Is Your Stress Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

Managing Stress is as Much About Recovering From It as It is About Adapting to It!

My career involves understanding the current state of the client I work with, physically, emotionally, mentally, and nutritionally to understand where the lynch pin issues lie that are preventing them from performing at or near their best as consistently as possible. My world is high performance sport where being at your best on the most important days can mean the difference between finishing on the podium and not finishing at all!

You may or may not be a high performance athlete, doubtless though you are someone who seeks to perform at your very best or you probably wouldn’t be reading this post.

So, the first thing you need to understand is that how you adapt to stress and how you manage stress is the key to your consistent success!

We are built to adapt to stress and stress comes in many forms.

There are the stressors of our environment like noise, temperature, humidity, or altitude. There are physical stresses like the physiological demands of exercise or work, climbing stairs, lifting heavy loads, carrying packs, moving things, or running to catch a bus. There are psychological stressors, like project expectations, deadlines, unexpected changes, miscues, and the list can go on and on.

When your body encounters stress it reacts. If the stress is within the capacity of the system to react and manage, then no adaptation need occur.

You can think of the body’s capacity to manage stress like a drinking glass. You have a maximum available capacity to accommodate to any stress, like water pouring into the glass, as long as it doesn’t reach the top of the glass, then all is good and the body keeps rolling along as though nothing has happened. If the water reaches the top of the glass and starts to overflow, then your body will manage that stress as best it can, but symptoms of being overwhelmed will begin to occur; pain, anxiety, anxiousness, fatigue, mood shifts, headaches, these are all symptoms the body expresses when it can’t manage the stress demands.

When the stress dissipates, the body then begins to adapt and change so that the size of the glass increases. The next time that same level of stress is encountered, the body will be able to better cope at higher levels. But there is always another level where the water will again overflow.

So encountering stress, seeing the glass overflow, and the body’s adaptation to that overflow (or overload) is necessary if we want to be able to manage more stress in whatever form. And the ability to manage more stress in whatever form is a huge strength in whatever domain of practice we might consider.

If we stick to the analogy, recovery plays a huge part in creating a buffer, or reducing the amount of water in the glass. This “buffer” is the level at which the water in the glass rests when the body is not being stressed. If the level is very low, then the buffer is very large and it takes a lot of stress just to overflow the glass. However, if the stress levels do not diminish from time to time, then the glass get’s fuller and fuller and if the water levels rest close to or at the top of the glass, then there is a limited capacity to take on greater levels of stress.

In order for the body to be able to adapt there needs to be phases when stress is imposed on the body, and phases when stress is relieved through rest and recovery methods. Stress unabated eventually creates a flood of significant proportions and this is when symptoms can grow into full-blown syndromes, like exhaustion, burn out, over-training, injury, or illness.

The art to managing and adapting to stress is in the use of appropriate phases of stress loading, with appropriate phases of rest in combination with recovery approaches like:

1 — Positive sleep habits (quality and consistency are the key)

2 — Quality breathing practices (simple high value approach to self improvement)

3 — Napping (short naps are money in the bank!)

4 — Good nutrition practices (Increase water, increase colourful veggies, reduce sugar, reduce mass produced products, eat more raw veg, and lean meats)

5 — Using some spa practices (massage, Finish sauna, cold plunge)

So the key to success is to let your stress glass be emptied as much and as often as you fill it to overflowing. You need to encounter stresses of varying means on a daily basis in order to adapt and improve your ability to do more, however you need to match the impact of the stress with the impact of the recovery!

Originally published at

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