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5 Tips to Help With Managing Stress While Maintaining Fitness

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

The last eight or 9 months have been heavy and emotional for me. A LOT of heavy things to deal with and I mean a great bit, y’all. It had gotten to a point where there was no fitness journey. Plenty of days where I did nothing towards my fitness goals and I ate whatever. Then the holidays came and my habits were horrible. I was eating cake, cookies, chips, donuts, nachos, and pizza. Initially, I’d work out a few times a week but by November, I was chilling everyday. Mind you, things were still coming at me and I was letting it get to me.

Eventually I’d gotten to a point where I wanted to get started and knew I needed to. The scale hadn’t moved out of my range, but the mirror wasn’t looking the same and I wasn’t feeling like myself. I couldn’t light the fire under my ass to get me going. I was kinda just existing.

One day, a few of weeks ago, I realized this is something others go through and would be a good topic to write on. So I decided it was time for me to figure out how to pull myself out of the emotional hole I’d dug for myself. My plan was to get myself out of this funk AND develop a new post just in case there are others that may need a little kick start or reboot.

I’d been dwelling on what was happening around me instead of focusing on the things I had control over. So, I gave myself 24hrs of alone time to feel, process, and be at peace. I promised myself and my best friend that after those 24hrs were up I would pick myself up and get back on track. And that’s just what I did. I woke up early that Saturday morning, turned on some music and started with my stationary bike. I rode until a pedal came off. I found out later that it wasn't broken, it just came loose.

A pic from the emergency text I sent out to get it fixed.

Instead of getting pissed in that moment and ending my workout there, I grabbed my kettle continued with cardio and weights. I could’ve easily thrown the pedal, and it crossed my mind to do so, but that could’ve had spiraling results, i.e. something else broken that I’d have to pay to replace or fix. Instead, I reminded myself that things happen, that’s a part of life; do what I can about it and let it go.

Afterwards I felt better. I felt a little spark and was ready for my next workout. This spark lead me to begin working on my weekly plans to reach all of the goals I’ve set for myself. I received a dry erase board for Christmas, so I decided to use it to write out those plans. It’s hanging where I can see it to remind myself daily. Because it’s in a common area, if someone visits my home they’ll see it and if they choose to, they can hold me accountable.

I had everything written out and began working on my weekly plan that Monday. By the end of the day I texted my best friend that I was back. I was feeling like myself again. Ready to conquer my shit, if I must say.

A picture from my emergency text last weekend. Adulting means having to get a new water heater sometimes. Its all in perception, lol.

Before I go deeper into the how-to’s of managing stress to maintain fitness goals, I feel it’s more important to understand stress and how it affects your health, as well as your fitness goals. This will help you grasp the importance of finding ways to manage stress.

So, What Exactly is Stress?

Stress is your body’s natural physical, emotional, or mental response to what you experience in your environment, body, and thoughts.

  • environment- people, events, places, and things around us

  • body- swelling is a natural response to your body experiencing injury (a physical stress)

  • thoughts -the reason for those tears you have when you think of a deceased loved one

Generally speaking, it is that feeling you experience when you are faced with a challenge or perceive to be threatened. How we respond to stressors is due to genetics and our experiences. Traumatic events make you more vulnerable to stress. 

It’s not always a bad thing. Your body’s response to stress can save your life. Ever had someone jump out of nowhere and yell “boo” at you? Your body perceived it to be a threat and your first reaction was probably to jump, scream, run, swing at them, or all of the above. Afterwards you’ll notice, even if you didn’t run, your heart is beating faster than normal. Your body’s natural response was to alert you that things are not ok and to get you out of there with little thought. This is known as the fight or flight response.

Good stressors, like the anticipation you feel before starting a new job or riding a roller coaster, cause a similar response in the body. You may experience your heart racing with excitement, sweaty palms, and a queasy stomach.

Stress can be good for you in small doses. It can motivate you to push yourself to try new things and reach new heights. This is how people are able to complete a workout. We put physical stress on our body when we workout (yes, your workout should challenge you). In return, our body supplies us with the hormones needed to complete that workout. Adrenaline being one.

Effects of Stress on the Body

The hormone adrenaline is released in your body to assist with handling stress. It increases the rate of your blood circulation (hence the faster than normal heart rate), blood pressure, and your breathing. It also prepares your muscles to take on the exertion needed to get out of the situation.

Stress can cause sleepless nights, headaches, stomachaches, heartburn, and tension in your body. It affects your eating habits, either causing you to under eat or *gasp* overeat.

Stress or emotional eating involves craving and eating comfort foods that provide us with a rewarding or relieving feeling. I think I’ll say it again, stress can cause overeating. Choosing comfort foods is a response to the overwhelming feelings. In comes poor eating habits; and behind that is fat accumulation and weight gain.

Cortisol is another hormone released as a response to stress. This hormone suppresses your digestive system and alters your immune system. The hormone, cortisol, is not your friend when you’re working to lose weight. It increases belly fat and belly fat is responsible for increasing cortisol levels. This creates an unhealthy cycle. Cortisol releases glucose (blood sugar) in your bloodstream. This is good when you’re running and screaming and need extra energy to do so. Not so much when you’re sad and spending your days in bed weeping. You’re not burning much energy, and so it is stored. Here's a good link on cortisol and belly fat.

Chronic Stress

The fight or flight response makes your body work harder than normal. So, think about its effects when you’re in a state of constant negative emotions. THIS is when it takes a toll on your body.

Chronic stress (experiencing daily high’s and low’s) increases your risk of heart disease and heart attacks. Situational stress increases your blood pressure, but experiencing stress daily can lead to high blood pressure (HBP) and high blood sugar. High blood sugar contributes to higher amounts of the “bad” cholesterol, LDL, and decrease the “good” cholesterol, HDL. This can lead to a fatty build up in your arteries and boom, heart disease.

Those sleepless nights can lead to heart disease as well. Not getting enough sleep also makes you moody and increases cortisol in the body; a bit of a cycle. It changes your appearance giving you bags under the eyes, wrinkles, skin break outs, and weight gain.

You’re not as alert when you haven’t had sleep and your ability to think, process, and remember is affected.

Now back to managing stress.

Give Yourself Time to Feel and Process, Then Let It Go

Stress is a natural occurrence. The feelings that come with them are also natural. It’s ok to cry, be upset or frustrated. Little secret, if you don’t know me already. I cry lol. I have happy tears, sad tears, pissed tears, “man that was beautiful” tears, all the tears. Slight exaggeration. Slight. I can see someone cry and I get teary eyed. For years it bothered me that my tears bothered others. I had to learn that I was a person aware of my feelings and I allowed myself to feel them.

I learned that I get the most nauseating feeling in my stomach when I hold things in. It’s detrimental to your mental and physical health to repress your feelings. Instead of running from them, acknowledge your feelings and understand that there is a message behind what you feel. Focus on figuring out why you feel this way. Are you afraid? What is needed for you to be at peace? Be real with yourself because sometimes we are the cause our own stress. Holding on to someone too long, sound familiar? Familiar as hell to me LOL.

This may sound crazy, but talk yourself through it. Whatever it takes for you to process it. Journaling your thoughts may feel a bit less like you’re talking to yourself, or actually sit down and talk it out with someone.

Use this time to do things you love and that provide you with total relaxation. I'm not necessarily talking about eating; I'm running along the lines of a massage, pedicure, the beach, or another activity that gets you up and out.

I said not necessarily because sometimes a night in with snacks, wine and good company helps.

After you’ve processed it, let it go. When the thoughts arise, acknowledge them, feel them, and release them with a deep breath. Don’t fall into the trap of that stressful thought.

Remember Your Why and Your Goals

Fitness goals can move down on your list of priorities when you’re faced with stressful events. Think, grieving or having several deadlines. You may become sedentary and your eating habits affected. Your focus shifts when there are changes occurring in your environment.

Once you’ve let it go, its time to get back to doing your work. You began your journey for a reason. Remember that reason and let it help you get back into a routine.


Start with low intensity activities. Be gentle with yourself. Stress can lead to injury and the stress hormone, cortisol inhibits muscle repair. Because you’re not as focused when you’re stressed, if you’re working out, your technique may be hindered. When your brain is tired your body is also tired.

If your normal routine is high intensity, ease back into it. Take walks with a friend and have a good talk. I love walking meditations. Hikes are perfect for this. Pick up a yoga class. See the similarities? These activities ease your mind while still working on your physical body. Take moments throughout the day to focus on your breathing. Taking deep breaths reduces cortisol levels.

When exercising, our bodies naturally produce an opiate-like substance called endorphins. This chemical triggers positive feelings. Keep your sessions short if you’re working out and remember low intensity.

At the gym in my hotel in Cincinnati. The morning before we laid another uncle to rest. The caption on the mirror!

Practice Mindfulness

Focus on the here and now. Acknowledge those stressful thoughts but don't let them stick around long.

You should especially practice mindfulness when eating during this time. Pay attention to what you eat and when you eat. Understand cues from your body. Eat when you’re hungry and ignore cravings, especially sugar cravings.

Work on sticking to your dietary goals. You have control over what you eat. Stay mindful of this.

You’re Not Alone. Reach Out

See stress as a hurdle to reaching your goals. Something to overcome and will make you stronger. That’s a part of your journey. Know that you will be ok. During times when you don’t feel like you’ll be ok reach out for a shoulder. You don’t have to go through anything alone.

We experience stress daily. How our body responds to that stress depends on our perception of that stress. Too much negative stress can have damaging physical and emotional effects. Listen to your body. Focus on the things you can control, yourself. Acknowledge and understand your feelings. Don't completely ignore your fitness goals. Maintaining your fitness goals can actually decrease the stress you may be feeling. Switch up your routine to a more gentle form of self care. Lean on your friends. Take care of yourself, because of your why. 

What are things you like to do that help you in stressful times? 


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