Stress? What Stress?!
More than ever, we subject ourselves to increased levels of stress. The result is a surge of adrenaline through the body. Just enough works. Too much? That's not good. Manage your levels and see your performance increase.
In the movie Crank, Jason Statham plays the character of Chev Chelios, a Los Angeles based hitman who, by a turn of unfortunate circumstances, is injected with a synthetic Chinese drug that impairs the flow of the hormone adrenaline. The drug is designed to slow the heart to the point where it kills its victim.
After a phone call to a mafia surgeon, Chelios is informed that there may not be an antidote, and the only way to avoid his demise is to constantly pump adrenaline through continuous excitement and dan- gerous activity. If you’re into debauchery, alpha male posturing, martial arts and shit blowing up, then this is a pretty awesome 90 minutes of your time, as good as a $12 mil- lion dollar budget Statham movie can be. (Side note: Jason Statham does his own fight and car driving stunts...yes, he’s a badass.)
So what exactly is this adrenaline thing?
Adrenaline is a chemical in the body that can act as both a hormone and a neuro- transmitter, so it has both physical and mental effects. If you’ve ever been in a car wreck, fight, been involved in public speaking, or if you’ve ever had a “here, hold my beer” moment, you’ve felt the effects of adrenaline.
It’s your main fight or flight hormone, and has been a key factor in survival for animals since almost the beginning of time. The keyed up effect you feel when you’re speeding downhill on a snowboard; that sweaty palm, wide eyed, absolutely addictive feeling that keeps you doing dan- gerous things that your mother warned you about is attributed to the actions of adren- aline. It makes you think and act faster. It gives you energy. It can even help you burn fat. It massively increases performance.
However, it’s a double edged sword. It can be your best friend when used correctly; it can also be your worst enemy.
Why do we need Adrenaline?
In the hustle and bustle of modern life, we are constantly bathing in stress hormones. The original intent of adrenaline was to save us from a dangerous situation, hence fight or flight. So, imagine you’re taking a long leisurely stroll across the Serengeti (work with me here), and all of a sudden a lion comes across your path. If you’re like me, you’re probably going to think, “HOLY CRAP,” and you may even poop your pants a little, but immediately your fight or flight system kicks in, you dump stress hormones throughout your body, and you begin running as fast as you can. The action of adrenaline kicks your heart into overdrive, pushes blood to your extremities, dumps sugar and fat into your bloodstream for energy, and you start to sweat as a cooling mechanism. You are now a highly efficient lion-escaping machine (in which case you’re lunch). Thanks Darwin.
This is how it should work. Unfortunately, the survival portion of your mind doesn’t differentiate between a lion coming at you or you missing a TPS report at work. To your body, stress is stress. And, to make things worse, stress is dictated by allostatic load, or in layman terms, the total stress your body feels, both good stress and bad stress. The compounding of stress over time can cause havoc to your physiology.
So, if adrenaline is important and good, yet it’s also important and bad, are we damned if we do and damned if we don’t? Not really.
Just like everything in the body, it’s all about timing and balance. Key up fight or flight when it’s important, like before you train, key it down when it’s not, like when you’re sitting at home recovering.
Keeping in mind that we are talking about stress response, we need to understand that the management of stress, and your perception of stressors, is very important. The mind can be a powerful instigator, and by controlling how we respond, we can help to keep the response positive.
So this theory is great, and now we have an understanding of what the issue is, but what actionable things can we do today to help our bodies dampen stress?
Firstly, it’s important to have a measurable variable for stress. I recommend measuring waking heart rate and heart rate variability. For this, I like to use a Polar H7 heart rate monitor and the smartphone app Elite HRV. Upon waking, you will put up the heart rate monitor and run the app. It takes roughly two and a half minutes to complete. You will get two values, heart rate and heart rate variability.
Your benchmarks will be a low 50’s heart rate, and a mid-70’s HRV or higher. If the heart rate is high, and the HRV is low, it’s time to work on activities that will help calm the nervous system.
Remember the first publication of weMove? The article with the badass that is Wim Hof? Yeah, you’re going to start breathing more, and breathing better. Oxygen is very important for controlling the nervous system. When oxygen gets low, sympathetic drive goes up. That’s great for training, not great for the other 23 hours of the day.
TIPS TO MANAGE STRESS
1: 4-7-8 BREATHING
Other than Wim’s techniques, we also love 4-7-8 breathing. To perform this exercise, first exhale completely using your mouth. Next, inhale through your nose for a count of four, and hold it for a count of seven. Lastly, exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat this cycle for a total of four to five times and feel your stress and anxiety melt away. Okay, that was cheesy, but whatever, it really works.
Meditation is also key to controlling stress. I’m not saying that you should sit in Lotus pose and ‘ohm’ your way to bliss; we have technology these days, we aren’t savages. A popular app I like is Headspace. Without a doubt it will put you in a meditative state within the first few sessions. Not only will it help you to achieve a meditative state, it’s also incredible for sleep. I do recommend using wireless headphones, or you’ll wake up in the middle of the night choking on wires.
3: KNOW YOUR HEART RATE
So, your action is to take your waking heart rate and HRV. Don’t worry about writing it down, the Elite HRV app will save it for you. I want you to start Headspace before lunch for 10 minutes, if you can. I also want you to use it before bed. When- ever you feel anxious I need some 4-7-8 breathing, as much as you need for relief. Some WHM breathing in the morning would be fantastic. Lastly, let’s get a little aerobic activity during the day, 30 minutes a few days a week should be good. Take your heart rate and HRV in one month, and look in amazement and ponder on how abso-fucking-lutely amazing you feel.
By controlling your stress when it’s not needed, you will free up the performance gains you desire for when they are wanted. Not only that, but when you’re hanging off the side of a rock, or you’re about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, you’ll feel cool as a cucumber.