Are You More Stressed Than You Think?

by | Updated: December 2nd, 2016 | Read time: 4 minutes

It’s like termites gnawing away at your house’s foundation. From the inside out, stress breaks you down. Whether it surfaces severely as panic attacks or as gradual weight gain, stress is your fit body’s worst enemy. Though exercising helps relieve some of the tension (thank you, cardio kickboxing!), there are telling signs that you may not have it completely under control.

3 Sneaky Symptoms of Stress

Even with work-home-training seemingly balanced, you’re still catching every cold that comes within a mile of your nose, jeans you wore just months ago feel a bit snug and a good night’s sleep is a long-lost dream. Sure you could chalk up these changes to getting older, juggling more than the average person or going through the normal phases of parenthood. All are very plausible causes. However, research shows that what can seem perfectly normal may actually be the underlying effects of stress. Pay special attention if…

You can’t stay focused.
Being able to multitask sounds genius, but it really doesn’t mean you’re more productive. This kind of task-hopping can lead to missing key components. As described in Judgment and Decision Making at Work, a publication of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, “research suggests that concurrent tasks interfere with one another because of the increased demands.” Funny enough, the publication also reveals that stress is not only defined by overloading. Being under-stimulated or having a Ground-Hog-Day routine can just as well become a stressor and lead to lack of clear focus.

Experiencing popcorn brain or sheer boredom? Daily meditation, even for a mere 10 minutes, can greatly improve your mindfulness. Harnessing the power of staying in the present – or on the task at hand – is no easy feat, but it can be done with diligent practice. If you’re high-tempered, take deep breaths and count to 10. Regular meditation, aromatherapy relaxation and concerted efforts to remain calm when the kitchen’s on fire are sure to help you manage stress, stay focused and reel in that scatter brain.

You’re gaining weight or losing lean muscle mass even though you’re still training hard – maybe harder than ever.
When training for my first 70.3 triathlon, I developed a bad habit. After long brick workouts, I would indulge in eggs benedict and raise a mimosa to my weekend’s accomplishments. I just expended over 2,000 calories, so why not treat myself? Justified or not, this high-calorie fat-bomber was not doing my body any favors. In fact, a recent study proves just how bad this habit really was.

Published in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry, a July 2014 study evaluated women’s metabolism after assessing their stress levels and feeding them a meal high in saturated fat. Turns out, the women with more daily stressors experienced lower calorie and fat burn and higher insulin levels. Even with only one stressor present in the previous 24 hours, researchers calculated that the women burned an average of 104 fewer calories in the six hours after eating the high-fat meal.

When our body is under stress – physical or emotional – it naturally craves comfort. I chose brunch, but you might prefer burgers or crème brulee. Unfortunately, this kind of fatty fare is only adding insult to injury. Mitigate a slowing metabolism by refueling with healthy carbs, lean proteins and minimal fats. A well-rounded post-workout meal might include scrambled egg whites with an English muffin and a smear of hummus or a warm bowl of honey-drizzled oatmeal. Got a glaring sweet tooth? Try one of these decadent desserts made with Quest protein bars. They’ll satisfy your cravings and your waistline!

Your body isn’t bouncing back as quickly as it used to.
As we get older, recovering from a workout or even a vacation can require extra downtime. However, feeling constant fatigue, prolonged muscle soreness or shooting pain in new and unusual places could very well be side effects of an over-strained body. Physical stress should not be discounted, especially if you’re an endurance athlete. Long-distance triathlon training can lead to elevated cortisol levels, which can – over time – transpire into physical ailments outside of typical delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Without proper recovery and stress management, you might experience pounding headaches, raised blood pressure or even skin flare-ups.

If any of this sounds familiar, you need to take a closer look at your recovery routine. Don’t have one? Now’s a good time to start. Stretching, practicing yoga or booking monthly sports massages should be top of the to-do list, as should proper post-workout fuel. In addition to keeping your food choices low in fat, choose a complete protein with amino acids. Meat and eggs are natural sources of aminos, but adding a plant-based protein powder to overnight oats is a vegetarian-friendly, portable alternative. Fueling your fitness endeavors with quality nutrition is an easy way to eliminate unnecessary physical stress.