The majority of our gym members at The Box Portsmouth are highly dedicated and committed fitness enthusiasts. Some undertake fitness regimes to stay super fit for their job roles, others have a life long love of exercise and movement but most know the incredible benefits of what we do and just keep turning up day in day out to get fitter, healthier and mentally in check.
However even the fittest of our society have periods when they lack the energy and motivation to exercise.
How you mentally approach a workout has huge repercussions on how your body physiologically reacts and therefore how hard you are willing to take on that workout, push through it or even just get started with it. Your reactions to stressful situations are within you control - your 'stress response'. Being in tune with your thoughts and feelings allows you to understand them and change them if you choose.
For more information on the stress response check out my previous blog - Building Mental Resilience through Exercise (Part I).
Here I will provide you with techniques for dealing with your body's stress response that can be practiced through physical activity. Let's take a look at different ways we can mentally approach a 10k run, as an example, using the StrongFit Phylogenetic Hierarchy Wheel as our model for the autonomic nervous system structure.
Being in a sympathetic state initially places much stress on the mind from the onset. In current times, when there is already a great deal of external stress in the environment, many perceive working out as a step too far and are therefore not even getting started with it. Approaching the workout how you formally did (e.g. to achieve PRs, lift certain weights) will place you into a sympathetic state. Thinking that the workout is going to hurt or be physically demanding, in an already mentally challenging world, can mean that the only way you can take yourself back to a parasympathetic state is to simply freeze and do no exercise at all.
States of mind change throughout workouts. Personally when my body starts to hit fatigue (usually around the mid-point of a workout) that generally turns into a fight (push through) or flight (quit) scenario for me. At this moment, I resort to formerly practiced tools and techniques to remove that stress to take myself back to the parasympathetic state. More often than not I aim to mentally fight in that instance before returning to the workout flow. At certain times, however, I will decide to quit. This is rare but when necessary it might be the best option for you and your body.
An example of this was a few months after giving birth to my daughter when I was operating on very limited sleep. I wanted to undertake a workout to move and feel good but, part way through it, I was feeling pretty rotten. Instead of continuing on and enduring the workout (not really wanting to be there) in order to finish it I allowed myself to stop - knowing that this was the best thing to do to look after myself on that particular day.
Here are 10 ways to help you find your get up and go so you can obtain the great benefits of exercise during stressful times:
1. Do exercise you enjoy
This shouldn’t just be reserved for stressful times but as a rule of thumb for a long life of movement satisfaction and happiness.
2. Exercise with a friend
Either physically (where regulations allow it) or virtually by keeping accountable to one another. Lose the ego in doing this. Friendly competition is there as and when the body and mind feel it is necessary but shouldn’t be the norm at every session.
3. Lose the tracking devices
Have sessions where you don’t show up on the grid but the workout still gets done. This will give you an understanding about how much you are getting sucked into recording your workouts for data collection, progress tracking etc rather than feeling your workouts for pure health.
4. Scale back if needed
Just because you have always run a certain speed or lifted a certain weight doesn’t mean you always should. Lose the former fitness expectations just so you can move and feel good.
5. Think small
Try not to think about the end goal but pay attention to every step or every rep along the way. What part of your body is feeling the movement? Does the technique feel correct ? etc. Before you know it you will have reached your end destination without even realising.
6. Don't suppress the noises that you want to let out in your workouts
You are suppressing enough emotions and controlling enough in everyday life. Let it all out. You will feel so much better for it.
7. Switch up to pre-programmed positive thoughts
When negativity creeps into your mind during the workout, which it will at various points, switch up the thinking. Have a bank of positive thoughts ready and waiting. For example: how amazing it feels to move, how well you have done for just getting started, great things about the environment around you. Be kind to yourself and practice gratitude here.
8. Go with the flow.
Get started by telling your mind that you are going to just flow today. This gets your body moving and in action which stops the procrastination cycle. More often than not when you relax into the workouts, some of the starting stress disappears, and you have the brain capacity to fight at certain points if you choose to.
9. Focus on your breathing.
Breathing through your nose when exercising allows for more oxygen to get to active tissues. It also activates the parasympathetic state within your autonomic nervous system which supports rest, recovery and digestion. Nasal breathing can provide a sense of calm and allows the body to function better even if it is in a stressful state of high intensity exercise.
10. Commit to conscious movement
Don’t endure a workout because you have been told to do it or you think you need to do it. This is essentially taking flight from what you are doing within the mind. Commit yourself to wanting to be there whether that is to fight or flow through the workout. Fully commit to it.
I hope these tips and tricks assist you to reap the tremendous benefits of exercise during stressful periods. If you haven't already read my first blog on this topic you can access it HERE.