Five signs stress is affecting your workout – according to doctors

Have you been feeling off your fitness game recently?

Maybe your workouts just aren’t hitting like they usually do, maybe you’ve stagnated on your progress, or your struggling with injury and lots of aches and pains.

Well, stress might be the underlying cause.

We know that stress and burnout can leave us feeling mentally frazzled, but it can also impact your workouts and affect your physical health. So, if you find that you’re feeling agitated, unmotivated or uninterested in working out, this could be down to underlying stress and could make you more susceptible to falling ill.

London surgeon Carlos Cobiella – who has treated Hollywood’s A-list actors, plus sportsmen and athletes – says there are warning signs that might be trying to tell you that stress is sabotaging your workout:

You’re struggling to sleep

‘If you feel exhausted but are struggling to sleep, this could be down to your body producing the stress hormone, Cortisol, which can often leave us feeling wide awake and struggling to sleep,’ says Carlos.

‘Cortisol is often released into the body when we do high impact exercise such as running and HIIT, but it can also be released when we feel stressed, wired and agitated.’

Carlos says this then affects our sleep.

‘And with higher levels of cortisol being released, the body remains in a state of hyperarousal and affects the quality of sleep,’ he adds.

You feel more sore than usual

We know that it’s normal to feel a little sore or tender after a good workout, especially if you are doing weights or long distance running, but Carlos says that if you’re burning the candles at both ends, this can leave you feeling more tired after a workout and it could take your muscles longer to recover.

‘If you feel your muscles are taking much longer to recover than usual, increase your rest days so you are not over doing it and running your body into the ground,’ he suggests.

‘Bad performance during a workout is also a sign that stress is affecting you.

‘If you are struggling to be mentally in the zone during a workout and it’s affecting your overall session, reduce your workouts and take more time to rest until you feel yourself again.’

You’re gaining weight

‘If you find you are gaining a little weight but you aren’t doing anything differently with your diet and workout regime, this could be down to your hormones, especially if the weight gain is around your tummy,’ says Carlos. 

When you are feeling stressed or under pressure, Carlos says cortisol, the stress hormone, is released in higher amounts.

‘This then means that your insulin production goes into overdrive which then triggers our sugar cravings meaning that you may find you are craving sweet things more often and when you’re stressed it can often be hard to resist,’ he says.

‘Excessive cortisol in the body can also affect muscle mass meaning that your metabolism is thrown off and could slow down.’

You feel under the weather

‘Excessive cortisol production for longer periods of time can actually have a negative impact on your overall well being and immunity,’ says Carlos.

‘While we need cortisol to give us energy and fight off any illnesses, too much of it can also cause us to be more at risk of becoming ill. This is because Cortisol can attack our white blood cells meaning that we are more susceptible to becoming ill due to  a weakened immune system.’

Carlos adds that recovery is crucial if you start to feel unwell, so taking a good amount of rest days is advised.

‘I would also suggest getting lots of fresh fruits and veggies into your diet to help boost your immune system, you should also ensure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day to keep hydration levels up,’ he says.

You’ve suffered an Injury

When you are stressed for a prolonged amount of time and still working out, Carlos says this can wreak havoc on your physical wellbeing.

‘If you are suffering with niggling pain in certain areas that take a lot of the strain such as shoulder or knees this could be down to stress,’ he says.

‘Prolonged stress can impact our immune system, cause inflammation and essentially damage our muscles and joints connective tissue, meaning we are much more easily open to injury during or after a workout.

‘Stress can also impact our bodies overall coordination and focus, so if you are working out with weights and you feel agitated, confused, or mentally elsewhere this could mean that you are leaving yourself open to injuring yourself, so it’s imperative that you only workout when you feel mentally and physically able.’

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