What even is stress (Part 1)

At OPEX Bristol, a big part of how we work with our clients is to assess and manage stressors, to improve health, fitness and performance. Stress, like anything health and fitness related can be a complex topic. It’s important to know that not all stress is bad, but it’s important to see the whole picture. If we have too much stress and not enough recovery, our bodies start to break down, our energy hits the floor and our libido goes out the window.

There are two main ways people recognise stress in the human body;

  • Mental/emotional stress

  • Biological stress

In part one we will be going over the ins and outs of mental/emotional stress and how to combat it.

Mental/emotional stress is the kind of stress where you have 18 things to do, people keep taking your time, you are not sure you are going to make your deadline and you feel like you have no control over your situation.

However in this category we include other mental/emotional “stressors,” like depression, lack of purpose, lack of fulfilment and anxiety.

We have had plenty of conversations with clients who don’t believe they’re stressed, but once we dig deeper and run through an average day, the picture changes.

Mental/emotional stress is common nowadays, but here is the upside… mental/emotional stress isn’t necessarily bad for you!

There are two main caveats to this:

A) How mental/emotional stress is perceived.

The way we experience stress is all down to how we perceive that stress. Two people could go through the exact same situation, and experience it completely differently. It comes down to our beliefs, mindset and experience in similar situations.

So with this in mind, what if we thought stressful situations where something for us to overcome and adapt to? This victor rather then victim mindset changes what happens in the body, and makes you more resilient. In fitness, we use stressful stimuli to increase health, fitness and performance. As long as we ensure there is adequate time to recover and adapt to the stimulus, we actually become stronger because of the stress.

B) Mental/emotional stress hinders digestion and recovery.

On the flip side, we should always aim to reduce stress at certain times in the day. Like we said, stress can be good for us, but we need adequate time to recover and adapt from the stressor. One situation where this is extremely important is during meals. When we eat in a hectic, stressful and distracting environment our body is unlikely to be in a para-sympathetic state (rest and digest). This stops us from being able to properly digest the nutrients we take in, and can even lead to more issues down stream.

How to better cope with stress:

Shift your paradigm

As we mentioned before, your mindset on stress can have huge implications on how it affects your biology.

See stressful events as a challenge for you to overcome and become stronger from.

Breath

Meditation and mindfulness apps have been shown again and again to help with stress. But if this isn’t something your willing to try at this stage, just take a minute to breath slow, deep diaphragmatic breathes. This as been shown to up regulate the rest/digest system via the vagus nerve.

Chew your food

Food hygiene is a huge piece in improving digestion. If possible, prepare your own food, smell it, shut yourself off from stimulating devices and eat mindfully. The goal is to chew each mouthful 25 times in a relaxed state.

Put on your own mask, before you help others

Taking time for yourself is an important part of stress management. A lot of people find it tough when they feel they are responsible for other people. But you can’t look after others, when you can’t look after yourself. Take time to do things that you enjoy and help you relax.

Practise gratitude

A great tool in changing your stress mindset is to practise gratitude. List 3 things everyday that went well, or that you are grateful for. It seems simple, but it helps you see the positives of each day, rather then focus on the negatives. Try it for a couple of weeks and thank me later.

Don’t live off stimulants

We will dig deeper into this in part 2, but try not to ride out the day with sugar, caffeine and nicotine propping you up. This leads to more erratic behaviour and thinking, not to mention emotional highs and lows.

Check out part two to find out more about biological stress and how it could be holding you back from reaching your health and fitness goals.

James Grogan