Stress & Athletic Performance - What's the Link?

Stress is a part of our everyday lives. It certainly is difficult to understand something you can’t see or touch. And it’s even more difficult to speak about it for fear of judgment since there is a mental health stigma – a label that outcasts you from everyone else. But did you know that stress can play a role in your strength and fitness performance?

When stress is not managed well, it can have detrimental effects on different aspects of your life. For athletes and workout enthusiasts, increased stress levels can reduce your athletic and workout performance, and this in turn can be detrimental to your overall health.

Ways in which stress can impact your performance

Get Success With The Stress: The Good Stress

Many athletes find that stress helps them with their performance. There is a science behind this, and it is called the Inverted U-shaped hypothesis. This hypothesis states that moderate levels of stress lead to optimal performance. However, when you go to the extremes, such as being comatose on one end to having a panic attack on the other, then performance drops off drastically as stress hormones negatively impact your body over a prolonged period.

Stress is a natural body response. It makes you more alert and this is what can give you that extra competitive edge. The benefits of stress can help you prepare, focus and perform at your optimal level. As stated, this is a delicate balance.


Don’t Mess With The Stress

While there is a biological reason for stress and sending your body into a flight or fight state, it is important to be aware that such drastic responses hurt your body.

When you are stressed, the hormone cortisol is released in your body, and it affects your ability to think clearly. Unfortunately, this can leave you feeling overwhelmed and lead to burnout.

High levels of stress over a prolonged period of time can lead to weight gain, high risk for disease, hight risk of heart attack, digestive issues and insomnia


Less Stress, Please: Injuries and Sleep

Recovery is one of the most important aspects of training. Naturally, after an intense training session, you feel sore for a day or so. However, when you are stressed, it may take longer for your soreness to go away. This can increase your risk of injury.

There is a reciprocal relationship between stress and sleep. If you have high-stress levels, you may experience trouble sleeping or getting enough quality sleep. Studies show that when you sleep, you also release the growth hormone. This hormone helps your body to grow new muscles, repair damage, strengthen bones, and burn fat. This is why it is important to get those 8 hours of sleep!

Having stress affects your recovery through sleep, your energy levels may dip, and you may feel less energy every time you train. Stress drains your energy and robs your body of the one element it desperately needs to recover from such physical stress.

Express The Stress

It is vital to talk to a professional if you are experiencing-stress levels. “When in doubt, talk it out,” explains Dr. Graef. “Sport psychologists, coaches, counsellors, or friends can help guide you through your struggles. Parents, too. Sometimes just getting things off of our chest can be a huge benefit!”

Speak to your doctor if you experience these symptoms for longer than two weeks:

  • Broken sleep patterns.
  • Waking up in the middle of the night with night sweats (cortisol levels are too high.)
  • Experiencing extreme fatigue during the day and trouble falling asleep at night.
  • Frequent sickness and injury.
  • Drastic changes in appetite and cravings.
  • Feeling down and lack of joy or excitement

Managing The Stress

You must maintain your overall health with proper rest, recovery, and relaxation.

  • Create a sleep schedule and stick to it. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol a few hours before bedtime. These stimulants can make it difficult to fall into REM sleep.
  • Know your sources of stress. By being aware of your triggers, you will be able to cope a lot better with the stress it brings.
  • Reduce negative thought patterns. These tend to contribute to stress through cognitive restructuring.

To Sum up

The bottom line is that stress is unavoidable. Stress, regardless of where it stems from, can have a significant impact on how you perform in your training. More importantly, it can interfere with your body’s ability to recover which can lead to injury.

It is clear that to perform at your best, stress levels must be both effective and manageable. Use that fire within you.

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