Talk to anyone you meet in a day and I guarantee, at some point, they’ll mention how stressed they are. And I don’t doubt that they are in the least. It seems like everyone, whether in person or on social media, is incredibly stressed these days. It affects so many people that it almost seems like stress is trendy. It could be because of work, finances, personal relationships, or something health or fitness related, but one way or another, we’re all stressed. A big part of health (and yes, health AND fitness) that is rarely talked about is mental health. I try to be very open in all aspects of my health and wellness, including the parts that I personally lack. Taking care of your mind will do nothing but allow you to take care of your physical being, and help to increase your quality of life.
The first topic I’d like to brush on is disordered eating and diagnosed eating disorders. A good amount of fitness influencers, professionals, and competitors either come from a place of disordered eating, whether it be over or under eating, or have developed one in the process. This is a big problem in the fitness industry, where you don’t have the balance of “fit life” and real life, almost diminishing what you do to take care of yourself if you aren’t going to an extreme. I’ve talked about my previous issues with eating, with developing binge eating disorder and having extreme guilt associated with food, and I understand those feelings and where you feel like food is the enemy and hindering your dream “fit” life. This isn’t normal, and it isn’t healthy. If you are struggling with these feelings, try to reach out and talk to someone about it. I know it seems like you’re the only one dealing with this, especially in the fitness world, but you aren’t. You shouldn’t be afraid of calories, but grateful to them for powering you through your daily activities. It is more than possible to hit your goals without developing, or exasperating these thoughts, so don’t let that discourage you. Yes, eating disorders, and those similar disordered eating habits, are a big part of mental illness, especially in the health and fitness industry, but there are other issues you can have that affect either your fitness journey or your life.
Stress is defined as “a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension.” Stress is a real thing. It can not only fluster you, but it can seemingly overwhelm your entire day. When you feel stressed, it activates the “fight or flight” response in your body, whether you’re actually under attack or not. That’s right, mental stress releases the same response to a physical threat (and who says mental illness isn’t a real thing, am I right?) Basically, in the fight or flight response, your nervous system releases a whole bunch of hormones to prepare you for this huge stressor. The main two hormones are adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is what causes your heart rate to increase and your mental awareness to peak. We’ve seen cortisol before, it is the stress hormone I’ve mentioned in previous posts that can wreak havoc on your waistline. Excessive cortisol can have adverse affects on your body besides weight gain, including fatigue and anxiety. Having so much stress in your life can actually increase your chances for more stress, such as feeling tired all the time or increasing anxiety. The best way I’ve learned to prevent this mental health snowball is to actively perform stress relieving techniques daily.
My favorite ways to relieve stress:
1. Workout (duh). Working out releases endorphins in your brain, and as Elle Woods says, “Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you happy, and happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” She’s right.
2. Get enough sleep. Having enough good quality sleep allows your body the time it needs to recover from the day, both physically and mentally. Even slight sleep deprivation can have adverse effects, including impaired memory and mood, and contributes to weight gain.
3. Journal. This one I can’t stress enough (see what I did there?). I discovered journaling in my junior year of college, when I took a course called “Writing for the Means of Self Discovery.” I learned so much about myself, and I was truly able to let go of some deep stressors. Now, it’s been a bit since college, and I got out of the habit. A very smart friend of mine, and possibly someone who is the most in tune I’ve ever seen with their mental health, re-introduced me to journaling. When I feel stressed or anxious, I just write whatever comes to mind. Usually by the time I’m done writing, I’ve either solved my problem myself, or I’ve calmed myself down enough to carry on.
Sometimes, you can prevent and prevent all you want, but there’s just nothing you can do. Anxiety is a whole different monster than just stress. Anxiety is being overwhelmed by worrying and fear until you honestly can’t do anything but worry. I have experienced, and still do experience, anxiety attacks in my life. I don’t say that I suffer from them because I don’t feel like it’s a suffering, but more so a part of my life that I go through and learn from. That doesn’t mean that others do not suffer from their mental illnesses, that is just my personal take on my own situation. When I experience an anxiety attack, nothing else matters. I can’t think straight, I start to go hysterical and it takes quite a bit to calm me down. I try to implement my stress relief techniques, but sometimes you just have to let it pass. That’s something I have learned in my experiences, sometimes you can’t do anything about what’s happening. It’s a scary feeling, but sometimes once you let go against the attack, you can actually allow it to pass, calm down, and move forward.
The biggest lesson I have learned in my experiences with all mental disorders is that it’s not my fault. I’ve always felt weird, or that something about me is abnormal, because of the way my mind works and the feelings I have. However, I’m not. I’ve come to realize that so many people experience stress, panic/anxiety attacks, or suffer from depression or another mental illness, but no one really talks about it. It’s not weird and you shouldn’t be ashamed of anything you are feeling. Yes, it can affect your health and fitness journey, as eating disorders wreak havoc on your body and mind, excessive stress can lead to weight gain, and anxiety can keep you out of the gym, but health and fitness is not just about your physical body. You cannot be healthy if your mind isn’t. However, just because you have a mental disorder doesn’t mean you aren’t healthy! Just remember: mental health and mental health care is just as important, if not more so, than physical health care.