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?

The Stress Chronicles

My oh my. Life is funny sometimes, huh?

I fully intend on putting up some recaps from our west coast trip because we ate some RIDICULOUSLY good food out there,  but things have gone a bit haywire around here. Those might have to wait until next week.

We arrived home from vacation last week to find our letter from our landlord saying that we have 60 days to vacate the apartment.

I’m sorry, WHAT?

We love our apartment. It’s not just some crappy place we found and pay rent for, it’s home. We’ve settled in, and we really thought we would stay there until we bought something. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Our landlord has decided to renovate the entire place (it’s an older house, but it’s charming and lovely!), in order to be able to charge higher rent. I get it, he needs to make money, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for us!

So since Sunday, I’ve emailed about 9.2 million places, and have seen 7 condos, 11 apartments and counting. Some have been great, some have been horrible, and will someone explain WHY it is so difficult to find a place that has laundry in the building?!? I’m going out of my mind, as you can probably tell. As of now, we have a few leads, but nothing concrete, which means that I’ve been in 100% stress mode since the weekend. My stomach has been in knots, I’ve cried several times, and I’ve started to feel a rage instead of hope whenever I find a new apartment to email about.

I know, I know. First world problems, right? We have a roof over our heads, and when it comes down to it, we will have another roof over our heads one way or another. It may not be perfect, but it’ll work out eventually. I just need to figure out a way to control this stress in the meantime, because I’m pretty sure it’s killing me.

I’ve been seriously fatigued, irritable, sensitive, and not sleeping. Stress is like a vicious cycle that wreaks havoc on your body, and it’s like a horrible Catch 22: Stress is keeping me from sleeping, and the lack of sleep is causing my body a whole lot more stress.

I’ve been trying to stay sane through workouts, and the launch of my new Group Fitness program, Rondeau Group Fitness, and these things are helping! For an hour on Tuesday and Thursday morning, I was able to escape from my buzzing mind and just focus on running the class, which was a total blast. Yesterday I even took a little bit of time right after bootcamp to head out and run some stairs on my own. It was just a little 30 minute piece of time for me, but it was time when I wasn’t thinking about anything but my breathing and the rhythm of my steps. I wasn’t hunched in front of a computer screen, reading apartment listing after apartment listing, feeling the bile rise in my throat as it seems like less and less places are available each day.

Things I need to do include meditating and focusing on positive energy, this I know. Focusing on the positive will help to bring a positive outcome, right? That’s what they say anyway. Keeping my fingers crossed that we find something soon, because as of right now not only do we not know where we’re moving, but we don’t know WHEN we’re moving. Some are available right now, some July 1, some August 1. It really is just a giant cluster.

I just need to remind myself to keep breathing, stay calm, and know that it will work out because it has to. Working out helps to some extent, but I also don’t want to push too much right now because exercise is another form of stress on your body — usually a good stress, but there is a fine line when you’re also going through other stressful life events. Keeping my workouts light and about my sanity is the game plan right now — yoga, easy runs, even just some walking might ease my mind a little bit.

Readers, do you use workouts to deal with stress or do you sometimes feel that it’s too much on top of whatever’s going on? Do you have a “de-stress” routine for these times?

How Much Is Stress Affecting You?

I have an extremely stressful job. Every day at work for me revolves around the health and well being of the student athletes that I work with. During our busy times (which this year, was basically the entire year) this can mean 10-11 hour days during the week, and at least one weekend day spent at work. All of these long hours and high pressure situations lead to… you guessed it, stress overload.

funny-stress-poster

Late spring and summer though is our quiet time, and the past week has been gloriously calm and stress free. I was talking with one of my coworkers about it yesterday, remarking about the awesome amount of energy that I’ve had the past few days, and how strange it felt to still feel energized, even by the end of the day for the last several days. It’s especially strange, because the past several days have been spent catching up on greuling paperwork, which is incredibly frustrating for someone who is not used to sitting at a desk/computer all day every day. (Other ATs out there know exactly what I’m talking about… am I right?)

My point is this: Nothing drastic has changed over the past week or so. My diet is the same. My sleep patterns are the same. My workouts are the same. The only thing that has changed is my stress level. I’ve gone from high-stress all day every day, to seriously mindless paperwork. Stress free. And despite the fact that I’m wasting away at my computer for hours per day, my energy has skyrocketed. The only thing I can attribute this to is my lack of stress. And not only is my energy better, but I’ve been in a generally better mood, I haven’t had headaches, and my focus has improved.

Seriously, who knew stress was such a life-suck? I mean, I did, but I guess I haven’t thought about it lately. Check out this table I found from the Mayo Clinic. Looking down this list of stress effects, I could check off probably about 75% of them over the past several months. No bueno!

Common effects of stress …
… On your body … On your mood … On your behavior
  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal

Source: American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” report, 2010

I knew that I was overly stressed and I knew that I had gotten extremely, chronically tired this year, but I never stopped to think about why. I knew that I had become often cranky and irritable, and that my mental focus was starting to waver, but again, I never stopped to think that it was probably something I can control.  Of course I can’t control the fact that I have stress at work, as that is just the nature of the career path I’ve chosen. (And to be honest, what job doesn’t have stress?), but what I can control is the way that I deal with the stress in what little down time I do have.

stressed out cat

I can’t always depend on downtime like I have now to de-stress, because quite honestly there is only a very limited part of the year that I can relax like this. What I can do is try some techniques now so that I can keep doing them towards the end of this summer once things get a little crazy at work again.

One of my goals for this summer is to start meditating regularly, hoping that improving my meditation skills will help me during high-stress times. I’m not very well versed in this yet though, so stay tuned for another post about my adventures as a beginner-meditator!  I also recently read this great article from Dr. Mark Hyman about ways to decrease stress. He’s got some great thoughts and suggestions here, and if you are an easily stressed person I suggest you click on over and take a few minutes to read it!  Deep breathing and changing the way I think are two of his tips that I might have to work on as well, as I often let my thoughts and worries spiral out of control, only leading to more stress. Decreasing this horrible cycle is a goal of mine, and something I definitely need to work on if I want to keep from getting burnt-out, which is an all too common problem in the AT world.

Do you have a stressful job or work in a high-stress office? How do you cope with work stress? Do you find that stress affects you physically? Do you meditate, and how often?

Updates and Good Reads

Well, Hello there.

I hope everyone had a fantastic long weekend!

I was actually pretty busy at work this weekend and didn’t have a whole lot of time to write.  So today’s post will actually be a mash-up of some of my own updates and some links to some good reads that I’ve found lately.

How I wish I spend my weekend:

How I actually spent my weekend:

Let’s go with the updates first.

I deadlifted 135 for reps for the first time on Friday! Woo Hoo!  I know that may not seem like a ton to some of you (and to some it may seem like a lot) but I feel like it’s been a long time coming for me. I’ve been stuck at 125 for a while, so to finally be able to move past that plateau was huge. With my hip mobility issues and the smaller plate size at the lower weight, I was having to do my DLs from a set of blocks. Finally, with the full 45 lb plates, I was able to DL straight from the floor and it felt great!! Honestly, my hips have never felt better. (Me-thinks it has something to do with the fact that I finally realized several months ago that I really needed to stop trying to become a “runner”).  I am also definitely going to attribute part a lot of my success on Friday to the added pulling/rowing lifts that I have added over the past month in order to improve my upper back strength.

Yes, deadlifting is mostly focused on hamstrings/glutes/lower back, but it really is a full body lift and a strong upper back is essential for good form. Now that I’ve started to see more strength gains in that mid-trap/rhomboid area of my upper back, I felt like I was supporting my DL much more than I had previously.

Yay for gains!

And now for some good reads. These are just a few blog posts/articles that I’ve come across fairly recently from some of my favorite writers/bloggers out there on the interwebz. Hopefully you’ll appreciate these as much as I do!

Nia Shanks – Nutrition Trigger and Tips – Nia is one of my favorite strong female voices out there. A great post here about food triggers (we all have them!)  and how to handle them.

Molly Galbraith – To Cheat Or Not To Cheat – Another excellent female voice when it comes to nutrition and strength training. Read this for thoughts on food “cheats” and if there really is such a thing.

Molly Galbraith – How To Tell If Your Trainer Knows What They Are Doing – Do You have a personal trainer? Are they actually benefitting you at all?

Brian St. Pierre – Cholesterol Fact and Fiction – A quick but informative read about cholesterol and what you really need to know about your lipid profile.

Alan Aragon – Interviewed By Wisconsin Poly Tech – Some great general information about nutrition and strength training.

That’s all for now, folks! This week has the potential to be pretty hectic as well so I’ll be back with a “real” blog post as soon as I’m able to. For now, I leave you with this, Pinterest find of the week:

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