Top 5 Tips To Manage Your Stress For Better Body Composition
The high-paced corporate lifestyle. Reacting to emails, juggling meetings, long working hours, not to mention that awful commute to work. You feel stressed.
You also find yourself unable to achieve lasting fat loss and build the physique you aspire to. Have you considered that it’s your stressful lifestyle that may be the limiting factor?
The effects of stress manifest through the actions of cortisol in your body, the so-called ‘stress hormone’. Consistent (chronic) elevation causes disruption to the hypothalamic-pituitary axis. This axis affects almost all hormones in your body. The knock-on impact means that stress is not merely a psychological phenomenon. Its effects are physical as well.
How Stress Affects Your Training
Believe it or not, psychological stress reduces your ability to gain strength (1). The study concluded : “Results indicated that the low-stress participants experienced a significantly greater increase in bench press and squat than their high-stress counterparts.”
If that wasn’t enough, your rate of recovery under chronic stress is also significantly impaired. By significant, I mean literally cut in half (2). Injury risk can also double under periods of high stress (3).
How Stress Affects Your Diet
As discussed in this article, your fat loss success depends on energy balance. Stress can decrease energy expenditure by several hundred calories a day. Simultaneously, fat oxidation (your ability to burn fat) is impaired. That means you’re likely to store more fat and sabotage your goals (4). This is detrimental not only to your physique, but also to your health. The fat stores can make their way to the heart and cause blockage.
A ‘healthy stress’ such as strength training or low-intensity cardio will actually suppress your appetite. On the contrary, chronic stress increases your appetite. It makes you want to snack on comfort foods (carbohydrate cravings) in order to self-medicate.
Whilst consuming carbohydrates can suppress the symptoms of stress, this is at best a band-aid. The most likely outcome is over-eating to chase the feel-good factor, at the expense of your health and body composition.
5 Tips To Manage Stress Levels And Take Control Of Your Life
- Implement time blocking
Time blocking – dividing your day into blocks of time focused on specific tasks – is just as helpful for employed professionals as for the self-employed. It allows you to avoid having to constantly make stressful choices around what to focus on. Aside from enhancing productivity, it is also a useful tool for managing stress.
In essence, transient periods of stress followed by recovery means that the stress becomes episodic, and not chronic.
Aside from the continuous stress response that reactive emailing creates, big trends in business today actively decrease people’s ability to perform deep work. Time-blocking allows for this stress to become transient, with productivity boosts to boot. Allocate specific periods of the day to hammer through and action email items.
If you have a 9-to-6 job, your stress period is pre-defined during working/commuting hours. Exercise is a temporary (but beneficial) stressor, and so your training should take place during (or just after) this part of the day. Once you get home, it’s time to relax.
Self-employed people should proactively use time blocking. Schedule in work, exercise, and relaxation in predefined blocks to create a manageable lifestyle rhythm.
- Actively deal with problems
It is a natural inclination to want to avoid dealing directly with stressful situations or emotions. This often results in seeking out short-term relief – self-soothing through food or alcohol, or via low-demanding tasks such as watching television.
Avoidance may delay but it can never resolve – it just puts off the problem. Dealing with problems head on is a much better option for managing stress (5). Actively address the cause of the issue with actions, not thoughts.
- Incorporate mindfulness
Mindfulness can take many forms, the most popular of which is meditation. Once considered in the West as an activity for the hippie, mindfulness is now entering the mainstream with the help of backing by scientific studies.
Meditation acts as a reset for your mood, reducing anxiety and depression (6).
It takes consistent practice, but benefits can start to accrue with as little as 5 minutes per day as part of your morning routine. To help you get going, apps such as Calm and Headspace are very handy.
- Expose yourself to nature
Exposure to nature has solid scientific backing in reducing stress (7).
The simplest way to implement this is a morning walk. Of course, you may not have the luxury of easily accessible green surroundings. In this case, even getting some plants for your home has been shown to significantly benefit stress levels (8).
- Incorporate aerobic exercise
Exercise is a mild form of stress on the body. Ironically, this mild stress has a powerful capacity to provide a buffer against the build-up of chronic stress.
During exercise, neurons (nerve cells) get broken down and built up just like muscles. This is how exercise forces the body and mind to adapt. Stressing them makes them more resilient. Physical activity relieves both the feeling of stress, and the body’s response to it. The more stress you have, the more your body needs to move to keep your brain running smoothly.
As Dr John J. Ratey discussed in his book Spark, “we respond to stress in the same way our ancestors did — by adopting a “fight or flight” response. Adrenalin and other hormones are released into our bloodstreams and our muscles are primed for a response. The problem is that these days, the chemicals that build up for a physical response have no outlet.”
That being the case, you have to make a conscious effort to initiate the physical component of fight or flight.
Resistance training has been shown to reliably decrease anxiety (9). Aerobic exercise, in particular, has shown the most profound effect on its capacity to buffer against stress (10).
Get fit, and then continue challenging yourself. Walk or jog every day, run a couple of times a week, and even go for the kill every now and again with sprinting. The more fit you are, the more resilient your brain becomes, and the better it functions.
About the author
After years juggling a senior banking career with my passion for fitness, I left finance to help busy professionals transform their bodies inside and out. As an online coach, I use a science-based approach to get you the lean, healthy physique you deserve.
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- Bartholomew, J. B., Stults-Kolehmainen, M. A., Elrod, C. C., & Todd, J. S. (2008). Strength gains after resistance training: The effect of stressful, negative life events. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(4), 1215–1221.
- Stults-Kolehmainen, M. A., Bartholomew, J. B., & Sinha, R. (2014). Chronic psychological stress impairs recovery of muscular function and somatic sensations over a 96-hour period. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(7), 2007–2017.
- Mann, J. B., Bryant, K. R., Johnstone, B., Ivey, P. A., & Sayers, S. P. (2016). Effect of Physical and Academic Stress on Illness and Injury in Division 1 College Football Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(1), 20–25.
- Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Habash, D. L., Fagundes, C. P., Andridge, R., Peng, J., Malarkey, W. B., & Belury, M. A. (2015). Daily stressors, past depression, and metabolic responses to high-fat meals: A novel path to obesity. Biological Psychiatry, 77(7), 653–660.
- Billings, A. G., & Moos, R. H. (1984). Coping, stress, and social resources among adults with unipolar depression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(4), 877–891.
- Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M. S., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., … Haythornthwaite, J. A. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357–368.
- Li, Q., Otsuka, T., Kobayashi, M., Wakayama, Y., Inagaki, H., Katsumata, M., … Kagawa, T. (2011). Acute effects of walking in forest environments on cardiovascular and metabolic parameters. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(11), 2845–2853.
- Dijkstra, K., Pieterse, M. E., & Pruyn, A. (2008). Stress-reducing effects of indoor plants in the built healthcare environment: The mediating role of perceived attractiveness. Preventive Medicine, 47(3), 279–283.
- Strickland, J. C., & Smith, M. A. (2014). The anxiolytic effects of resistance exercise. Frontiers in Psychology. Frontiers Research Foundation.
Stubbs, B., Vancampfort, D., Rosenbaum, S., Firth, J., Cosco, T., Veronese, N., … Schuch, F. B. (2017, March 1). An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research. Elsevier Ireland Ltd.