Fitness attributes – stress

This is the next in the series following my What do you need to do to be fit? post.

Being overwhelmed by stress impedes your ability to go about your life, both by occupying your mind and making you more susceptible to disease. To have well rounded fitness you should be able to manage the stresses of your life.

What is stress?

Stress is anything that activates the stress, or fight or flight, response. In its most basic terms it is a series of hormonal releases within your body designed to help you survive danger.

In the excellent book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert Sapolsky uses the example of how the stress response would affect an animal in the savannah. A very simplified version of the sequence may go something like:

  1. Lion wants to eat you
  2. Stress response on
  3. Hormones released
  4. Non essential systems shut down (includes things like digestion and saliva production)
  5. Extra blood and energy sent to the essential ones (i.e. legs).
  6. Run
  7. Escape (hopefully)

    When the danger passes a different set of hormones are released, you relax and all your bodies systems go back to doing what they should. This might happen once every day or two.

    The problem for humans in the modern West is that this happens multiple times in the day. The stress response is always on, your day might start something like this:

    1. Woken up by an alarm (heart pounding straight away)
    2. Rush through breakfast (I’m late, I’m late)
    3. Have pointless argument with wife about the location of your keys
    4. Rush for train
    5. Stand on hot uncomfortable train (getting very irritated in the process)
    6. Arrive at work, check to do list and instantly worry about its size.

      That’s all by 9am.

      This is no good. The negative effects on your health are endless but the big ones are: heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure. All very real, all can be caused by excessive stress and all are killing lots of people each year.

      So how do you control it?

      The things that cause stress are real and unavoidable parts of modern life but we often get stressed about things with limited long term effect. I know in my case I often put the stress onto myself rather that it be put on me by an external source. 

      When faced with a stressful situation like any of the examples above try think about the bigger picture. Will the thing that is causing stress matter to you in 5 years, or even 1 year? Can you change it? If you do care then try and get as much control over the situation as possible.

      If you don’t, or it is out of your possible control, then you are probably the source of stress so let it go.

      It’s easier said than done, but think about what really matters. In the grand scheme of things a lot of the things we stress about are of little consequence. If they don’t matter, let them go. The stress response exists for a reason, fight or flight – so if they do matter, use it.


      Further reading

      Chris at The Garage Gym Online has recently writeen an excellent, and detailed, series of posts on stress. You should check it out.


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