BY JOANNE CUGNET
TODAY YOU’VE PLANNED TO HAVE A REST DAY. EVEN THOUGH YOU’VE BEEN TRAINING HARD ALL WEEK AND YOUR BODY IS STARTING TO FEEL FATIGUED, YOU CAN’T SEEM TO STOP YOURSELF FROM PACKING YOUR GYM BAG AND HEADING TO THE GYM.
You know this is not healthy, as over-training can lead to injury, but you just can’t stop yourself. Even when you come out of the gym feeling more exhausted than ever, you still go back for more. Your body is crying out for you to ease off. But you just can’t. You feel stuck and you don’t know what to do.
For a smart, savvy and healthy Oxygirl, it simply doesn’t make sense.
One of the reasons could be that exercise has become your top coping strategy. Sometimes life can throw you challenges that you never thought you would have to face: relationship breakups or breakdowns, job losses, financial worries, sick children and so on. Added to your standard daily stressors, such as getting to work on time, getting the kids to school, meeting deadlines and making sure you get some special time with those nearest and dearest to you, these challenges can create extra stress and anxiety and leave you feeling overwrought and overwhelmed.
Exercise is known to make you feel good; when you are working out hard, the endorphins flow and by the end of your workout you feel uplifted and fulfilled. Therefore, exercise helps you to manage your emotions and lift your mood.
But what happens when times get super challenging and stress and anxiety become too much to bear; what do you do to cope with these feelings?
In the past, exercise has been the key to relieve your stress and anxiety successfully, so why not exercise some more to deal with the increase in the powerful emotions you are feeling? You always feel better after training, don’t you?
With this logic in your mind, you head to the gym again and again and again. You start to notice that you no longer feel so good after you train, in fact, you are losing that exercise ‘high’ after each workout. Exercise is supposed to make you feel better, so why is it not working?
The answer is that your body is starting to burn out. Your adrenal glands, which release the ‘motivating’ hormone adrenaline, are fatiguing. Your muscles are not getting the chance to recover between workouts; the muscle tissue that has been broken down to be rebuilt isn’t getting the chance to be rebuilt. What you start to notice is that your body does not look any better, despite the increase in training. In fact, you might look less toned and defined. You start to notice niggles and pains in your muscles and/or joints, and this, Oxygirls, could indicate a potential injury occurring – yikes!
To prevent all of that from happening, it’s important to realise there are alternative methods of coping with stress and anxiety that could be just as successful as exercise.
Once you take the pressure off exercise as a coping mechanism, you allow it to return to what it once was – a healthy and enjoyable part of your day.
Five steps to a healthy and smart coping program
STEP 1: Be willing to admit that your exercise has gotten out of control; it’s time to take action and get back on to a healthier path mentally, emotionally and physically.
STEP 2: Be willing to accept that often the overwhelming feelings of stress and anxiety drive you to exercise, even when you know it’s not healthy to do so.
STEP 3: Be willing to step back for a moment and ask yourself, ‘what is a healthier method of coping for me that will reduce my stress and anxiety and take the pressure off my training?’
STEP 4: Be open to the answers to this question arriving in unusual and unexpected ways. It could be a comment made in passing by a friend or you may be reading a magazine (such as Oxygen) and a paragraph ‘jumps out’ at you and you think ‘that’s the coping strategy I need to adopt’.
STEP 5: Be open to seeking some help. If you are feeling stuck and uncertain with what methods might be best for you, visit a GP you connect well with and trust. Discuss with them how you have been feeling and what has been happening with your overtraining. The GP has the power to refer you to a health professional, such as a psychologist, who can help you find ways to cope that don’t run your body into the ground.
You don’t need to remain stuck in your overtraining loop. Once you learn ways to cope that work for your body, not against it, you will feel better mentally and emotionally. Physically, you will recover and your muscle tone and shape will return. Plus, the risk of injury will evaporate. Health, relaxation and happiness in training and in life can be a reality for you.