Many people use exercise as a way to cope with the inevitable stress that comes with, well, being human. And while pounding the pavement or heading to the weight room is an amazing way to blow off steam, it might actually be doing more harm than good when your body is already under loads of pressure after a sh*tty day. If you’ve ever had a totally mediocre and unsatisfying workout because of mental pressure or anxiety, and you’re wondering how stress affects your workout, you’re not alone. Stress is truly a force to be reckoned with.
According to Mayo Clinic, even the most mild stress can affect your entire body, both mentally and physically. From ultra tight muscles, to a screwed up sleep schedule, to the inability to quiet a racing mind, stress can be extremely taxing and difficult to manage.
While you might be tempted — and rightfully so — to “sweat it out” in the hope that your perspiration sheds away all your existing anxiety with it, unfortunately, a killer HIIT circuit won’t always be the cure to a stressful day.
The next time stress is totally squashing all your motivation to hit the gym, but you feel the need to push yourself to work out anyway, it might be useful to know how stress actually affects your workout, so that you can opt for a more soothing form of exercise that won’t aggravate your already beaten-down body. Here are a few key things to know about what stress can do to your workout and your motivation to move your body.
1. It Can Slow Your Post-Workout Recovery Time
For the most part, it’s normal to be super sore after a really challenging workout. But if you feel like your muscles are literally never recovering, and it’s interfering with your next gym sesh, stress could be the culprit.
According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the more stress you’re carrying, the less effective your muscles will be in terms of recovery. That’s why, if you push yourself to do strenuous exercise when you’re already anxious, your muscles may take a serious toll as a result.
If movement is your way of blowing off steam, try a gentle yoga or pilates class instead of a demanding bootcamp one, so that your muscles will get some well-deserved TLC.
2. It Affects Your Appetite
We all know that proper nutrition is so essential to fueling your workouts and nourishing your body after your sweat sessions. However, if you’re stressed, your fluctuating appetite might present some issues.
If you feel like your appetite totally retreats when you’re dealing with difficult situations, that’s because stress can affect the appetite-provoking hormones in your brain. This can cause you to crave a bunch of sugary comfort foods, which will certainly taste delicious going down, but can lead to overeating or a sucky sugar crash that just makes you feel too sh*tty to even move your body for your next workout.
Try practicing deep breathing before meals, and staying on schedule with pre-workout and post-workout snacks that will satiate you and provide feel-good nutrients to your hard-working body.
3. Remember That Exercise Is, Itself, A Form Of Stress
While exercise obviously provides amazing benefits for both your body and your mind, it’s important to remember that working out it is, indeed, a form of stress.
According to PopSugar, if you place another form of stress (like exercise) on top of your existing life-induced stress, your body may become super overwhelmed and struggle to keep up under all that weight.
This puts you at a higher risk for adrenal fatigue, which is basically a technical way to characterize symptoms like exhaustion, overproduction of cortisol (aka a stress hormone), and the general inability to give 100 percent during your workouts.
Opting for a few minutes of meditation or a leisurely walk is your best bet when your stress levels are high, and it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders.
4. You May Be Less Likely To Give It Your All
If you’ve ever tried to power through a scheduled workout when your mind and body are already bombarded with stress, it usually feels 10 times more difficult than when you’re in a more motivated mindset.
According to a study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, people often feel like they’re working out a lot harder than they actually are when they’re stressed. Essentially, simpler tasks feel like they become more difficult, and you feel like you’re exerting more energy than you actually are.
That’s why, when anxiety is squashing your motivation, it might be more beneficial to take that as your cue to enjoy a rest day and indulge in all the self-care. You deserve it.
5. It Screws With Your Sleep
Getting the proper amount of shut-eye is crucial to being able to perform well in the gym. I mean, have you ever tried to bang out some burpees while you’re totally sleep-deprived? Not a good time, fam. Not a good time.
According to Huffington Post, when you’re under pressure and anxious, your sympathetic nervous system (aka the one that’s responsible for your “fight or flight” responses) doesn’t get the chance to “shut down” at night, and your brain stays hyperactive when you’re trying to drift off to sleep.
Practicing stress-relieving yoga postures or breathing exercises during those pre-bedtime hours will help you get the beauty sleep you deserve, and leave you feeling well-rested enough to get your stress-free booty back to the gym when you’re ready and good to go.