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How To Overcome Stress And Increase Your Health And Fitness Results

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 19 November 2015
Hits: 800

You might be thinking, "why is a Personal Trainer talking to me about Stress"? Shouldn't he just be getting me to exercise and eat right? Well this is exactly what I used to think when I first started as a trainer 11 years ago! I thought everyone just needed to workout more and this would help you with your stress. Little did I know at the time that this strategy, although it worked for me, would not always be a good solution for some people. In fact it would have a negative affect on some! After a few years of seeing many people struggle to make changes in their life I began to see I needed to understand stress better and have some simple tools and resources to help my clients get on top of their stress in order to get results, and importantly improve their health. And without doubt I would now rate stress as the number one reason why people struggle to lose weight or get fit. Why? Well when you are overcome with stress you have no more reserves to make changes to your life physically, emotionally and mentally. Stress sucks every bit of energy you will need to make positive lifestyle changes, whether that is to your nutrition, getting up early to exercise or for some even going outside for a daily 60 minute walk. Think of your energy like a swimming pool and everything you do drains water from the pool. That means every action you take during the day will draw from this resource, some more than others depending how stressful they are.

Think of the different things you deal with every day:

  • Work Decisions
  • Family commitments
  • Paying bills
  • Relationship problems
  • Exercise
  • Healthy eating

Every one of these actions can be a drain on your energy. You might exhaust all of your energy with your family and dealing with work issues so when you come to the gym and I ask you how have you gone with the new diet and watching what you eat, you reply I have not had time or I have not had a chance to look at that yet. Which makes you feel like a liar and a loser because you want to eat well and do the exercises planned out. But trying to add something to your routine (like a new habit) you will need to draw energy from the same pool that used for everything else in your life. When you try to change too many things at once, you?ll end up failing because you still need the reserves to handle the other day-to-day activities. If you ignore the warning signals to fill up the pool and keep trying to drain more or you draw on it too much you you will reach a breaking point. This is where disease or illness creeps in and becomes a bigger problem, creating guess what - more stress! The solution is to find away to start filling the pool up with more water or energy as opposed to always draining the pool. The more stressed you rate yourself the more important this becomes. This article we will look at a few strategies to help you.

How Do You Define Stress & Where Does It Come From?

We need certain amount of stress to alert us when there is danger. Stress is needed to prepare us for survival and this is called "Fight of flight" response. In a stressful situation the body secretes stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol to our arms and legs in order to help us either run away fast or stay and fight. This is good in life and death situations as these hormones will possibly save your life. But it is not good when you are in a life and death situation every day! Now unless you are a soldier fighting in a war, this is highly unlikely to be the case, but the daily disasters or stresses we have in our day with work, home, driving in the traffic set off these same hormones. Your body cannot tell if it is a war in Afghanistan or some one cutting you off in traffic. Now where it gets even worse is your digestive system switches off during this time in order to save any blood or energy for the arms and legs. It basically shuts down! Which is a disaster if you want to lose weight! A good analogy is to think of our stress hormones like an alarm clock. The alarm only goes off when there is danger and it would not be a good thing for the alarm to be activated all day. Our stress hormones are only needed to prepare us for survival.

In the book "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" the author discusses how animals use the stress response is only about dealing with a short term crisis.

After which it is either over with or you are over with! The Key here is it is Short term response only and then turned off, as opposed to humans who continue thinking about it endlessly as if it actually did happen. How many Zebras worry about how much superannuation they are going to have when they retire? When you are stuck in fight or flight your cortisol levels are elevated and your growth and repair hormones are lowered and long term over production of these hormones leads to a breakdown of body tissues and fatigue of the adrenal glands. Adrenal gland exhaustion is linked to illnesses such as chronic fatigue and glandular fever. Always remember these formulas.

  1. Illness+ lack of growth & repair = Disease
  2. Injury + lack of growth & repair = Chronic Injury

Basically your body is now in a state of eating itself to repair itself! Your solution is to find ways to help the building and repairing stage, because if your life already has a lot of damage it does not need anymore. Many people resort to using an alcohol drink or little chocolate fix at the end of the day to relax. Unfortunately this is more stress to your body not relaxation! Both chocolate and alcohol are stimulants and wind the body up not slow it down. When you are wound up you are stressed! We must acknowledge that Stress comes in many forms and often mental stress is a secondary stress to a more sinister form - disease! Nutrition stress from alcohol and sugar will still secrete those same hormones that you already have on full tap from work and home problems.

According to Paul Chek there are 6 common stress forms - Physical, Chemical, Electromagnetic, Mental, Nutritional & Thermal.
Stress from anyone of these areas, will create problems for your health, leading to weight gain, illnessand disease. Mental Stress is the most common and a modern form of stress. Unfortunately your minds perception becomes reality! Everything that happens in the real world must start in your mind first. All Negative thoughts and negative emotions have a physical reaction! Even if they are not true! For example financial stress. You are not going to die right now by finding out you may not have enough money to pay a bill by the end of the week. But if your perception to this problem is to over react and to not think rationally your body will react as if someone is trying to kill you.

A good quote from Mark Twain sums this up - "I have experienced a lot of bad things in my life, some of them actually happened"

The 2 main points to take from this is:
1. It does not matter where it comes from the reaction is ALWAYS the same
2. There are no stressful situations only stressful reactions

How To Overcome Stress & Be Calm Happy and Relaxed

This is such a big topic it is hard to give you a magic pill that works every time. The problem is we are all so different and our reactions to situations and circumstances, and how we perceive the world can be so different so having a one size fits all solution is near impossible. What I have found to be most successful is to use a similar approach to teaching clients a new exercise or how to improve their nutrition. Show you something really easy and simple to implement first, and allow you time to become good and skilled at it, to prepare you for tackling more complex and bigger tasks. These are some of the best tips and tools I have used successfully with myself and many clients over the past 6 years. As I mentioned already I really had to change my way of thinking with regards to Health and Fitness after about my 3rd year as a trainer and find ways to help people reduce their stress levels in order to follow my programs for exercise and nutrition. I found somethings worked for some people and not for others. Over the years I have now accumulated many different strategies and methods. I even became an accredited Tai Chi Instructor and spent 2 years developing my skills and education learning this ancient art form. I enjoyed this and found it very relaxing but some people are not open to this, and were not willing to try. I had to have other avenues at my disposal. As with most things, the more simple it is, the more likely you are to do it, and do it well!

Here is my top 3 tools. This first one is my favourite and one I still use all the time myself.

Tool Number 1 - Stress Buster Exercise:

1. Write down what the problem you have that you are worrying about. Be very specific.
2. Write down what is the worst possible outcome you can think of if you can't solve this problem
3. Now ask yourself, "Is this likely to happen"? Be honest, is it realistic?
What your mind tends to do is focus on the problem over and over in your head, a bit like watching a horror movie over and over. Except the only difference is that your mind starts to get very creative with it and starts to make up new endings. Each time the ending gets worse! Soon you start to see and feel the nightmare as if it was true! Important to note here is that:
ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS IN THE REAL WORLD HAS TO HAPPEN IN YOUR IMAGINATION FIRST!
4. Next step is to now ask yourself. "Is worrying about the problem making things better"? Or if I put it another way. Is worrying more helping me to solve the problem? What does worrying do for me? What am I getting out of worrying?
5. Now for the best part, and this is the part that helps me a lot when I am stressed. Now if we know that imagining something can make things come true then this must also true for the positive. I don't just mean reading out affirmations as to be honest I don't feel they do anything for me. Saying out loud I am rich and have a great life does not give me solutions to my current situation. What I need is a list of solutions. If fact I need to create at least 10 solutions to your problem! For most people this can be very difficult. The first 3-4 are usually easy to think of but to get 10 you have to get creative. Now when your mind is thinking of negative things it has no trouble with being creative does it?It just is a lot harder when you have to do in a positive way. The results are well worth it.
6. The Last step is to now begin playing the solutions to your problem over and over in your head. Instead of focusing on the problem like you were at the start you now can focus on all the different solutions. Lets say the first one you try does not work. So what you still have 9 more yet to try. And if you use all 10, think of 10 more. This is exactly the mindset of people who are successful in any field whether it is sports, business, inventions etc. They don't see problems they only see solutions! So what are you waiting for, Start now! Watch the 2 videos below explaining stress and how to use this tool is in part 2

Another good book I highly recommend to read that also explains this some method and comes with a hypnosis CD is "Control Stress" by Paul McKenna

Tool Number 2 - Address Stress Relaxation Program

This next tool I recently came across at a Business conference and it is very easy to implement and utilizes today's modern technology. It is called Address Stress. The Address Stress program is a 14-Day Program you use on your mobile phone or IPAD and can change the way you think about stress, and help you reduce it in a simple, enjoyable way. This is very similar to using meditation although the app provides you with what to do and how to do it. Remember I said if it is simple you are more likely to do it. With this program in as little as 30 minutes a day, over two short weeks you can learn a new set of skills and strategies to help you breathe better, bring greater balance, calm your mind and bring clarity into your daily life.

One thing I really like in the accompanying books is the emphasis on trying to change your reaction to situations. There is no such things as stressful situations only your reaction to the situation is stressful. This is a really big point for you to get your head around and one I spend a lot of time explaining to my clients. You can CHOOSE to not react in a stressful way and react in a calm and relaxed approach. This is even more important to things that happen to us that are out of our control. If you are unable to influence or change the situation is worrying about it and stressing out going to solve or change anything? Why let the situation ruin your day, week, month year or life if you cannot do anything about it. Move on and focus on what you can change and look for opportunities.

Another good quote I like to use is this:

"Within every negative situation lies the seed for something of equal or greater opportunity"

To find out more on the Address Stress program go to http://www.addressstress.com/

Tool Number 3: Use Tai Chi Yoga or Meditation

Now this is not for everyone, however if you do give it a go and stick at it for a few months you will find yourself saying, "why didn't I do this earlier?" I myself found it very hard to do meditation, I just could not keep my mind quiet, and seemed to get agitated and edgy every easily. I needed to stick at it longer as some of my friends kept telling me how good they felt. Sometimes I sit with my dog down at the local park without my phone nearby and just look into the sky. This really is a simple form of meditation. I suggest if you have never tried it before find a class that teaches it and give it a go. It might be the best thing you ever do and it works for you. If you are like me you might want to try Tai Chi. I found this very interesting and surprisingly calming. I loved the smooth fluid movements and the emphasis on quiet breathing and empty thoughts. To me this was easier than meditation as my mind was focusing solely on being calm, quiet, relaxed and in the moment. Because I was moving I did not feel agitated. The only thing is it takes a while to learn the movements and when learning you do feel a bit frustrated. But after a few weeks of doing it over and over it becomes automatic and now I can do this with my eyes closed anywhere anytime and never forget any of the moves.

Watch the video below of me doing it in the studio

As for YOGA I found that this was not as relaxing as some of the poses felt more like a workout, needing lots of effort and my lack of flexibility in certain areas made it very difficult. I think this depends on the class and how flexible you are. I know many people that cannot do without their fix of Yoga to settle the mind and keep them balanced. Again the emphasis on breathing here is essential and this is possibly the best part of using Yoga. Which brings me to my next point, you must learn to breathe through your nose and close your mouth.

Nose Breathing Essential For Reducing Stress

I highly suggest you read the book "Close Your Mouth" by Patrick McKewon who explains the Buteyko Method of breathing as the Stress response will completely disrupt your homeostasis and create a habit of over breathing or hyperventilating. This will lead to a disaster on many fronts. Imbalance of your body's PH levels, inability to break down carbohydrates due to a lack of Nitric Oxide, developing forward head posture and tight shoulders and neck muscles that are now being used to breathe, potential to develop asthma or other cardio vascular related problems. This can all happen from the thoughts in your head! Pretty scary, but very common and I see this everyday with clients who are overworked, tired, lacking energy and eating sugary foods to give themselves a pick me up.

About a year ago I did a very detailed workshop on Breathing and recorded the workshop and posted to You Tube. I suggest you watch this quick video as it explains everything in detail I just mentioned but also how to breathe correctly when exercising and a few simple exercises you can do to learn how to breathe better.

Conclusion

I know that this is a massive topic and we have just barely scratched the surface with all of the complications and reasons for Stress ruining people's health and their dreams for a happy and fun life. But I hope that this article at least gives you some simple strategies and tools on how you can begin to change the way you react to stressful situations. Because there will always be stress, it is unavoidable, you just need to have some plans and ideas on how you can prevent getting yourself tied into knots and letting stress unravel your health. You don't need to pay big bucks to some Psychologist or Psychiatrist to learn how to breathe, sit calmly and be in the present moment. Just like me you can easily join into a Tai Chi group class, but the Buteyko breathing book or get the Address Stress app and begin devoting time each day to replenishing your energy. 

Always remember this, "it does not matter where stress comes from the reaction is always the same". The more stress you feel you are under the more important it is to clean up your food, get to bed on time, exercise and allow quiet time to calm the system down.

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