It may not have occurred to you, but if you have hit a kind of a brick wall as far as your personal training progress goes, one possible reason could be stress. There are other reasons also, of course, such as wrong training routines and nutrition advice. But if you feel like you have you entered the frustration zone and believe that you are doing everything correctly, but you are no longer getting the results you desire, it could be a case of too much stress.
In this article, I am going to explain to you a number of the important reasons as to why this could happen and then give you 11 tips to help correct the situation.
Also watch out for the section just before the tips, where I introduce a newly researched method from an author, in how to deal with stress.
The above does assume that you are working with a good personal trainer, and you are acting on his/her nutrition and training advice, then you should be getting the results you want. Or you may be experienced enough to know what changes you need to make to your routine, and when, and you know what nutrition you need.
How can stress interfere with your personal training plans?
When a certain amount of stress isn’t damaging, stress overload can affect us in a variety of manners. You need to be honest with yourself about the various aspects of your life, be it work, family, self worth, fulfilment or any other area of importance. Many people live with too much stress in one or more than one of these areas, and just feel that they need to get on with it. However this is a bad choice, because stress can affect not only your personal training plans and weight gain, but it can trigger your health to deteriorate in various ways.
Scientists know that there’s a hormone that causes weight gain
Scientists have discovered that there is one hormone that can cause you to gain weight and loves stress. This hormone is called cortisol. Cortisol basically degrades your muscles, and can also cause to to gain weight.
How does cortisol work?
The main purpose of cortisol is to regulate blood pressure. This means when you get stressed, large amounts of cortisol are released from your pituitary gland. The downside is that while it is regulating your blood pressure, cortisol is also breaking down protein and converting it into fat. It breaks down prone team into amino acids, which are then further broken down in order to give you more energy.
So if you can imagine in the days of our ancestors, stress was most likely caused within the physical environment, quite possibly when out trying to find food. In other words stress was often directly related to survival. Modern day stress is related to so many different things, and many of them do not result in us using up the energy, that has been produced by the process aforementioned.
Stress and eating habits
The vast majority of us, if we’re being honest with ourselves, will admit that when were under stress maintaining healthy eating habits can be very challenging. On one hand we may eat in order to fulfil what appears to be an emotional needs, or because were stressed we may just grab some processed or fast food.
And so the vicious cycle continues. Now not only are we under too much stress, but we are no longer getting the same nutrition as before. This of course affects our well-being in general, and our hormones are also affected.
The weight gained in this way is predominantly abdominal fat.
Stress reduces motivation
Stress reduces motivation, so if you’re not able to deal with stress, you’re less likely to stick to your personal training regime. According to a study in Sports Medicine, that was published in 2014, this phenomenon is more likely to affect people who are newcomers to fitness regimes, and also older adults.
In fact there is a growing body of therapists, as well as some general practitioners, who see exercise is not only necessary for physical health, but also for general well-being of a person’s mind and emotions.
Boston University Prof of Psychology, Michael Otto PhD, says the following:
“Exercise is something that psychologists have been very slow to attend to. People know that exercise helps physical outcomes. There is much less awareness of mental health outcomes — and much, much less ability to translate this awareness into exercise action.”
Does this sound familiar? The below is another quote from Professor Michael Otto PhD, taken from an excellent article about the Effect of Exercise, published by the American Psychological Association.
“Many people skip the workout at the very time it has the greatest payoff. That prevents you from noticing just how much better you feel when you exercise,” he says. “Failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts. That’s the time you get the payoff.”
Stress and working memory
You know if you’re tired and stressed, sometimes you may feel like your memory isn’t working as well is that normally would. The reason for this is stress actually affects what known as working memory. Basically stress affects those parts of the brain that deal with working memory, short-term memory and also long-term memory. So in a nutshell stress, when it’s not dealt with can affect your memory.
Working memory could be seen much like the processing that a computer does, it’s basically when you process what you are receiving at that time. So it’s a combination of perception, evaluation and thinking. It’s the kind of thing that you probably don’t even notice on a good day, and when you’re feeling healthy and fit.
However when you’re working memory has been impaired because of stress, your reaction times and processing speeds will also be impaired.
What does this mean?
This means that even top athletes can be affected by stress. Of course they often have a whole range of means of dealing with their training, that ordinary guys and girls don’t have at their disposal. But it still affects them also.
So when you go to work out and your overloaded with stress, your reactions will be a sharp, you get tired quicker both physically and mentally, and on top of this, you’re more likely to be impulsive rather than patient. Of course this is not a good cocktail when working around machines.
Stress impairs your motor co-ordination
A study that was carried out in 2011, at the Louisiana State University, confirms that acute stress, in fact even just one exposure to this type of stress, can affect the cerebellum. This is the part of the brain which is responsible for movement coordination and motor control. It also plays a part in memory formation and learning.
This study is not alone. For a long time researchers have recognised that both physical performance and cognitive performance are deteriorated by stress.
Each of us has what is called an autonomic nervous system. This is divided into two parts, which are the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system.
The first one, the PNS, is the one that is active in normal everyday situations, when we don’t perceive stress of some sort. The SNS – dympathetic nervous system, comes into play as soon as your brain perceives a threat of some type. It actually gets activated involuntarily, so before you know it stress hormones are being discharged. It’s the sympathetic nervous system that we can associate directly with fight or flight.
In fact the term perceive in itself is important, because when we think about modern living, certain situations that we perceive us stress, would not have been perceived by our ancestors to be stress. Taking a simple look at our lives compared to their lives, we could easily say that their stresses were more likely to be far more directly linked with life and death, and survival stresses – such as being able to source food, or to be under threat physically.
A lot of our perceived stress could be seen to be somewhat distant relations of the stress that our ancestors experienced. The more serious ones may relate to survival because of money, or relationships, or health issues. However in the 21st-century, we have a whole range of other perceived stresses that may relate to our appearance, our possessions, and so many other things that wouldn’t have played a part in our ancestors’ lives.
Stress and perception – NEW AUTHOR METHOD
Investigating the issue of stress and perception, there is one amazing statistic that I would like to tell you about. Author, lecturer and health psychologist, Ph.D., Kelly McGonigal, discovered during her research for a book she has launched this year, 2015, that on average 20,000 Americans die each year prematurely, because of strong held the beliefs that stress was damaging their health.
Although I find this research fascinating, I do believe there’s a fine line between how stress can diminish our immune system and other aspects of health, and the power of the mind when it actually perceives or believes something like this.
However regardless of your own beliefs on the subject, what does tell us is how powerful our minds are. Here is her three-step method to help you cultivate a new mindset for dealing with stress.
Step one – this step is especially good if you are already engaging in personal training, natural bodybuilding or any type of physical activity. Why? Because you should already have some type of the mind body connection going on. She recommends observing where the stress is located in your body. You need to acknowledge the stress straight away, and not try to deny it. Locate the stress in your body, and observe how it makes you feel. She also recommends five minutes meditation per day to help the method.
Step two – instead of getting upset about stress, recognise that it’s important message from your system and in fact it gives you the opportunity to respond to something in your life that you honestly care about. Analyse why the motivation that underlies the stress actually matters to, figure out what you feel is at stake, and in other words embrace it in a way you can turn it into a positive.
Step three – now forget about managing stress, instead convert it into energy. At the time of stress in the moment, you will have extra energy. She recommends taking some form of action, which is in tune with your own goals and values.
She recommends trying this for a minimum of one month. And she truly believes that help change your life significantly.
11 ways to reduce stress
1. Practise thinking happy, positive thoughts
When we’re stressed it is so easy to slip down that slippery slope of thinking negative thoughts. Whether it is negative self talk, or thoughts about our lives and others, it really doesn’t help your stress levels. It may seem challenging at the beginning, but when you change the chip a little, and start to be mindful, thinking positive thoughts can eventually become a habit.
2. Drink some black tea
Believe it or not a study that was carried out in the University College London showed that those who were regular black tea drinkers could cut cortisol levels by 47%. The author of the study believes that some of the naturally occurring chemicals in black tea, such as flavonoids and polyphenols may be responsible for its calming effects.
3. Take a siesta or go to bed early
Less sleep means higher cortisol levels. In fact the levels of cortisol between those who sleep only six hours versus those who sleep eight hours can be 50% higher. If you are someone who finds it hard to sleep eight hours a night, then take a siesta during the day.
4. Spend time with a funny friend
Laughter has a huge stress melting effect. Even anticipated laughter can reduce cortisol levels, by almost 40%. Try to spend time with the funny friend, if you have one, or if the friend is available, what some comedy on TV or DVD.
5. Go for a massage
A study showed that those who went for massage on a regular basis for several weeks, were able to decrease their cortisol levels by almost 33%. The added benefits of massage is it also produces feelgood hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine.
6. Learn to manage your stress
Even if you start drinking black tea, going for massages and hanging out with your funny friends – if you don’t learn how to manage your stress, you’ll still be struggling with this. As the saying goes, there are different strokes for different folks. For you, regular exercise, or a broken nature may be perfect for managing your stress. For someone else it could be going to a yoga class or meditation that might do the job. Whatever works for you, get into the rhythm of doing it and not putting it off.
7. Try to do something to help someone else every day
When we help others, we feel good about what we have done. This very simply reduce stress, while helping others, and obviously then reduce their stress.
8. Practice gratitude
These days people are so much more aware of the power of gratitude. When we are mindful about practising gratitude, whether it is saying things out loud or just feeling grateful for the small things in our lives, we effect our body mind connection in a very positive way. This of course also reduces stress.
9. Make a music mix that you love
Music can calm your brain. Music has been used in a variety of therapeutic situations, and has been proved scientifically to reduce stress. Make a mix of music that you love, and listen to it.
10. Say “Om”
A six-week study that was carried out in Thailand showed that those practising Buddhist meditation were able to decrease both their cortisol levels and blood pressure by approximately 20%. Whether it is using the phrase OM, or some other form of meditation the results will be similar.
11. Practice visualisation
This is a method I learned a long time ago, and actually it really works very well. If you think about whatever the cause of your biggest stress is right now, and you try to freeze frame an element of it.
An easy example of this is if there is somebody in your workplace that you feel or perceive is causing you stress, be it your boss or a colleague, capture a moment in your mind’s eye when you feel this person was stressful in your perception. Think of it as a freeze-frame from a little movie.
Now focus on it for a short period of time, and then start to make the vision, or freeze-frame, smaller gradually. The concept is that you should shrink it down until it becomes just like a little dot. Some people will find this method easier than others, but as you practice it more and more, actually it is very effective and becomes easier to do.
Each time you have an awareness of your stress, practice this method. Do it as often as possible, and the more often you do it the more you will feel that trigger to do it when you need to do so. Once you feel you have reached your comfort zone, which will be the time with this practice becomes natural, and you and your brain are starting to recognise that it makes your perception of your stress far smaller, and less damaging.
At this stage your ready to start using it live. So the next time your boss or colleague comes into your space, in a way that you find stressful, remain present in the moment, but at the same time practice this method.
This can be used also in a reverse way. So if for example you have money concerns, you can also use visualisation to start seeing a bigger bank balance, a larger pay cheque, and so on. Of course this scenario you need to make the image strong and big. A great time to do any of these visualisation methods is either just before sleep or in the early time of the morning where you are not 100% awake.
The reason for this is that you are more connect to your subconscious at this time and therefore your subconscious will take that suggestion more easily.
Your subconscious actually accounts for 88% of your mind, whereas your conscious mind is the remaining 12%. This is why it’s so important to tap into those times, to get quicker and stronger results from visualisation.
Whatever ways you feel more comfortable with in order to reduce your stress, will be best for you. The main thing is that you find coping mechanisms so that you get the satisfaction out of your personal training routine and results. When you learn to reduce and manage your stress better, of course this will also affect many areas of your life positively.