All forms of stress in your life dip into the same pool of what we will call (for simplicity’s sake) “adaptive reserves.”
Essentially, your body has both a specific response to each specific stressor it encounters (for example, if you stress your muscles with weight training, they get bigger and stronger), and a general response to EVERY stressor it encounters. This general stress response is met by your immune system and nervous system ramping up their activity to protect you from the stress you’re under.
Unfortunately, your nervous system and immune system, just like your muscles, can give out if you place demands on them for too prolonged a period of time (chronic stress), or if you place too high of demands on them all at once (a very large acute stressor).
Since all stressors dip into the same pool of adaptive reserves, everything (both physical and psychological stress) contributes, based on how large each stressor is. And that’s why it is important to not undertake a demanding training program and diet when life stress is high.
If you’re already pushing your immune and nervous systems to the brink, adding the stress of harder training and a calorie deficit makes you more likely to “tip over the edge” and overwhelm those systems. This is especially true the leaner you get (in fact, even otherwise healthy bodybuilders often have to pull out of shows because they get sick close to a contest, simply because of how stressful it is to be that lean).
And when those systems are overwhelmed, that’s when bad stuff can start to happen. Muscle and tendon recovery rates slow down, meaning you’re more likely to get injured. Even worse, as those systems become overwhelmed and immune function drops, you become substantially more likely to get sick, as pathogens of all sorts have an easier time overwhelming your body’s depleted defenses.
Oh yeah, and it simply makes it harder to gain muscle and/or lose fat (which, relative to the rest of the potential consequences, should be the least of your concerns).
For those basic reasons, I don’t take on clients who are under high amounts of day to day life stress. It’s impossible for me to know just how close anyone is to overwhelming those systems, and so if there’s any significant chance that anyone could become ill or get injured from taking my training and diet advice, it would simply not be ethical for me to work with them when I’m fully aware of what could happen.
So, it’s an honors system. If they would rate their stress on a scale of 1-10, if it’s a 7 or above, I advise them to come back to coaching at another time when they can make the most of it.
I am not qualified to give you advice on how to handle stress, but I can share my experience…
It would be rude and presumptuous to tell you how you should feel about the stresses you are under and how you should handle them.
However, if it helps, I will share the four key things that I did in 2015-2017 which reduced the amount of stress I was under, so dramatically, that the chronic back pain I had been suffering subsided, and I started to recover and enjoy my workouts again.
- I got out of a terrible, soul-crushing relationship. This is far and away the biggest factor.
- I started going on early morning walks. I’d do this prior to checking my phone or todo list. Some like meditation, I like fresh air and the fresh thoughts that I find come with it.
- I rearranged my working week’s schedule, to put client work and interviews at the start of the week, leaving the rest for writing and other creative work.
- I switched off notifications on my phone. It will ring, but no message alerts will be seen unless I unlock my screen. People now know that if they need me urgently, to call. Otherwise, they wait. This has cut out distractions and allows me to focus on work, or simply, the lost art of enjoying the moments we are in. This might sound unfeasible, but people around me quickly got used to it.
- I started writing a gratitude journal before bed, which trained me to start seeing the positives in everything in day to day life also. (Now being able to laugh about the level of paperwork I have to put up with as a business owner in Japan instead of letting the frustration get to me is one example.
That’s it. Simple, but it’s been invaluable to me.