Let’s talk about stress baby, let’s talk about you and me… let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things stress can be… isn’t that how the song goes?
Stress!?!?! It’s an experience that is universal to all human beings, so much so in fact that we are hard wired with physiological systems in place to help us manage it. From the moment we are born each person experiences a variety of stressful experiences. Some of these are positive experiences referred to as eustress, other experiences challenge us just outside our comfort zone and result in growth and resiliency. Then there are stressors that simply suck and can in turn, if not addressed or worked through healthily, suck the life out of us.
An individual's capacity for handling stress is composite of their exposure to stress and the impact of that stress over time. We call this the stress threshold and each and every person’s will look totally different. There are two kinds of stressors: macro stressors and micro stressors. Macro stressors are life altering events. These can include losing a job, the death of a loved one, a car crash or experiencing trauma. This kind of stress impacts us all in a major way, especially if our stress threshold is already low due to the high level of daily frequent stress we experience. Macro stress is the kind of stress that if not dealt with, shows up in our daily lives in the forms of sleep deprivation, anxiety, anger, depression, muscle aches, pains, strained relationships and a general lack of agency that leads to what many call a downward spiral. They are the kind of stressors we would recommend therapy or getting professional help in order to healthily cope.
Micro stressors are the little situations we experience on a day to day basis. The alarm goes off after we got a poor night’s sleep (micro stressor # 1), we wake up with a pounding headache (ms # 2) so press the snooze button. When we finally pull ourselves out of bed we realize we are running late now (ms # 3). We rush around, fly out the door and get on the road only to realize we forgot our lunch at home and never had time for breakfast (ms #4 & 5). It’s not even 9am yet. These micro-stressors are minor disruptions in isolation but cumulatively a recurrence of these incidences can lead to patterns of major disruption and mood dysregulation.
This is where health and wellness step in. IF a person has structured routines and healthy habits ingrained into their daily living, these micro-stressors are less impactful if not mitigated altogether because our systems don’t perceive them as alarms. Sleep hygiene, nutrition, exercise regimens, epigenetic, social, community and financial well being all create buffers of tolerance. When one of these systems becomes off balance, it can in-turn throw off all other systems, leading to higher frequencies of micro-stressors which have a cumulative effect over time. Research has correlated many health risks, including premature death with prolonged exposure to high level stress. Learn to better manage your stress and you will better manage your entire life.
Handling stress is something our bodies have been primed to do. Our ancestors faced real life survival threats such as famine and climate extremes, dangerous animals and more. Our flight or fight response is an evolutionary adaptation that fostered fitness. I’m not talking about a Cavemans Fran time level of fitness. I’m talking about Darwins survival of the fittest version of fitness where one’s ability to face adversity and stress would literally predict the outcome of life or death.
Our autonomic nervous system controls our ability to react to stress. This complex system consists of the sympathetic (fight, flight, get pumped) and parasympathetic system (think sleep, meditation, Netflix and chill). All reactions start in a part of our brain called the amygdala, which triggers a cascade of events that leads to the production of hormones which act as neuro-modulators and signal the body to respond to stress.
These hormones act on many systems in our body increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, slowing digestion for energy conservation, increasing awareness and getting amped. This is why if you are diagnosed with high blood pressure or anxiety/depression a Doctor might recommend meditation, yoga, therapy, exercise and nutrition changes. All these wellness factors promote parasympathetic and polyvagal health.
Nutrition and sound recovery are perhaps the MOST important aspects of living a healthy life when it comes to CrossFit. Some might argue that most CrossFitters will be more health minded than the average individual and in most cases this is TRUE! We show up to class most days of the week and partake in high intensity interval training workouts that are constantly varied and ALWAYS a good workout. Well… almost always. We all run into times where we just feel like we are running on empty or perhaps can’t put up the weight we normally do. This is normal from time to time but when this becomes frequent or the norm it is a sign of significant under-recovery.
When we add in macro-stressors such as trauma, car accidents, war, a loss of a loved one, chronic or life threatening illness, domestic violence, child abuse... our window of tolerance becomes much, much smaller.
Suddenly our world is flipped upside down. We are sleeping a few hours a night. Our muscles are always tense. We may have anxiety, headaches, increased heart rate. These can be accompanied by depression, mood swings, social fears, and so much more that can feel totally soul crushing.
Having health routines in place becomes even more pivotal. The more these practices are in place, the more we can find stable ground. Weightlifting has a direct impact on the nervous system and also increases self-confidence and resiliency. Good nutrition helps keep the body healthy and allows all systems to function optimally. This gives us space for moderating sleep and working on the other important aspects of health like mind-body and therapy. The community aspect of fitness also provides an amazing support system of like-minded people who all are striving to life healthier and happier lives.
If you have stress or feel like you don't have the time or means to workout, this makes you all the more likely to benefit from making wellness a part of your every day life.
This is where your Empowered RX Coach comes into the picture. We are here to help you progressively build in health habits that meet you where YOU are at. With a trauma-informed Coaching model we consider all angles and help you to create a SAFE and HEALING environment so that you can turn your struggles into strengths and find empowerment.