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Stress and Recovery

What is Stress?

A stressor is something that disrupts homeostasis, or baseline equilibrium, in the body. A stressor produces a stress response, which is supposed to get our attention, manage a threat, deal with any damage, and return our bodies to homeostasis as soon as possible. There are many types of stressors that could be real and external or something internal that we perceive.

How Does Our Body Respond To Stress?

When we experience a stressor, our body gets prepared. Once we identify the threat, internally or externally, our body begins a perfectly orchestrated circuit, that gives us cortisol and other stress hormones to deal with the stressor. This happens on going depending on how strong or long the stressor is.

First, you may be hyper focused, energized, and curious. Your body is trying to decipher the threat. Secondly, our response is fight or flight, if the stressor continues. Our sympathetic nervous system kicks in with this response. You may feel your heart rate and blood pressure increase. This physiological response is designed to provide the body with extra energy and focus to deal with the perceived threat. Non-essential functions like growth, reproduction, and digestion, slow down. We may feel shaky or irritable from the effects of the stress hormones. You may be more anxious, and avoidant and irritable.

If the stressors continue, the freeze response comes in. You may feel frozen or stuck, zoned out, like you can’t move. If the fight or flight response is about taking action and moving quickly, the freeze response is when our body says stop, slow down. You may feel your heart rate and blood pressure drop. While the typical order of stress responses is fight or flight and then freeze, those who have experienced trauma or chronic stress, may default to the freeze response because they have been conditioned to think that stressors are to overwhelming to escape.

It may sound strange, but not all stress is bad. Stress can be physical, mental, emotional, relational, spiritual, and environmental. All together, these add up and the the body must constantly work to recover and heal from it all. Once we get to a point though, we may have trouble recovering, and stress stops helping and actually chronically hurting us in so many ways. An eating disorder is an example of an attempt to cope with a chronic and overwhelming stressor, once we’ve reached our load we can’t handle.

Eustress (Good Stress):

  • Eustress is positive or beneficial stress that arises from situations that are challenging but manageable.

  • It can provide motivation, increase focus, and enhance performance.

  • Examples include the stress associated with a new job, starting a new relationship, or taking on a challenging project.

  • Its short lived and infrequent, and builds us up.

Distress (Bad Stress):

  • Distress is negative or harmful stress resulting from situations that are overwhelming or unmanageable.

  • It can lead to physical and mental health problems.

  • Examples include chronic work-related stress, financial difficulties, or the loss of a loved one.

  • Its chronic and breaks us down.

A measurable tool for good or bad stress is always how well stressor matches our ability to recover from it.

In regards to trauma and eating disorders, which are also a trauma in and of themselves. This Chronic stress can play itself in our bodies like:

Mental Health Issues: Prolonged stress can exacerbate or trigger anxiety and depression, leading to unhealthy coping mechanisms at times.

Lowered immune System: Chronic stress is associated with an increased risk of illness.

Digestive Problems: Stress can lead to GI issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, and simply imbalanced gut bacteria.

HPA Axis Dysfunction: HPA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal) axis is a key part of the body's stress response system, that releases stress hormones. HPA axis dysfunction occurs when this system becomes imbalanced, typically due to chronic stress. This creates chronically elevated cortisol.

Treatment for trauma and eating disorders are out of our scope of practice as health coaches, but as those who have been through it, we know the tremendous amount of mental energy is takes from you. Seeing a therapist is crucial. As health coaches, we love to be a part of your treatment team and see you thrive more and more.

Now lets shift our focus on a different type of stress, one what we love to talk about here at EmpoweredRX!

Returning to Sport as a Trauma Survivor and ED Warrior

Exercise alone is technically a stressor to the body. It is a specific type of stress the body experiences during physical activity. While it is a form of stress, it is typically considered a "good stress" or eustress because it can have positive effects on the body when managed appropriately.

Here's an explanation of the stress of exercise:

Physical Stress Response:

  • When you engage in physical activity, your body undergoes a series of physiological responses designed to meet the increased demand for energy and effort.

  • Your muscles need more oxygen and nutrients to perform, which leads to an increase in heart rate and breathing rate.

Hormonal Response:

  • Exercise triggers the release of various hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, as part of the "fight or flight" response.

  • These hormones help mobilize energy stores, increase alertness, and enhance physical performance.

Muscle Stress and Adaptation:

  • As you exercise, your muscles experience stress as they contract and perform work.

  • This stress causes micro-tears in muscle fibers, which is a normal part of muscle growth and adaptation.

Cardiovascular Benefits:

  • Exercise challenges the cardiovascular system, leading to improved heart health and increased endurance.

Mental and Emotional Stress Relief:

  • Exercise can serve as a stress reliever by triggering the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.

  • It can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve overall mental well-being.

Bone Health:

  • Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking and running, help strengthen bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Immune System Support:

  • Moderate exercise can boost the immune system, making the body better equipped to defend against illnesses.

On the flip side The other side of this is that the stress of exercise should be balanced with adequate rest and recovery to avoid overtraining and the negative consequences of excessive physical stress, such as injury or burnout. This is why slow return to sport is crucial in ED recovery.

Overtraining and Excessive Stress:

If someone cant recover well from exericse, it can lead to overtraining. Overtraining occurs when the body experiences prolonged, excessive physical stress without enough time for repair and regeneration. Overtraining can lead to in physical and mental symptoms such as fatigue, decreased performance, increased risk of injury, mood disturbances, and disrupted sleep.

SO if your stress load is higher already due to trauma and ED recovery, and the demands of everyday life, think about just how much higher recovery needs are after exercise. While we can’t avoid stressors, there are many ways we can aim to reduce the affects in recovery and as an athlete. The major factors in stress and recovery are the nervous system, immune system, and the GI tract. Seeing how these are all connected with stress and recovery is essential.

How Can We Avoid Overtraining and Recover Well as Trauma Survivors and ED Warriors Returning to Sport?

Individual Needs:

The amount of exercise stress a person can tolerate before reaching a state of overtraining varies. Trauma survivors and individuals in ED recovery have additional considerations. Trauma can affect the body's stress response, and individuals in ED recovery often have unique nutritional and physical health needs.

Tailored Recovery:

For those with a history of trauma and those in ED recovery, it's essential to work with healthcare professionals, including therapists, registered dietitians, and fitness experts who are experienced in trauma-informed and ED-sensitive care. Recovery strategies should be individualized. Recovery doesn't just mean physical rest but also emotional and psychological recovery.

Trauma-Informed Exercise:

  • Trauma-informed exercise programs take into account the specific needs and triggers of trauma survivors. They emphasize safety, choice, and empowerment.

Monitoring and Communication:

  • It's important to regularly assess how exercise is affecting your physical and emotional health. Open communication with your treatment team in a must.

Flexibility and Self-Compassion:

  • Being flexible with exercise routines and practicing self-compassion are critical. It's okay to modify or skip workouts if needed and to focus on overall well-being.


  • Muscle Repair and Growth: During deep sleep stages, the body releases growth hormone, which is essential for muscle repair and growth. This is particularly important after exercise, as it helps repair micro-tears in muscle fibers and contributes to muscle recovery and strength development.

  • Energy Restoration: Sleep restores energy levels by replenishing glycogen stores in the muscles and liver.

  • Inflammation Reduction: Sleep helps control inflammation in the body, including inflammation caused by exercise-induced muscle damage. Reduced inflammation supports faster recovery and minimizes post-exercise soreness.

  • Stress Hormone Regulation: Adequate sleep helps regulate stress hormones, such as cortisol. Sleep deprivation can lead to increased cortisol levels, which may exacerbate stress and anxiety.

  • Emotional Processing: During sleep, the brain processes and consolidates emotional experiences. This can help individuals cope with and recover from the emotional stressors encountered during the day.

  • Mood Improvement: Getting enough sleep is linked to improved mood, reduced irritability, and greater emotional resilience, all of which aid in recovering from stress.

  • Enhanced Focus and Problem Solving: Sleep improves cognitive function, enhancing focus, problem-solving abilities, and decision-making skills. This can help individuals manage stress more effectively.

  • Immune System Support: Adequate rest allows the body to produce immune cells and antibodies, which play a key role in defending against infections and illness.

  • Appetite Regulation: Sleep influences hormones that regulate appetite, such as ghrelin and leptin. Lack of sleep can lead to imbalances in these hormones, affecting hunger and fullness cues. :

Nutrition: Eating enough and aiming for balance of all foods is crucial for supporting stress recovery and exercise recovery processes:

  • Energy Replenishment: After physical activity, the body's energy stores, particularly glycogen in muscles and the liver, become depleted. Proper nutrition helps replenish these energy stores, allowing for faster recovery and better performance.

  • Muscle Repair and Growth:Protein intake is essential for muscle repair and growth. After exercise, muscle tissues may experience micro-tears, and protein provides the building blocks for repairing and rebuilding these tissues.

  • Hormone Regulation: Proper nutrition supports the production and regulation of hormones like insulin and growth hormone, which play crucial roles in muscle repair and overall recovery.

  • Sleep Quality: Nutrition can influence sleep quality. Certain foods, like those rich in tryptophan (e.g., turkey, dairy, nuts), can promote better sleep, which is essential for recovery.

  • Gut health: Fueling enough and including gut healing foods and supplements directly relates to the nervous system response.

Self Care and Rest: When you rest, your muscles repair and rebuild, reducing the risk of overuse injuries and promoting performance gains over time.

  • Chronic stress takes a toll on the body, and rest allows your systems to return to a balanced state, helping to reduce the risk of stress-related health issues.

  • Self-care activities during rest days, such as meditation, relaxation exercises, and spending time on hobbies, can help you manage and reduce stress. Rest allows time for emotional recovery, enabling you to recharge and better cope with daily stressors.

Support/Community: Lean on your team, including a therapist, Dietician, and coach, to surround yourself with the tools and care from others.

We are here as trauma informed coaches, to walk with you as you are on the journey. Our goal is for you to understand your stress response, seek the help needed, fuel well, rest well, perform well and live your best empowered life, free from the ED.

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