Not ALL stress is bad nor created equal
There are multiple stressors in life that cause favorable adaptions to the body. Exercise is one of them, fasting is another. These will only be of benefit however, if they fall under a certain threshold and the body can overcome them and become stronger – to adapt favorably. Stress therefore needs to be examined as a whole, and all of the multiple sources must be delicately balanced for one to thrive and not to overreach.
If we look back at evolution, there were certainly periods of time in which we were primed primarily for survival. In such times, our stress hormones would have been heightened to overcome the challenges we faced and to give us the enhanced alertness required. Famines and periods of under eating are examples of this; finding food would have become the priority with sleep being put on the backburner as time was spent hunting and gathering. Sleep time would reduce, another stressor, and the challenges to the body would further mountain. In an environment where necessities are scarce, humans would have had to have evolved certain mechanisms that handled the situation.
The bodies system of adaptation all work on the stress signal, and therefore some stress is essential for maintenance and progression. The goal should not be eliminating it entirely, but finding a level suitable at that time for the individual. This is why what is too difficult for one, can be easily achievable for another. Take holding ones breath under water as an example; there is drastic variation in the times in which individuals can last. If one was to want to increase their time holding their breath, they would expose themselves to this stressor multiple times and the body would overcome the challenge by developing an increased capacity and more efficient use of Oxygen. Put another way, the longer time a person is exposed to a stressor, the more efficient they become at overcoming it if it was to happen again in the future.
It is also common to do too much of a good thing; and there is a tendency for us to try and extract more benefit from the pursuit than is recommended or prescribed. This has led to our current behavior in our age of abundance, we are often told that have to drink litres of water every day, we have to sleep all these hours, eat at set times and get all these nutrients. If we lack them, we’re not servicing our bodies and we are damaging our health, hormonal balance and wellness. But there are a lot factors at once to consider, and thus, it is putting them all together like a jigsaw puzzle that unlocks the path to optimization – not micromanaging the minutia. It is also important to remember that intuitively we have mechanism in place that helps to service our best interests. As long as we listen to these signals and signs, our body tells us what we need to do and when to adjust.
So what are the practical take home messages?
If you live a high stress schedule, it would be wise to schedule periods of time in which you take away some of that stress. A week off and scheduled meditation are examples of things that could be deployed. This way, you will give your body time to grow stronger. The body with all the signals to adapt is then given the opportunity to do so. So who does this apply to? Those that don’t sleep much, work too long hours, work out to maximum intensity all of the time. Signs evident in the dark circles under the eyes, cold hands, anxiety etc. Then there are those on the other side of the spectrum; retired or don’t work, super-relaxed, laissez-faire attitude, eat poorly and sit down too often. In a nutshell, they are placing minimal demand on body to adapt. These people should work up slowly, but apply more stress over time. Fundamentally for both groups, there should be a gradual change in either direction; changing one metric at a time.
If supplements are to be used to help assist in any stress management, the two stand out performers to consider are:
Both have been proved via scientific study to help balance and lower cortisol, whilst simultaneously easing the mind of anxiety.
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