Stress: what you need to know

At Strength System, we like to think of stress management as the bedrock of a healthy, fulfilling life.

25-4-19 Stress image.jpg

Stress often gets a bad rap: we look at it as something that must be avoided at all costs.

But that’s not exactly true.

There’s good stress and then there’s bad stress.

Let’s begin with a (possibly true) story: Mithridates VI, the King of Pontus in Asia Minor around the 60s BC, was terrified of being poisoned (his father, the unfortunate Mithridates V, had been killed by poison). On the advice of his physicians, he consumed small, frequent quantities of poison in order to build up his resistance to it.

Suggest-Mithritades-VI[1]

His headgear is on point


Apparently, it worked. Too well.

Because when he tried to commit suicide by poison as a dramatic final gesture to prevent his capture by Roman troops, it didn’t work. He had to have his bodyguard use his sword the old-fashioned way.

Moral of the story? Stress in small doses can be beneficial and make you harder to kill. Too much stress (or the Roman Republic) can kill you.

Good stress (also called eustress) is absolutely essential for health. If you don’t stress your body and mind adequately, they will not adapt and will be much more vulnerable to the vagaries of life. Whether it’s a sudden fall, a noxious virus, or the Spanish Inquisition.

source

That’s basically what your workouts are: planned doses of stress in order to force your body to adapt by becoming stronger, increasing bone density, building muscle tissue, pumping more blood, and so on.

But there will come a point where that stress becomes too much for your body to handle. If you suddenly decide to become a professional triathlete and promptly start to train 3 times a day, 6 days a week, you might well break something. Your body was not prepared for that stress.

Let’s expand the stress bubble a little bit more now: because ‘stress’ is not merely physical: it includes physical, mental and even emotional stress.

Consider the following scenarios:

  1. A shouting match with a loved one

  2. The never-ending traffic jam at every signal on the way to work

  3. That dubious plate of ‘mutton’ biryani

  4. Your perpetually precarious financial situation

  5. Your unflattering body image of yourself

All of these are individual stressors. Put together, they add up to your ‘allostatic load’: the combined effect of all the chronic stressors in your life.

allostatic_load_model

If you remember the story of Mithridates, there’s a sweet spot in the middle.

Unfortunately, most of us end up on the right side of this graph. We have too many chronic stressors and this affects the body in insidious ways:

  1. Compromised immune function

  2. Increased fat storage

  3. Poor sleep quality and quantity

  4. Elevated markers of cardiovascular disease risk: blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides.

  5. Elevated markers of inflammation.

  6. Decreased sex drive

Sounds serious, doesn’t it? It is!

However, there is still hope for the perma-stressed. We’ve listed several strategies that can help lower your allostatic load. Not all of these will work for everyone, but you will find many that will work.

Strength System’s Stress Solutions:

  1. Take sleep more seriously (see here for more).

  2. Spend 5-10 minutes a day meditating. I would recommend a couple of apps if you need help: Headspace or Waking Up.

  3. Reassess your perception of stressors. Some things (like traffic and arguments) are only stressors if you dwell on them. Changing your outlook on things that you can’t control can do wonders for your mental state.

  4. Spend 10-15 minutes everyday outside, in sunlight, with nature (if you can).

  5. Listen to relaxing (this is subjective – I relax to death metal) music.

  6. Spend some time in the week with non-competitive play: with your kid, friends, or pet.

  7. Use your off days to do an easy mobility circuit, some yoga or just a couple of long stretches that you like.

  8. Get a massage every so often.

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