I’m merging my other blog with this blog so I’m going to be copying the posts I did there over, to here. Here’s one I wrote about a year ago, after a very stressful and scary period of intense (perhaps… over-) training. I continue to work on my stress levels quite consistently and have, since writing this article, started taking an SSRI to help manage my hormones. Outside of my meds, these tips have been proven helpful in keeping me from falling off the deep as the weights get heavier and the pressure of competition builds 😉
While I’ve been around weights for many years, I am still pretty new to Powerlifting. As I delve deeper and deeper into the sport, I am discovering many exciting new issues, not only in my body and training, but in my personality and my mind. My whole life I’ve been a very happy-go-lucky, ambitious, and well managed person. But over the past month (while doing a lot of heavy training in preparation for a powerlifting meet), I starting noticing myself feeling completely overwhelmed with life & training, extremely emotional (to the point of random tears for no reason), and well… STRESSED THE FUCK OUT! I wasn’t feeling myself, I wasn’t sleeping well, I was tired, my joints hurt, I felt fat, I was acting like a total bitch all the time… and I had no idea why. Because there was no real reason for me to be feeling so shitty I tried to ignore it, hoping that it would just pass. Eventually, after missing my lifts and having a rough day coaching at the gym, I kind of cracked.
I lost myself and fell into what must have been a panic attack. After a lot of tears and questions, my coach suggested that I start learning how to manage my stress better. He informed me that often during periods of heavy training your body will release a lot of cortisol (the stress hormone) which, if unchecked, will effect other hormones (progesterone and estrogen in women) and can lead to heightened emotions and stress levels. He informed me frankly that I wasn’t crazy and that what I was going through was completely normal, BUT that I needed to learn how to manage. If left unchecked an overproduction of stress hormones will destroy your recovery & immune system, leading to missed lifts and more sickness.
As a reaction to this very scary and intense experience I did a lot of reading on the subject and began putting a lot of effort into de-stressing myself. It feels a little weird to actually ‘train’ myself in relaxing, but it’s what I need to do and it has been helpful so far. Below are some things I have been doing to get myself back to normal.
- Cut out all quick carbohydrates & sugars Since cortisol counteracts insulin, avoiding wide excursions in blood sugar and insulin can lessen the “stress” response. Usually I eat a pretty close to paleo diet which helps with this, but during this period of heavy training & panic attacks, I was bending the rules to help me get enough calories/carbs to make my lifts ::ahem:: I was cheating ::ahem:: In hindsight I think all the carb loading and calorie binging might have actually done more harm than good.
- Take your damn fish oil Omega 3 helps with recovery, inflammation, and mood stabilisation. This is something I know I’m supposed to do, but I love to “forget” to do every day. I have been much more consistant in taking it lately and I have been feeling a lot better. As I said in my previous post, Eating Like A Mother Fuckin Powerlifter, “Fat’s make me happy, being happy makes me lift better.” Ohhhh yeah….
- Skip the coffee, go for the tea While coffee is known to increase your cortisol production, black tea is actually known to suppress it! I switched from coffee to tea as a part of my stress management program.
- Meditate for at least 10 minutes before bed This clears your head of all the noise from the day and sets you up for a good nights sleep. This has not been an easy one. I won’t lie, it felt really silly at first, but now that I’ve been doing it for a little while I am getting more used to it and it seems to be helping more and more every time. I usually have an extremely active brain at bedtime and since I’ve started meditating, it seems like it’s finally shutting the fuck up. I have been meditating in bed, to weird soothing music on my headphones, and I have found that to be EXTREMELY helpful in clearing my mind and turning my brain off.
- Supplement with Magnesium and Melatonin Both will help you get to sleep and stay asleep. Magnesium is specifically known to reduce cortisol production after aerobic exercise (not resistance training however).
- Get black out shades and keep harsh lights and noises out of the bedroom.
- Turn off your computer try to get off of your computer at least an hour before bed. The bright light sends the wrong signals to your brain.
- Meditate & practice deep breathing daily This isn’t something that needs to be limited to bedtime. I have been practicing deep breathing techniques whenever (and wherever) I start to feel stressed and I have found it to be very helpful in stopping the stressful feelings from getting worse. Additionally, taking some time during the day to meditate can be very relaxing and leave you feeling fresh and ready to go afterward. You don’t need to be in a lotus pose or anything like that — just close your eyes and let your thoughts go.
- Listen to music Music therapy has been used to help reduce cortisol levels in some people. I find that good music while I’m taking care of housework helps me stay less stressed and more happy.
- Read turn off your computer and read. I’ve been reading books about stress management. Can you tell?
- Laugh & Dance laughing and dancing have both been proven to reduce cortisol levels. I thought this was another weird thing to put effort into, they seem like they should be spontaneous or something. But I guess not really, why not invite a friend that always makes you laugh over on purpose. Perhaps go out dancing. That said, if going out dancing seems more stressful than fun, perhaps consider simply turning on some music at home and dancing around the house in your socks.