Physical activity is an excellent avenue for stress release, but it is NOT a form of stress management. Exercise activates the sympathetic nervous system, also referred to as "fight or flight" mode. When the SNS is activated, you sweat to regulate your temperature, your heart beats faster to bring more oxygen to the muscles, you breathe faster to take in more oxygen, your liver releases glucose for energy, your blood pressure increases and much more. The series of chemical reactions that your body undergoes during periods of elevated cortisol (stress hormone) are beneficial for providing energy during exercise. However, your body cannot differentiate between physical stressors and emotional stressors such as your reaction to demands like pressing work deadlines, crying babies or negative body image. The SNS response is a catabolic process, meaning if you spend too long in a heightened state, you will start to break down the muscle tissue that you've worked so hard to put on!
Symptoms of brain-adrenal (HPA axis) dysfunction can include:
-never feeling well rested despite how many hours you sleep
-low sex drive
-tired in the afternoon
-getting a "second wind" in the evening
-difficulty staying asleep
-chronic inflammation (poor recovery)
-mood swings, anxiety, depression
-rapid weight gain
In a healthy cortisol curve, cortisol levels are high in the morning to give you energy throughout the day and taper off into the evening to wind you down for bedtime. If your cortisol levels are constantly high, overtime this can deplete your serotonin (happy hormone) levels, disrupt sleep and lead to rapid weight gain, depression, and more.
Although these demands are a part of life, engaging in stress management practices will allow you to control your emotional reaction to any demands thrown your way in order to optimize your training performance, body composition results, and overall health. The parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the "rest and digest" system runs opposite to the SNS, which explains why exercise does not manage stress. Rest, relaxation, contentment and positive thinking and feeling activate this system which is responsible for digesting, detoxifying, eliminating and building immunity. These processes are essential for optimal health, and reaching your body composition and performance goals. Meditation, gratitude practice, deep breath work, relaxing yoga, social engagement and nature walks are all great ways to activate your PNS to optimize your cortisol levels.
Some natural forms of supplementation that may aid in balancing cortisol level when used in conjunction with stress management practices include:
-Rhodiola (Nova 3 Labs Max Adrenal contains this)
-CBD Oil (organic is important here!)
-Cordyceps (Nova 3 Labs Max Capacity contains this)
-Lion's Mane Mushroom Extract
Dedicate 15 mins daily to activating your parasympathetic nervous system and 1-2 rest days each week focusing on relaxing activities for optimal training gains leading up to CanWest!