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Stress Can Sabotage Your Fitness: Here’s How to Cope

stress has the power to sabotage any fitness routine. Here's what you can do about it.

Work is hectic. The kids need constant attention. Bills are looming. And on top of it all, you’re trying to stick to a strict diet and workout schedule, with minimal results.

Seems pretty stressful. In fact, stress has the power to sabotage any fitness routine, and coping with stress usually isn’t much of a priority, when it definitely should be.

Here, we’re exploring how stress could be the real culprit of poor fitness and health, plus what you can do about it.


stressed woman grabbing hair


Stress is Stress

First of all, stress is stress.

To be fair, working out itself is a form of stress. However, our body is unable to differentiate between physical stress, such as lifting weights, and emotional or mental stress, like a heavy workload or relationship problems.

While we assume that “blowing off steam” at the gym is a good idea, maxing out your stress levels by doing an intense HIIT session after a fight with your partner can send your stress levels over the edge.

Sure, exercise is a natural stress reliever and a regular exercise routine can help you manage everyday stress. But, there’s a difference between working out for stress relief and maxing out on what your nervous system can handle.

Maxing out on any kind of stress can hugely impact your fitness, which we’ll explore more below. Read on.


Stress Plays Mind Games

It’s no secret that our minds like to play tricks on us. When stress gets involved, these mind games get even more intense.

Another way that stress is sabotaging your fitness is that according to research in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, cognitive fatigue due to stress can make you believe you’re working out harder and more effectively than you actually are.

So, when you’re stressed your brain will tell you that you did an amazing session, when, in reality, you didn’t get a very good workout in at all. It could be a big reason why you’re not seeing results. Which leads to our next point.


Stress Negatively Affects Performance

Beyond stress-induced mind games, stress will also negatively affect your fitness performance. So, not only will you think you’re doing better than you are, your body is likely to perform objectively worse.

Performance is affected by stress in the following ways:


Man stressed on couch


Poor Recovery

Going back to the maxim that stress is stress, your body will be far less equipped to recover from the physical stress of a workout when your “battery” is drained due to emotional or mental stress.

When your body can’t recover properly, it’ll severely impact your fitness levels. Your muscles and cardiovascular system need to recover to get stronger.


Decreased Coordination and Motor Control

Stress affects your motor control and ability to coordinate.

Stress immediately affects your cerebellum which processes information regarding movement and motor control which obviously will have an impact on your fitness levels over time.


More Prone to Injuries

When stressed, you’ll likely be experiencing increased muscle tension and decreased focus. The result? Usually, more incidents of injury.

Tense muscles are more likely to spasm and when you’re not focused on the task at hand, your form will suffer and accidents can happen, all setting your fitness goals way back.


Woman injured holding knee


Stress Means Weight Loss Plateaus

The last major way stress is ruining your fitness is due to increased cortisol levels.

Cortisol is the stress hormone. It increases your blood sugar and blood pressure while controlling your immune system. You’ll crave sugar and essentially your body will be in fight or flight mode.

Quite literally, cortisol will start to store more fat cells to reserve energy, prepping your body for survival. Because of this, stress can quite literally cause your weight loss plateaus and a total standstill when it comes to fitness.


Cope with Stress and Improve Your Fitness

If you find yourself doing all the “right” things in the gym, eating whole foods with tonnes of nutrients, and you’re still struggling to meet your fitness goals and lose weight, think about your stress levels. Stress is likely the culprit.

Instead of “blowing off steam” with an intense workout after a stressful few days with the kids, do some yoga or meditation.

Instead of stressing about strict diets that have zero wiggle room, eat intuitively and practise moderation.

In addition to staying consistent with your workouts and eating well, self-care and stress-relief can be hugely beneficial for your fitness. You might be surprised at the difference it makes.


Female on yoga mat doing exercise

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