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Mastering Stress Management for Long-Term Success: A Guide to Nervous System Health

October 20, 20235 min read

“Stress is a button that the brain presses which acts as a default mechanism to adapt to the worst case scenario. The moment we become acutely stressed, glucose spikes in our blood. You also get a spike in inflammatory markers. We know the evolutionary reason for it. So if you're running away from an animal and you have an open wound, being in a state of inflammation protects you...

It's a BENEFIT as long as it's short term...

The problem is, as soon as we keep that button pressed for very long, these effects become negative.” - Mithu Storoni MD PhD

Let's get one thing straight FIRST.

Stress is not evil. We need it for our bodies to adapt & grow…

But the health and balance of your nervous system is critical for your long-term success with your fitness goals & even more importantly for your longevity.

The key to investigating where you stand is self-awareness.

Stress is multifactorial - photo showing different levels of stress

Do you always feel like you're running on empty but also with an uncontrollable sense of urgency?

Always feel tight and immobile no matter how hard you stretch?

Do you get bored extremely easily?

Are you drawn to high-stimulating things? More & more caffeine? High-Intensity training? Constant adrenaline or dopamine rushes?

When your body wants you to slow down, it screams louder. But it's NOT asking for you to fight back HARDER!

Soooo...What's going on?

It's critical to understand that while you have two "settings" in your nervous system:

Parasympathetic - Rest & Digest

Sympathetic - Fight Flight or Freeze

But this is not an "on/off" switch you flip… it's more like a volume knob.

And just like strength training, or a favorite hobby you're working to improve, you can build specific skills that can help you progress in the efficiency and effectiveness of your self-awareness, efforts to manage your stressors, and overall stress tolerance!

Stress management skills build your ability to turn the volume knob down & up when your environment calls for it. We get into trouble when we don't realize the volume knob is turned all the way up and/or we can't figure out how to turn it down when we need to!

Here is a list of mental & physical signs you might be stuck in fight or flight mode:

Physical:

  • Muscle Tension: Your body feels constantly tight and knotted. This can really hamper your mobility and flexibility.

  • Fatigue: You're always tired, even after a "good" night's sleep. It's really important to understand that 8 hours in bed doesn't necessarily equate to 8 hours of quality sleep.

  • High HR & RR: Your heart rate and respiration rate are elevated. Feeling fluttering in your chest? Or an inability to take a deep breath?

  • Digestive Issues: You frequently experience stomachaches, nausea, or irregular bowel movements. Your sympathetic nervous system is designed to pull blood AWAY from your digestive system to that you can SURVIVE immediate danger. The issue is that, when we are overhwelmed with stress these days, rarely is it a life or death situation, and yet our bodies feel as though it is...and we can get stuck in that state for way too long.

  • Sleep Problems: Falling asleep or staying asleep is a constant struggle. You aren't accessing deep, restful sleep and it builds up like a debt with payments you can't seem to get caught up on.

Mental:

  • Anxiety: You're often plagued by excessive worry or fear about the future. Or the visceral feelings of anxiety, without actually being anxious about something in particular. 😳

  • Irritability: You find yourself easily annoyed or agitated.

  • Difficulty Concentrating: Staying focused on tasks is a challenge. The brain fog is real!

  • Negative Thinking: Pessimistic or self-critical thoughts dominate your mind.

  • Forgetfulness: Memory lapses and forgetfulness are common occurrences.

If any or all of these sound like you, here are some things to start working on to help build your ability to "auto-regulate" your system.

1. Focus on Your Breath - Nasal breathe, slow it down, extend your exhales, & try some lying breath work.

Your breath is a powerful tool for shifting your nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance. Slow, deep breathing can help calm your body's stress response and promote relaxation.

Strategy 1: Nasal breathe! Simply breathing through your nose can improve oxygenation, energy, focus, and stress balance...it's the way we are SUPPOSED to be breathing!

Strategy 2: Extend your exhales! Exhales trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, so extending them can help relax you.

Strategy 3: Breathe slower, and less.

2. Check In With Your Body - Where are you holding tension? Can you let go of that tension?

Take time to scan your body for areas of tension or discomfort. Practice progressive muscle relaxation to release physical stress and promote muscle relaxation.

3. DON'T DISSOCIATE during your training! Focus on the task at hand, & feel your exercises...lean into body awareness. This will allow you to be & stay present.

Mindfulness during your workouts can help you stay grounded and connected to your body. Instead of zoning out, focus on each movement and sensation, fostering a stronger mind-body connection.

4. Limit Screen Time...Try to balance your time inside, inactive & in front of the TV, computer, or phone with...

Excessive screen time can contribute to stress and disrupt sleep patterns. Balance screen time with outdoor activities and time spent in nature to recharge your mental and physical well-being.

5. Get outside & move! Get into nature, walk or hike, & be aware of your surroundings more.

Spending time outdoors and engaging in physical activity can reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance overall well-being. Nature offers a restorative environment that can help rebalance your nervous system.

Remember, stress is not the enemy, but how you manage it can significantly impact your long-term success in fitness and overall health.

By recognizing the signs of chronic stress and implementing stress management strategies, such as breath work, mindfulness, and outdoor activities, you can rebalance your nervous system, learn to handle and grow from stress, and develop the tools and skills needed for lasting results and a longer health span.

Jacobs Fitness is here to guide you on this journey to achieve your fitness goals while prioritizing your well-being. Remember, it's not just about the destination; it's about the sustainable journey towards a healthier and happier you!

We hope this helps!

Sean & Laura


nervous systembreath workmobilityfight or flightdysregulated nervous systemautoregulationstress managementdestressrelaxationstress solutionsdownregulationsympathetic nervous systemparasympathetic nervous systemrest and digestlet go of tensionchronic stress
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Sean Jacobs

A Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist with the NSCA, Sean has a Masters Degree in Exercise Science from The University of South Florida, a BA in psychology, and a decade of experience in the health & fitness industry. He has worked for top level performance training facilities as a head strength coach for NFL Combine athletes and an Adult Fitness Coordinator. His experience with a wide array of clientele has allowed him to help hundreds of athletes, former athletes, and weekend warriors alike, re-balance their bodies, alleviate aches & pains, improve their mobility, and reach new heights in their personal pursuit of health, strength & performance. He believes that improving your health now & for the long haul involves much more than sets, reps, and counting calories.

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