Should You Exercise When You're Stressed Out?
Updated: Jul 16, 2021
Last week was a WEEK.
- One of my clients died.
- I woke up the next day unable to move my neck without major pain.
- We hosted a small Super Bowl gathering so prep, cooking, cleaning, drinking... ahem.
- I launched a corporate wellness beta test for 30 people in Los Angeles & Chicago.
- On top of regular work.
- Plus POLITICS (cue internal scream)
I suddenly felt super overwhelmed, over-extended, drained. Weepy. Fragile.
It's so weird to me that in times like this, I need self-care habits more than ever but it's also harder to think straight to do those things I know will help. Or even remember them!
Debilitating Stress is E.V.I.L.
It's the same for nutrition and exercise. When I'm feeling especially blue, I'm more likely to eat foods that don't serve me in the end because I'm feeling sorry for myself or I think I deserve it or I'm in "fuck it" mode.
(Sorry for the language.)
When I'm stressed, an appropriate workout will usually pull me out of my funk (exercise can be a brilliant stress-buster) but it also feels like "one more stupid thing I have to do" so it's easy to justify skipping it. And beating myself up in a workout only drains me more.
I dare say that thanks to politics and the never-ending news cycle, on top of the usual stressors, everyone is revving at a much higher stress level than usual.
And no matter who you support and what you believe, the current climate is taking a toll on your health. How can it not?
"I hate people."
I knew I had to pull back and get a grip when I found myself thinking, I hate people.
Because here's the thing - I don't hate people. My cup was overflowing. That’s all.
So I tapped out.
I stopped looking and reading and listening for a bit.
I went hiking and turned off my phone (save for a few brilliant photo opps).
I took a nap.
Self-care is always important, but especially now.
Here are some of the things I do when I need to de-stress.
Oh, but wait. First, let's talk about the things we think will help but which usually, instead, make it worse:
- PUNISHING WORKOUTS
- FORGING AHEAD, when all signs are pointing to needing a break
- SAYING YES TO MORE THINGS, unless it's a weeklong retreat in the treetops of Bali (ha)
- RECKLESS BEHAVIOR or CHOICES
Some of those things might make you feel better temporarily, but they have an overall net addition to your stress.
Instead, try these:
When emotions are heightened, it's helpful to remember that exercise is actually a stressor on your body.
Applied properly, exercise is brilliant for your health, as it pushes your body to adapt to the exercise stress you've imposed upon it and get stronger for next time!
But when you add intense exercise to an already-stressed system, it's far easier to overdo it and turn it into a negative.
It's harder to recover from hard workouts when you're really stressed out. Sometimes we simply need to hold back a bit.
This is when your workouts should focus on mobility and flexibility, as those things can feel very therapeutic. Take long walks. Focus on your breathing and clearing your mind of negative thoughts while you walk and move your body. Exercise in a different location to pull yourself out of your currently-negative space. Walk somewhere new, or do your stretching outside under a beautiful tree.
Even if you choose to "beat your body" a little in hopes of working off tension and stress, pull back a little and focus first and foremost on proper form. When we're worn out and distracted, our risk of exercise injury is far greater.
Turn off your devices. Turn off the TV. Turn off the music. Close the world out once in a while. Take some deep breaths. If your thoughts aren't friendly ones (that running ticker tape in your head can be quite awful, can't it?), recite a mantra instead. Breathe in on one word and out on another. "Think........ calm......" is one of mine.
Here's a sequence that helps me fall (back) asleep. Works almost every time.
Slow deep breath in..... as much air as you can….
Hold it. Hold it... hold it......
As you hold it, "sip in" a bit more... a bit more... a bit more.... you'll feel like your lungs are going to burst... sip... sip.... and
Hollllllld it...... until you can't
Take a few normal breaths and then repeat 2-3x
Your lungs should feel *completely* full and like you'll burst before you release.
Get That Oxygen Into Your Cells.
Yeah yeah, eat healthy foods and you don't need supplements, blah blah blah - save your lecture, ok? She says as she writes a lecture masked as a blog post.
I truly believe most people do not get adequate nutrition from food alone, that the quality of most food we buy is far less than adequate, and that our cultural reliance on plastics, industrial farming, and environmental pollution is straining our health.
I rely on quite a few supplements to support and maintain my health goals. And over the years I've honed in on the regimen that works for me. (I also have a medicine cabinet with an excess of "tried it; no change." But whatevs.)
For me, the following over-the-counter supplements help with relaxation, moods, energy:
Lithium Orotate - moods
Pregnenalone - hormones
Magnesium - calming, muscle relaxing
Vitamin B12 - energy
CoQ10 - energy
I use others, but for the purposes of this post, those are notable. I don’t sell these and this isn’t a pitch. Do your own homework; don’t take them just because I said so.
Reading for pleasure
Hobbies (cooking, woodworking, creating)
Time with companions, friends
Time with animals
If you need connection, reach out to a loved one. Tell your people what you need - they want to help.
It's ok to need something and say so.
Likewise, you should reach out to those who might need it. Sometimes the shift in focus from ourselves to someone else is the lift we need!
I went through a period of debilitating stress and anxiety not that long ago. It came out of nowhere, and Knocked Me FLAT. It was terrifying and awful and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. (‘Cept that one guy… wait nevermind, this is a positive post, dammit.)
Meds have their place and it is not a mark against your character if you need to take something.
Meds were a bridge to get me from the depths of darkness to a place where I could mindfully participate in my own care again.
We are lucky to have access to things that can help us when we can’t seem to help ourselves.
**Consult your doctor.**
Got anything to add?
Please take care of yourself. You're worth it! And if you need someone to talk to, I'm here.
Oh, and if you want a way to focus on these stress-busting habits AND laugh while you do it?...
PLAY THE GAME! A new one starts every 6 weeks!