The Stress-Fitness Balance

We’ve all heard of work-life balance and how important it is to our overall sanity. Well, as you can tell by my lack of posting for the last two weeks, mine may have been off a little bit. Or, I guess more accurately, my attempt to keep my work life balance led to me staying away from the blog for a little bit (you know, to live my life).

But keeping a balance between our day jobs and our personal lives isn’t the only thing that matters, and it’s certainly not the only thing that can make our break our healthy living goals and fitness plans. Sometimes even the best laid plans go awry, and we find our selves just trying to get through a stressful couple of weeks, or a month.

For me, the end of August and beginning of September is a very busy time at work, and if you look back through my blog archives you’ll see that there are a couple of periods throughout the year such as this one that I typically blog a lot less because of this. In fact, I haven’t checked, but if you look back through my archives, you’ll probably see posts similar to this around this time each year. Oops!

But beyond work-life balance, as important as that is, when we are in busy or high stress times, we also have to take into account another type of balance: the stress-fitness balance.

For most people, once things get a little chaotic at home and/or at work, something has to give, right? We’re not all robots that can exist on a specific schedule of sleep, eat, gym, work, etc. when things in our life get a little crazy. And the one thing that usually gets thrown out the window? Fitness. Gym time can be scarce when work takes over with longer hours, and motivation can be hard to find when life is throwing curveballs at you from every direction.

On the one hand, we don’t want to overdo it with fitness during times like these, since exercise itself is a form of stress on your body. Yes, it’s generally a good stress, but when it’s compounded with a lot of “bad” stress and becomes a bit more than your body can handle, the scales may tip so that your body responds to exercise as yet another “bad stress” in your life, and that is exactly what we don’t want. That’s when we end up sore, cranky, lethargic and fatigued — and far less than motivated to keep moving.

On the other hand, however, getting away from your fitness routine entirely during times of high stress can backfire as well. Although exercise is a form of stress on your body, in the right doses and circumstances, it can be a great stress reliever. It can also just distract you from the chaos that is work/life/whatever, and bring you to your happy place for a moment. I also find that keeping exercise in my life keeps me structured and focused, as though when there’s a lot going on, at least I know that that giant hill is right outside my door. I can go run up and down it a few times, and all will be right with the world again. (right? RIGHT?)

So somewhere in the middle of those two options we find ourselves right in the middle. Right at the stress-fitness balance. The place where we can keep ourselves sane, but we’re not breaking ourselves down into puddles of sweat and tears (those two things do not go well together. Too much salt for one body to handle.)

So how do I keep my stress-fitness balance in check during overly busy times? Well, for starters, I do whatever the heck I want for my workouts, and whatever I have time for. 20 minute hill run session? Sure. 15 minutes with my KB and pull up bar? Awesome. 90 Minutes in the weight room to think about NOTHING ELSE for a while? Perfect. It’s all about what feels good for me on that day, and what will fit into my schedule without turning me into a stressed out, raging lunatic.

My work schedule has just reached the point where it will calm down for a little while, but for the past 2-3 weeks, I said goodbye to my structured, perfectly planned workout schedule. I did a whole lot of impromptu solo spin sessions, some full body lift days in the weight room (because planning out upper/lower splits was out of the question), and a  couple of hill run sessions when things had to be quick and close to home. The key to all of these workouts were that I didn’t push to make something fit into a day when it didn’t belong, I made sure to allow myself enough sleep, and I didn’t allow any room for feeling guilty about doing a little less than usual.

Because guilt, like exercise and work, just leads to more stress. And isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid?

One last big thing that deserves mentioning here is the importance of sleep, especially when it comes to stress management. There must be a component to your stress-fitness balance that allows for enough sleep, otherwise the balance is going to swing way too far into the stress end of the equation, and stay there. This might mean sleeping for an extra hour and skipping your workout after a particularly stressful day, or maybe even just sleeping for an extra 30 minutes and cutting that workout short. It may mean getting creative with your workout times so that you can catch some quality Zzz’s.

But whatever this means to you, it has to be a priority. If you’re not getting enough sleep (minus those of you who have babies at home, because that’s just the way of your world right now), you’re doing yourself a disservice, and you’re climbing a steep up-hill battle to reach your stress-fitness balance sweet spot.

Readers: How do you keep your stress-fitness balance in check during those crazy times in your life? How do you keep sleep as a priority?

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4 thoughts on “The Stress-Fitness Balance

  1. I struggle greatly with balancing stress, fitness, and sleep. Often times, it’s the fitness that suffers the most. As soon as August hits, I have to really watch myself or I can easily go 2 or 3 weeks without exercising. It’s a constant battle and one that I’m not the greatest at fighting.

  2. Ah! As someone who is in the midst of an incredibly stressful time right now, I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said! It’s so hard to balance everything- eating healthy, limiting alcohol, getting in the ‘right’ amount of movement, sleeping, etc. For me, with all the moving in the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that I’ve been eating out a lot more and drinking more- not getting wasted, haha, but having a glass of wine or beer after a long day of work or moving or packing or all of the above! I have to be careful with not working out too much in times like this, but I feel like I’ve really made progress in this area- my workouts have been shorter and some days moving has replaced physical activity. It is what it is and I know I’ll get back on track soon enough, but stressing about not being on track AND all the moving is just adding insult to injury. One thing I really try and stick with is being in bed for at lest 8 hours- I may not be sleeping the whole time, but at least being in bed and resting is really important to me! Blogging for me will be taking a back seat for the next week or so because if I have extra time, i’d rather use it to get some movement in or unpack or just relax!

  3. Pingback: Wednesday Workout: 8 Minute AMRAP Circuits | Burpees to Bubbly

  4. Pingback: Monday Morning Coffee Break- I was almost a no-show, no-call - Good 'N Good For Ya

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