The holiday season is a time to be grateful, to be with family and get some well-deserved time off. Yet, no matter how much you love your family or friends it can also be stressful. As athletes, every kind of stress matters- the good, the bad and the ugly. The body cannot differentiate between mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual stress. From the bodies perspective a wedding is just as stressful as running 20+ miles. It all shows up in the same way.
The body is built to tolerate stress in short bouts, not for prolonged periods. If you are under stress for days, weeks, months or even years it changes your physiology and ultimately leads to breakdown in every system of the body from your heart to your tendons leading to injury. The autonomic nervous system regulates most of the tissues in the body AND helps to create balance in the system. When the balance is interrupted, we get in trouble.
When our body moves from balance to imbalance It send us warning signals – many of which we ignore or fail to recognize. I can’t tell you how many of my clients say things like, “My knee has been hurting for a few months, but I thought it would just go away.” Pain is the ultimate warning sign that we need to stop and assess what is happening. However, there are many less know warning signs:
Decreased training pleasure
· Sleep disturbances
· Vulnerability to respiratory infection
· Memory disturbances
· Decrease in professional efficacy
· Digestive disturbances
· Muscle soreness
· Loss of training desire
So, this holiday season I encourage you to assess your stress barometer. If you are staying out late, traveling a lot more than usual, rushing around to get presents or groceries remember that all the additional stress must land somewhere, and it is almost always in the body.
Tracking your heart rate variability (HRV) is a great way to see how your body is responding to the environment you are in. HRV is a window into the autonomic nervous system that gives us objective measure to determine if we are in or out of balance. Tracking it is easy- there are aps on your phone, many watches, the Oura ring, the Whoop and many other devices will be able to give you a number and information about your HRV.
In addition to tracking your HRV, make sure that you have created a plan or systems to help you manage the stress you are under. If we can’t avoid stress, we can at least combat it. Stay at a hotel instead of with family (I’m not kidding), drink more water (especially if you are drinking more wine!), meal plan around the parties, build in some quiet time just for you and remember sometimes you have to say “no”.
Take care of yourself this holiday season and happy running.
Xo Dr. Kate