in today's modern world full of deadlines and responsibilities, people are often in a constant state of stress.

High doses of stress wreak havoc on your body. An increased risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, and low sex drive are only some of the symptoms of stress.

As an endurance athlete, you'll want to pay close attention to your level of stress. The demands of training introduce an entirely new form of stress making it easier for you to push your body over the edge.

Stress Is Stress

There are different types of stress that fall broadly into four categories [1].

Physical stress:

  • Trauma (injury, infection, surgery)
  • Intense physical exertion (training)
  • Illness
  • Dehydration
  • Musculoskeletal misalignments/imbalances
  • Environmental pollution

Psychological stress:

  • Emotional stress (fears, sadness, anger, grief)
  • Cognitive stress (worry, guilt, shame, jealousy, anxiety)
  • Perceptual stress (beliefs, attitudes, world view).

Psychosocial stress:

  • Relationship difficulties
  • Lack of resources for adequate survival
  • Loss of employment/investments/savings
  • Loss of loved ones
  • Loneliness

Psycho-spiritual stress:

  • A crisis of values, meaning, and purpose
  • Joyless striving (instead of productive, satisfying, meaningful and fulfilling work
  • Misalignment within one’s core spiritual beliefs.

What's important to understand is your body cannot differentiate between the varying types of stress. Your body simply know's it's experiencing stress and has no idea where it came from.

Similarly, it's critical to understand that stress is cumulative and doesn't exist in different categories inside your body. You have one stress tank and all types of stress are dumped inside. If you are overstressed from a relationship problem, you might need to reduce your training volume to keep yourself healthy.

Am I Too Stressed?

Endurance sports like cycling place a high physical stress on the body. It is therefore crucial for cyclists to remember that their stress tank is always somewhat full.

If you experience too much stress for an extended period of time, you are subject to overtraining syndrome.** Athletes should therefore consider their overall state of stress while training.

While you can't directly measure your stress level, you can look for indicators of stress. Changes in resting heart rate, body mass, and appetite are all symptoms of excess stress. Tools like Restwise help you monitor key markers of stress on a daily basis and aim to keep you healthy.

How To Reduce Stress

Your stress level over months or years is more important than a single moment in time. Remember, it's long term elevated stress that affects your health.

If you find yourself in an overstressed state you may benefit from the following:

  • Getting more sleep
  • Reduce exercise volume or intensity
  • Meditation
  • Take a vacation
  • Spend time with loved ones
  • Laugh
  • Improve your diet

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the old adage to stop and smell the roses, exists for good reason.

I'll leave you with this. When interviewing the owners of Restwise on our podcast, they gave us the following advice.

Weather can change by the minute, just like your level of stress. Climate is the average weather over a long period of time. Look at stress like climate. Your goal is a Mediterranean climate—75 degrees and sunny every day. If you can achieve that, the occasional rain storm won't be a big deal.


Footnotes:
  1. Will Joel Friedman, PH.D. , “Types of Stress and Their Symptoms,” MentalHelp.net, November 18, 2013, https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/types-of-stress-and-their-symptoms/.
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