Oh to be the professional athlete, not having to worry about how you will fit in those precious miles of training along side your work/family commitments. Most of us don’t give it a second thought, running is just part of the routine of life, and everything just slots into place week by week. Though there are always weeks when you’re stretched that bit too far, an extra meeting at work, the kids are ill, or you encounter a DIY disaster that must be fixed immediately! Something has to give and it is usually that steady 8 miler you have been looking forward to all day.
But how much does this impact on your running, and more importantly the prevalence of injury. Psychological stress and the “stress response” has long been known to affect physical health. A large study has demonstrated that psychological stress has a significant detrimental effect on wound healing (Walburn et al 2008). Moreover, techniques to overcome stress and depression like expressive writing have been shown to improve wound healing (Kochwanez et al 2013). It seems obvious, excessive stress is bad, but what exactly does it do to our tissues.
One of the big players is the stress hormone, cortisol. This fella can be a bit of a beast when he gets out of control. A stressful event, which remember can be anything that gets you worked up, causes the body to secrete more cortisol. This clever hormone has a say in almost all functions in the body. However, in a stressful situation, it regulates bodily function by “switching off” area’s that are deemed low priority, ie reproduction, digestion and cellular repair. Instead, cortisol makes sure that the cardiovascular system and the central nervous system is firing on all cylinders, in case anything kicks off!
The problem is that a constant level of stress can cause excessive levels of cortisol to remain in the system and this has a chronic effect on bodily function, in particular, tissue healing. It is important to remember that training essentially causes trauma to tissues on the body, we get fitter by these tissues regenerating and getting stronger as a response to training. If we are too stressed tissues will not heal as well as they should and we will not improve as we expect them to.
Look back at your training diaries and you will see it, periods of illness and injury or poor performance often coincide with other stressful events in life like busy periods at work or at home. It seems obvious, but better planning can avoid these events occurring, which will in turn avoid the stress and low feeling of injury or under achievement.
Try to avoid planning for races or heavy training when you know you will be busy with other “stressors”. Instead, look at a certain period in the year where you know you want to run well and work everything around that.
Realise that we all have a certain amount of energy that we can put into all of our activities, more time/ energy spent on one will mean that you may have to briefly curtail the training regime in order to stay fit and healthy.
Relax. This sounds so simple, but it usually is not that easy. What ever it is (as long as its legal!) that relieves your stress, use it and make a point of blocking out your own time to keep this up as part of your training routine
Be mindful of your wellbeing. In your training diary document how you feel from a stress point of view, this allows you to retrospectively look at times in the year that may require attention in future.
Right Im off for a stress busting green tea smoothie and 4 hours of meditation 😉