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How Stress Kills Your Fitness and 21 Things You Can Do About It

Psychological Stress Impacts Your Fitness

Stress is your response to a challenge.

Challenge. That’s a good thing, right? When you train, you challenge your body to perform better over time. This is physical stress, and Exercise Physiologists and Coaches call this “training adaptation.” Similarly, you experience challenges imposed by work, social media, finances, travel, break-ups, moving, lack of sleep, and so much more. This is psychological stress.

Managing physical stress is easier than managing psychological stress because your body imposes limits with more clarity than your mind does. Think of the last time you took an FTP test or a run test. If you kept going, your body would fail at a certain point. However, when you have a psychological stress, you naturally absorb it because the ill-effects are not apparent. But they are there.

Psychological stress impairs your motivation, immune system, performance, and recovery, to name just a few detriments. It has a cascading effect on nearly every function of your body, including your training.

Reining in psychological stress relies on you making a conscious choice to take action.

Given its pervasive effects, it is no wonder how compounded and chronic psychological stress could be the reason for a lack of fitness improvements, despite consistent training. As driven endurance athletes, we are terrible at hitting the brakes. Many athletes confess - or at least secretly suspect - that they need to take action to control their stress. They put it on their todo list. They read a couple articles, or listen to a couple podcasts. They set a goal to set a goal to get their stress under control, but when an action is required, they don’t have a plan, and they deem it a lower priority than their training..

Your Stress-Busting Training Plan

If you suspect that your fitness gains are being held back by stress (HINT: yes, I’m talking to you, as we are all held back by stress, on some level) then commit yourself to a 21-Day Stress-Busting Training Plan. This commitment to yourself is the first step in getting your fitness gains back. The time that you spend healing from psychological stress will benefit your athletic growth rather than impede it.

I’ve carefully selected these activities and suggestions for endurance athletes. "Serenity" can mean anything from deep-breathing to burpees. It only has to take 10 minutes, although feel free to savor the moment.

Ready? Set! Serenity!

1. Yoga or slow, dynamic stretching. Try a 15-min sequence for stress, like this one.

2. Read happy, fun, light-hearted fiction. Here's a fun one about triathlon, and another about running.

3. Zone Out. Stare at something pretty, like a tree, a sunset, a bird, your adorable kitty cat, or just check out #bicycle on Instagram.

4. Listen to music. Whatever makes you smile. Guilty pleasures allowed. Check out the Runners' Playlist.

5. Have a drink. Yes! Coach says it’s ok. One drink. Please don’t go overboard. Try FitVine wine for athletes!

6. Take a warm bath. Add muscle relief epsom salts. And close your eyes.

7. Light some scented candles. Make your house smell like fresh-baked cookies. And in case you are wondering, yes, you can be a totally badass athlete and love candles.

8. Set realistic goals. Or re-set current goals, based on new events. (Bonus Serenity Points: Work toward this goal every day and track your progress.) I love the High Performance Planner.

9. Take a slow walk outside. The operative word being SLOW. Learn how to walk like a ninja, or like an animal of your choice.

10. Be creative - without judgement. Draw a picture. Play an instrument. Make a sculpture from all of those unused bike parts in your garage.

11. Hang out in nature. Just BE - sit on a park bench, on the grass, or against a tree. Watch other people running by!

12. Self-massage with a foam-roller or other myofascial release.

13. Take deep breaths. Sure, go ahead can call this Mindfulness or Meditation if that’s what you like.

14. Laugh. Watch a funny video, even one you've seen a thousand times already.

15. Snuggle with a pet or loved one.

16. Get your freak on. Boom boom time. Bump uglies. (NOTE: I don't really think this one needs an associated link, but I'll just leave this here because it made me giggle.)

17. Make yourself a cup of warm tea or warm Nuun Rest. Curl up in a blanket while you drink it.

18. Practice self-compassion. Make a list of your accomplishments from the last week. Refer to your training log for inspiration.

19. Practice gratitude. Make a list of things you are thankful for, big and small, and then watch your athletic prowess develop.

20. Do an activity that you enjoy - anything other than training or work!

21. Talk it out. Call a friend, chat with a partner, or see a therapist.

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