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Manage your stress and improve your performance

By 2015-06-22July 9th, 2015No Comments

It's not unusual to hear about an athlete getting sick two weeks before their biggest competition of the year. In therapy we often see an athlete experiencing old pain during periods of more intense training, without having had a new trauma. Why is this? It all has to do with our ability to tolerate stress.

In the next few articles we will explore the concept of stress qualification and how you can better manage your stresses to optimize the results of your workouts.

When cumulative stresses exceed our tolerance threshold, we will feel the effects where we have a pre-existing fault line, even if the stress is not localized there.

In order to elaborate, we will qualify stresses in five main categories: physical, mental, immune, environmental and symbolic.

Physical stress

This category includes stresses related to training, physical work, sleep deficits and jet lag. The majority of these stresses are modifiable and controllable by the athlete and predictable by the coach.

Mental stress

The stress of learning, the stress of exams, or the stress of planning a big project - these are all mental stresses. When we choose to deal with such stresses, we are mobilizing some of our limited reserves.

Immune stress

We experience immune stress when we are fighting an illness, but also if our daily lives bring us into contact with the public, especially children and the sick. A nurse or doctor cannot afford the same level of physical stress as a full-time athlete because they need to keep a reserve of energy to deal with the immune stresses of their job.

Environmental stress

Training in intense heat or cold depletes our reserves more than the same training in a more temperate environment. If we are exposed to volatile solvents or chemicals on a regular basis in the course of our work, this can also be considered an environmental stress and must be compensated for in the planning of the training.

Lymbic stress

This stress is the only stress that is almost completely self-inflicted. It is the emotional stress that we create in our relationships with each other and with ourselves. Ideas that torment us, worries and anxieties are part of this category.

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The stresses are interrelated

Although we can categorize stresses into our five types, our bodies use roughly the same limited reserves to cope with these stresses. We can imagine the stress management system as a network of interconnected reservoirs. The fluid that fills the reservoirs is the stress we are currently experiencing and the space remaining before the reservoir overflows can be thought of as our capacity to tolerate further stress.

If you add stress to the lymbic reservoir, the level of all reservoirs rises, reducing the capacity to tolerate additional physical (training) stress. For example, we see such effects during training camps where, as a result of high levels of physical stress, athletes are less tolerant of emotional stress and sometimes find themselves reacting inappropriately to innocuous situations.

If you are preparing for a competition or want to increase the volume of your training, you need to manage not only the physical stresses of training, but also the other categories of stress so that you do not exceed your overall stress tolerance limits.

Sébastien Boucher for the HPH Sports Clinic

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