Stress Management: Control The Perception Of Your Fitness Regimen

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I would give anything to go back to high school and start all over again.

I’ve always been tall – I hit 6′ in 7th grade, and I was the tallest student at my Catholic, co-ed high school the first day I walked through the door at 6’7″.

The coaches of the Big 3 sports – basketball, baseball, and football – all salivated over me. I was tall and wiry, but I didn’t stumble over my feet as I walked. Years of athletics gave me a decent base. I was no ballerina, but with a bit of molding, they could see the potential in me.

I chose basketball and baseball, and opted out of football. I told the coach I would rather prepare for basketball season during the fall, but the reality was I was a huge pussy. I didn’t like getting hit by other people, I didn’t like hitting other people, and the thought of two-a-days while all my friends were chasing girls during the summer was too much.

Plus, playing football would require me to lift weights year-round, 3 times per week.

I was 6’8″ and 205 pounds by the time I was a sophomore, and the only weight routines I had ever done looked like this:  Bench, curls, bench, triceps, bench, abs, drink a protein shake. Not a single Leg Day was had. I didn’t even know what a deadlift was. No consistency in workouts, either. Linear progressions were non-existent.

I knew lifting would make me stronger, bigger, muscular, and more attractive to college coaches, but I deemed it too difficult in my head.

I still managed a Division 1 scholarship in baseball, but (again) my lack of taking my fitness level seriously (aka – too many beers coupled with Marlboros) saw me getting kicked off the team after my sophomore year.

Once I was finally finished with my athletic career, the pounds began to accumulate quickly. I knew something had to be done. I needed to pick a fitness regimen I would enjoy and do it long term. That’s the only way to make fitness “easier” to swallow.

I chose my old nemesis, weight lifting.

It’s the ultimate irony, really. I chose the athletic endeavor that I despised so much in high school, that I stopped playing a sport (football) because it would require me to do it.

After a few months of weight training, I realized it wasn’t too bad.

When I began to reflect on my time spent in the weight room, I estimated I was spending about 15 minutes per week lifting the weights. Most of my time was spent flipping through songs on my phone, recovering from the previous set, walking to the water fountain, or glancing in the mirror to see if my abs were visible yet.

It was in this reflection I realized a valuable piece of information:

Chronic stress isn’t present in the stress itself. Chronic stress is present in the perception of the stress.

Change Your Perception

Our perceptions not any objective reality govern our emotional response and resulting behaviour.

Perceptions are based on beliefs, assumptions, values and conditioning.

We can dramatically reduce our stress by changing our distorted perceptions.

Our distorted thinking can exaggerate our perceived shortcomings.

We often paint events much worse, than they actually are by our distorted thinking, this greatly increases our stress . . . . . changing distorted perceptions  . . . . is an essential stress management tool.

Dr. Valeri O’Hara PhD, Clinical Psychologist

With age and experience come wisdom. At 34, I have more of a handle on my perception of stress than I did at the age of 14. Not everybody does, however.

I run into friends and family on a regular basis who say things like, “Good for you, Jason, you’re in great shape. But I could never do that. I hate lifting of any kind! I could NEVER lift weights!”

I generally smile and nod, as I’ve learned not to impose my own beliefs and philosophies on others unless I’m directly asked about them.

Statements like this, however, are a very clear example that another’s perception of a stress is drastically worse than the stress itself.

One of the reasons I have chosen weight training as my path to fitness is due to the understanding of its relative difficulty. Even a long, drawn-out, constant tension set of leg presses lasting one minute will be over quickly. It might be grueling and painful, but it’s only a minute. Anyone can grit their teeth and bear the discomfort for a minute.

Which isn’t to say I’m immune from the grasp of chronic stress on my frontal cortex.

Chronic stress gets to me. Stress management is an area of my life I am actively attempting to improve. As my business grows, and I strive for constant professional and personal gains, I can do one of two things………search for ways to decrease the stress, or go crazy over the minutiae.

As an example, our oldest daughter, Brooklyn, gets car sick from time to time.

We realized this when she was 1 year old. She began moaning in the back seat of the car during a road trip. My wife jumped into the back seat to comfort her, and she was promptly sprayed with an enormous stream of half-digested milk and cheese.

Thank God I was driving.

This not-so-pleasant experience placed chronic stress on us whenever a trip in the car was coming up. We would think, analyze, and obsess over all the possible methods of vomit prevention.

Things we would consider:

  • Should she be facing forward or backwards?
  • What should the tilt be on her carseat?
  • Should we cover the windows with blankets so she can’t see the landscape moving?
  • Should we put on a movie to watch?
  • Would headphones help the situation?
  • Should someone sit in the back seat in order to catch the vomit?
  • Do we have an extra set of clothes in case she messes them up?
  • Would an iPad with games make the situation better?
  • What should we feed her before we leave? Are foods triggering this?
  • Should we give her Benadryl to make her to fall asleep?

Each of these items would be given thought and analysis. We would come up with the perfect game plan. My wife is an engineer and I am a mathematics teacher – micromanagement is in our blood.

But the fact remains – after all of this, sometimes Brooklyn still vomited.

Even the perfect plan would end with puke being sprayed all over the back seat.

We needed to figure out another way to deal with this. Or we would end up never having the courage to visit others by car.

Conquering Your Mental Angle

These days, when I’m presented with a chronic stress, I reflect on a chapter of Dale Carnegie’s classic book “How To Stop Worrying And Start Living”.

I was spending a good amount of my time worrying. This caused me to miss out on seeing all the wonders of life moving right in front of me.

Dale suggests in Chapter 2 that there is a “magic formula” for solving nearly all of your worry problems with a bit of mindfulness.

He states:

If you have a worry problem, do these 3 things:

1. Ask yourself: “What is the worst that can possibly happen?”

2. Prepare to accept it if you have to.

3. Calmly proceed to improve on the worst.

Applying this to the situation of my car-sick daughter………….

1. The worst that could happen is she vomits all over her clothes and car, causing us to have to pull over, clean up the mess, change her, and continue on our way.

2. I am prepared to accept it. If it happens, it happens and it must be dealt with.

3. Take precautions to ensure this doesn’t happen. Instead of attempting to control the VOMITING, we decided our best course was to control the containment of the vomit. Basically, we grabbed the biggest bowl we could find and stuck it in her face if we were the least bit concerned about her getting sick.

Our worry about getting car sick has all but vanished as a result.

If she barfs, she barfs. We can’t do anything about it. We will deal with it if it happens.

Stress – gone.

Your Fitness And Health Application

How do we use this method to improve our health and general well being?

Dieting is a stressor. Over time, the cumulative effect of a lowered caloric amount can cause irritability, anxiety, sleeping troubles, and lethargy.

I would argue most of these issues stem from perception, not from reality.

When we are dieting, we are constantly thinking about, obsessing over, and complaining in regards to our food intake (or lack thereof). We often wake in the morning hungry, pissed off, and doubtful we will make it another day.

For me, the only way hunger is eliminated is if I am eating constantly throughout the day. Even when I’m in a gaining phase, I experience hunger. On a bulk, I’m eating more calories than my body needs in an attempt to stimulate muscular growth, but I still experience hunger daily.

If I eat to my hunger, I gain fat. Call me “blessed”.

When I feel anxious, upset, stressed, or annoyed at the fact that I must control my appetite and my culinary desires for yet another day, I often use Dale’s stress-changing activity.

I calmly go through the steps:

1. What’s the worst that can possibly happen?

Answer:

I will be very hungry when I am not eating and when I am eating, I will only be satisfied for a very short time thereafter until the hunger comes back.

2. Prepare to accept it if you have to. (I can even use a re-framing technique to make this one “sting” less.)

Answer:

If I’m hungry, then so what? How one handles situations like these is what separates the adults from the children.

I live a pampered, cream-puff lifestyle compared with most of the world. I have a house, I have shelter, I have access to everything I need and most of what I want.

There are people in this world who are starving of hunger, and here I am worried that my organic groceries – purchased at a suburban store – won’t be filling enough since I am on a diet.

The self-sacrifice will do you good. Hunger is nothing but a feeling. Don’t listen to it and you will be just fine.

3. Calmly proceed to improve on the worst.

Answer:

Was I hungry yesterday? At what times?

Was the hunger related to food? Fiber intake? Should I increase my green, leafy vegetable consumption?

What sort of carbs did I eat? Were they whole, healthy carbohydrate choices, or refined crap?

Was I hydrated enough? Did I get enough sleep the night before or was I awakened and kept up?

How can I ensure that my hunger is minimized today to help make dieting easier?

 

Unless we are all going to quit our jobs, and spend our days doing nothing but training and recovering, stress will manifest itself somehow.

We cannot eliminate it, we can only hope to manage it effectively.

If you are feeling over-stressed and under-appreciated, it’s time to change your perception.

Remember, there’s a great chance your perception of the stress is doing more damage to you than the actual stress itself.

 

Yours in de-stressing,

Jason

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