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Stress Can Become a Perfect Storm

Stressed soldier with head in hands.

Stress makes us stronger both physically, mentally, and spiritually so not all stress is bad. However stress not dealt with properly or metabolized over time becomes chronic. Consider stress like a perfect storm of events that can hit all at once and break the strongest of wills.

Physiologically, stress wreaks havoc on the body. The same thing happens to your body when you are stressed at work or family issue as it does when you are in an emergent fight or flight situation. However, when in an emergency usually you are able to physically exert yourself to help relieve the stress hormones that are rushing into your bloodstream that some say is equivalent to 5–6 Red Bulls! In a nutshell, Adrenaline and Cortisol are some of the stress hormones that affect our response to a stressful situation, but can also affect our health long term if not dealt with properly. When at a home office or cubical during work, it is difficult to exert yourself physically in order to reduce these stress hormones. Don’t get me wrong, there are good things that come out of stress hormones like getting pumped up for a presentation or competition or the rush of adrenaline before a fitness test. These hormones help you perform better. But after several years of not actively adding in recovery periods, you will break physically or emotionally or both.

Long term issues resulting of not being able to deal with stress properly are: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, increased body fat, decreased immunity, uncontrollable mood and attitude, decreased muscle tone, and decreased sexual desire to name several.

How do you Fix Stress?

We will never make stress completely go away but you need to attack stress on many different fronts just as it attacks you each day at home, at work, to/​from work, on travel, financially, and physically. Here is how to beat stress at its game before it becomes a perfect storm:

Sleep — #1 recovery tool is sleep. If you are missing out on sleep 6–8 hours each day, it does not matter how perfect your diet, exercise program, home /​ work life is in balance, you can still see the chronic side of stress very quickly. So get sleep!

Nutrition — eat well! Eat protein rich foods like meat, nuts, eggs, beans, The amino acids will help you metabolize the catabolic effects of stress. Just as a protein shake /​ meal after a hard workout helps you recover it also does the same for stressful days. Also add fruits /​ vegetables rich in antioxidants to help aid in recovery and deal with the formation of cell destroying free radicals developed from stress.

Hydration — Stay hydrated with water and electrolyte balanced especially if you are in arid environments or sweat profusely during the day.

Add in more Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish, nuts, oils or pill form. These have natural inflammation reducing benefits that will help you battle stress as well.

Caffeine — reduce caffeine, nicotine, and alchol. All three are diuretics (dehydrate you) and can also alter mood and produce many of the same stress hormones you are trying to deal with. Yes — these three increase stress.

Breathe — Find time to relax and breath deeply. Taking deep relaxing breaths will slow your daily stress and anxiety easily and naturally. Take a few moments each day to laugh or cry even. Both are natural stress relievers and produce stress relieving hormones — just as sex does.

Lastly — Exercise Reduces Stress – By far, this is the best remedy to fighting a stressful day. Many like to exercise after work. This is a great way to burn off the stress even if it is as simple as a 20 minute walk before or after dinner. However, exercise also causes a temporary increase in cortisol which can leave you a bit jittery if you are trying to go to sleep with an hour or two of exercising. So, if you exercise in the evening, arrange it that you will have 3–4 hours before you are trying to fall asleep for a more restful sleep. *Note – your cortisol levels will actually be lower in a few hours IF you exercise than if you decide to skip working out.

The bad news is that stress can attack you on many levels — from traffic in the city to even thinking about stressful events in the past or future. Once it grabs hold, you have to attack back using not one or two of the methods above but ALL of the methods to help you relieve stress properly.

Stress is natural — not all bad — but can come at you when you least expect it and from all angles so you have to have several weapons to fight it.

If you have several of these symptoms, take a good look at your daily schedule and find out what is out of balance. This game of stress is a delicate balance of hormonal responses from the speed up and slow down sides of our autonomic nervous system. Even though they are automatic responses to life that are difficult to control, we can control how we deal with stress with some serious thought and action.

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General Fitness Health Stew Smith Diet and Nutrition Mental Health

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Contributor

Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on Military.com's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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