In my last article (The Stress Test), I talked to you about stress and the negative impacts it can have on your fitness goals. These impacts can include reduced motivation and focus in the gym, slower progress towards your goals, and weight gain. Stress eating is also a major problem that can undermine your progress and wreck your motivation.
I also gave you three tips to minimize stress and stay on track to meeting your fitness goals: keep your workout going, work on your sleep quality, and practice yoga or meditation. In this article, I’ll tell you exactly how to implement these tips and take down stress once and for all.
Get your heart rate up
Regular exercise is an excellent way to combat stress and improve both your mental and physical health. Most of the research in this area has focused on cardio and yoga, but similar benefits have also been found with strength training. That said, any physical exercise will work great for taking the edge off, so choose what you find most enjoyable. If the workout itself causes you anxiety, it probably won’t do a great job at relieving stress! Here are some sample routines to give you an idea of what to aim for:
Shoot for at least 30-45 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio three to five days a week. This can be running, biking, swimming, or even a sport like tennis. If you prefer the gym, the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike make great choices. Moderate intensity will vary from person to person, but it’s best to start slow and work your way up.
Yoga can be an excellent way to relax the mind and body, and it can also be quite a workout if done right. Here are some poses that are perfect for stress relief:
- Eagle pose
- Child’s pose
- Standing forward bend
- Fierce pose
- Bound angle pose
If you’re not sure how to do these poses correctly, it’s best to consult a yoga instructor or wellness coach—they can be difficult to pick up on your own.
How to push through stressful times
The problem with using exercise to relieve stress is that stress itself can make it hard to want to exercise. Many people find their motivation tanks during stressful times, or feel like they just don’t have time for working out. Taking just 45 minutes to squeeze in a quick session, however, can do wonders for the rest of your day.
The trick to beating stress-induced loss of motivation is to forget about motivation altogether. Instead, focus on building discipline. Motivation comes and goes, but discipline is all about consistency. Make it a habit to get to the gym at about the same time every day, rain or shine, stress or no stress. Focusing on building the habit when you’re not stressed out or overworked will make it that much easier to maintain it when you are. By making getting to the gym an automatic behavior, you’ll be able to rely on it to combat stress when it does come up.
We all know stress can seriously interfere with sleep. Poor sleep, in turn, makes stress worse, which makes it even harder to sleep. It’s a vicious loop. To avoid it, make sleep hygiene a priority.
Sleep hygiene is all about taking care of your sleep. Certain habits and practices can be used to up the odds of a full, restful night’s sleep. Here are some tips:
- Avoid screens in the hour before bedtime. The artificial blue light from screens (like smartphones, tablets, and TVs) can mess with your body’s internal clock, suppressing the release of melatonin and making it more difficult to fall asleep. They can also be mentally stimulating, making sleep more difficult.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine in the evening. These chemicals can all interfere with sleep, both making it harder to fall asleep and reducing the quality of your sleep.
- Follow a consistent schedule. Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day helps train your body to expect sleep at a certain time. This can make falling asleep easier.
- Avoid naps. Power naps can be great for your productivity, but naps also reduce the “sleep drive” and make it harder to get a restful night’s sleep. If you absolutely need to nap, do it earlier in the day.
- Exercise earlier in the day. Maintaining a regular exercise routine is one of the best ways to improve the quality of your sleep, but doing it too late in the day can also make it harder to fall asleep at night, due to the cortisol released during a workout. Try to have your workouts done three hours before bedtime at the latest.
Meditate to relieve stress
Regular meditation can be very beneficial, reducing stress levels, improving focus, and increasing feelings of wellbeing. Meditation can seem like a pretty tough topic to crack into, but at its core it’s really simple, especially if we’re just trying to relax and destress.
For stress relief, we’re going to focus on a simple breathing meditation, where you observe your breath. Here’s what to do:
- Find a quiet place where you can be alone for about 10 minutes.
- Get in a comfortable position. You can either sit cross-legged on the floor or upright in a chair with your feet planted on the floor. Choose whichever position allows you to relax but remain alert.
- Close your eyes.
- Focus on your breath by observing the rise and fall of your stomach as you inhale and exhale.
- Thoughts will pop up and distract you. Acknowledge them and return to observing your breath. This is the hardest part about meditation for most people. Just know that it’s normal to get distracted! The point is to learn to come back to the breathing.
- Continue for ten minutes, then slowly open your eyes.
As you get better, you may find you want to go for longer at a time, and that’s totally fine. In fact, the longer, the better! Doing this practice consistently once or twice each day can greatly lower your stress and anxiety levels, and the practice of returning to the breathing can also train you to be more present and less distracted in your daily activities.
Bonus: supplements to reduce stress
Supplements can be a great way to enhance your workouts and overall health. They can also help combat stress. Try these supplements to get a leg up on anxiety:
- Melatonin. Melatonin helps promote good sleep, which is a major factor in stress levels.
- Magnesium. Magnesium promotes relaxation, and also plays a role in the regulation of stress. Many people are deficient in it, making the problem worse.
- Vitamin B-Complex. B-Complex helps improve mood.
- Ginseng. This supplement is well-known for its relaxing properties.
- GABA. This is an amino acid and neurotransmitter. A deficiency in it can cause increased anxiety. Incidentally, alcohol has a major impact on the GABA receptors in your brain, which explains many of its relaxing effects.
Overwhelming stress does not have to be a necessary part of life, and it definitely doesn’t have to keep you from achieving your fitness goals. Incorporate these tips into your routine and conquer stress once and for all!
Grant is a fitness coach and the founder of Team G-Fit.