The Stressed Athlete

July 17

Are you stressed? The answer I’m guessing is yes... along with almost everyone else I can think of. How many of you feel like you’re just juggling way too much but don’t know to manage it? 

I’m going to give an analogy of a bucket. Not any kind of bucket though, this one is called a threat bucket. In this analogy, you place all your stressors into the bucket (financial problems, family, weather, training, nutrition, sleep, etc.) and when the bucket overflows it means you have tried to take on too many stressors and it means the end of you!  Luckily, this bucket has a coping mechanism, picture a valve or a hole in the side of the bucket.  The hole prevents your bucket from overflowing, but the trade-off is that anything that comes out of the valve is a negative output (usually in the form of pain or disease).  The concept is that your brain and body cannot keep taking in a bunch of stressors and just expected to vanish, they have to go somewhere!  So if you feel pain and there is nothing structurally wrong, you’re probably stressed and the pain you feel is your brain's way of telling you that you need to change something.

The result of this turns into some kind of pain telling your body to slow down and reduce how many stressors are in your bucket. The kind of pain you may feel can show in many different forms: headaches, low back pain, that achy knee you thought was healed, problems sleeping, rashes, anxiety, depression, etc. 

So what do we do about this? Well, being a Personal Fitness Trainer for 6 years has its advantages. I have seen a specific pattern that I see not only in my clients’ lives but in my friends and family, too. This pattern is that most tend to not slow down and decrease their threat bucket levels until the symptoms of it pouring out start to show. Giving myself as an example, I have been diagnosed with depression about 3 years ago. While still balancing training, work, and life my depression was not getting any better - in fact it was getting much worse. Trying all the obvious remedies: anxiety and antidepressant pills, talk therapy, journaling, forcing myself outside my bedroom more... I thought I ate relatively healthy, eating salads, vegetables, fruit, pasta, bread, olive oils, etc. Little did I know at the time depression starts in the gut (not the brain) and my nutrition (or lack thereof) was relatively filling a huge chunk of my threat bucket. I sampled with different foods and took my pulse and temperature before and after eating (this is a great way to find if your metabolism is slowing down or speeding up by eating certain foods) and found what worked and what didn’t. After a month of eating foods that supported MY metabolism my depressive and anxiety ridden periods decreased significantly. This is a fine example of how pain and the threat bucket analogy works. 

This is especially important with the majority of my readers here being triathletes to re-evaluate the stressors in your lives. A large portion of our threat bucket is filled with the hours upon hours of training we do each week. Your increase in threat bucket levels may or may not be food - like it was me, it may or may not be money, or family/friends, or headaches, etc. but in the end you did answer yes to the very first question I asked you at the start of this post didn’t you? The point is, the pattern I have seen over the years is that people don’t reduce their threat bucket levels unless it starts to overflow, unless it starts to show debilitating symptoms where it forces us to finally take that sick day off of work and/or training. By lowering our overall stressors we will not only have happier lives, we can also live healthier and perhaps have enough energy to get in that extra training session. My question I will leave you with is why do we constantly risk that level getting so high so often?