It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And for a lot of people, also the most stressful. Stress management is often an overlooked part of your health and fitness, and it could be sabotaging your progress. Here’s how, and a few tips for staying zen this Holiday season- and always.
It’s sad that a time of year when we should be slowing down in order to spend more time with friends and family, is often the polar opposite of that. Stress takes a toll on your body in many ways, from changes in psyche to sleep patterns, and it can also severely hinder your results regardless of the work you’re doing in the gym.
It’s no secret hormones run nearly every process in your body, and stress releases hormones that have a profound cascade effect on your system as a whole, sometimes holding up your plans of burning fat or building muscle. Adrenaline, norepinephrine,and cortisol are the three stress hormones. The release of adrenaline and norepinephrine is your body’s initial response to outside stressors. This is your flight or fight response to a situation, causing constriction of the blood vessels, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and dilation of the bronchi in your lungs. You’re ready to run and/or defend yourself. It can take minutes to hours for these levels to come down again. Cortisol is probably the one stress hormone we hear about the most, as it is linked to chronic (or long-term) stress and can lead to fat storage.
Stress is also directly correlated with poor food choices, as people naturally tend to look for comfort food in place of healthy options when they’re overwhelmed or stressed out. Compounding this, and usually along with rising stress and hormone levels, our sleep patterns are off, causing sometimes radical changes in energy levels and recovery time, as well as water retention.
Here’s how you can flip the switch on your hormones and beat the holiday-and possibly everyday- humbug! Aside from throwing the slam balls around and sweating, you can try meditation, yoga, hot and cold therapy, stretching, and massage.
I teach Mobility class every Monday as an opportunity for you to come slow down a bit, and practice self-care of your muscles and your mind. We do some stretching, along with some yoga moves, mobility exercises to address imbalances you may have, and myofascial release to restore blood flow. It’s a very different type of class than our typical circuits and offers you a chance to breathe just a little easier and your body to move a better throughout the rest of the week.
You don’t have to be a particularly religious or even a spiritual person to reap the benefits of meditation, and it doesn’t have to take a ton of time. Try stretching a bit in bed first thing in the morning or just before going to sleep at night, and take a minute to quiet your mind, focusing on your breath and relaxing each individual part of your body one at a time, from your temples to your toes. Take a second to set your intentions for the day, or even decide what to dream about. We still dream as adults, right? Meditation is about listening to your body and living with intention. It’s easy to make a few minutes to do, and can pay off by bringing your heart rate down and increasing circulation. It can make you feel better and get you a step closer to cortisol levels decreasing, and a better night’s sleep too. If you find you really like meditation, or need some guided options there are apps to help you out, a lot of which are free. Insight Timer is nice because it offers thousands of guides to choose from, Aura is good because it’s just three minutes each day, and Calm even offers you a selection of different “Sleep Stories” to choose from.
If you can’t make it to a class, taking a walk on your lunch break instead of that working con-call (or maybe even after) can make a big difference, too. Remind yourself to take a time-out in some way from the craziness. Set an alarm on your phone if you have to. Walk around the building, get up to fill your water bottle, and when you come back to your desk, close your eyes and picture yourself on a beach, on a cloud, wherever, taking a deep breath in through your nose and slowly out through your mouth just to center yourself before the next task. I used to do this when I worked at Fidelity and it was super helpful just to get up and hit the reset button every hour or two. I always felt less burned out by the end of the day as a result.
Although a professional massage sounds amazing, we don’t always have the time for it, so in lieu of that you can foam roll or use a tennis or lacrosse ball to pinpoint tight spots and release knots you may have at home. I usually do this while I’m watch tv at night, so it’s easy to work into my day.
Some of you may have played sports in high school and through college; remember how great an extra long hot shower felt? How nice was an epsom salt bath for your tired muscles as well as your mind? Take the time to relax this way even if it’s just once a week.
There’s also something to be said for music therapy. I usually do this in the car (like most people) and I’ll either blare the music and sing and dance, or put something on that’s a little lower-key/ballad-like to calm down after a long day. So if you see me at a stop light somewhere in this area… you’ll be able to tell right away how stressed I’m feeling or what kind of mood shift I needed.
The real idea is to find small sustainable ways of implementing these things into your everyday lifestyle so you don’t get overwhelmed or completely de-railed this season or next, by stress. As always, please ask for help with any and all of these techniques if need be, and if you simply need to vent, we’re nearly always open, and your coaches want to know how you’re doing, so don’t hesitate to email, call, send up a smoke signal, whatever! We’re here for you, and we want you to be healthy and happy- from the inside out.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS! And because I’m pretty sure my mom is one of only a handful of people reading this, HI MOM!