So far in our journey to discover what it means to have a strong health and wellness foundation we have mainly focused on stress. I started this blog post series there because I personally believe we can view everything in our life as either adding to or removing from our overall stress load. Our ability to stay in the Goldilocks Zone for our stress and avoid large drops or spikes the less chance we have of blowing up our health and wellness goals.
Inevitably though stress will get out of whack which is unfortunately unavoidable for the most part. While there is a lot of attention paid as to what to do to avoid that and mitigate it as much as possible, there is not a lot of attention paid to what to do after the stressor is over.
One of the things I suggest people do when going through a stressful period in their life is to perform a stress audit and pruning exercise. After performing that exercise you will likely have made some changes to one of more aspects of your lifestyle in an effort to lower overall stress load. When the stressful period of your life is over, your instinct might be to return to life “as normal” right away.
Unfortunately that is probably not the right thing to do.
Your body has just experienced a significant stressful event, it needs time to heal…it needs time to recover!
You might be saying “Recover from what? I feel fine!”
When the body experiences a serious physical stressor the signs of stress are much more tangible.
Let’s take an example that might be more relatable.
Imagine you just ran a marathon, or just competed in a powerlifting meet, or just finished a bodybuilding competition, or you just went for a 3 mile run after sitting on the couch for the past 3 months. The type of physical stressor doesn’t matter. If your body is not used to the physical stress you are going to be feeling it the days and potentially weeks after.
When we experience a physical stressor our bodies essentially force us into a recovery situation. People often experience soreness, fatigue, increased hunger and we follow suit by exercising less, sleeping more, and eating more. These things facilitate the recovery process.
Whether the stressor is physical or psychological, whether you are sore or not, you still need to give your body time to recover. Going back to the way things were before the stressful period began will actually hinder the recovery process.
I would actually suggest you continue following the routine you established for yourself during your stressful situation until you have recovered from the stressor. If you go back to your hard core diet, training a ton, and burning the candle at both ends, your body is going to think you are right back in the stressful situation you just got out of.
The goal is to alleviate the stress to the point where we can return to our baseline. Only then can we have any hope of not letting our foundation crumble.
If we are lucky though and we do things right by allowing for proper recovery we can actually not only return to our baseline but increase our baseline so next time we experience a similar stressful situation we can handle it and not go down the stress rabbit hole.
The below diagram illustrates this process nicely.
The X-axis in the graph is your performance baseline, its your Goldilocks Zone. When a stressor occurs, we initially may see a dip in performance, this is the red section of the line in the graph. This is when alarm bells should start going off and you perhaps start implementing the practices we talked about in my previous post as well as start performing your stress audit and pruning exercise. By doing so you can hopefully weather the storm of stress and make it out virtually unscaved.
Now is the critical point that we are addressing in this post represented by the second dot in the graph. If you now jump back into your old routine and go right back into your old routine instead of letting your body recover the line will still continue to go down and you will see further decreases in performance. This is where your health and wellness foundation crumbles taking all your goals with it.
If instead we continue our modified stress mitigating practices and allow our body to recover we will at the very least return to our performance baseline represented by the third dot in the graph.
Now here is the good part…if we play our cards right we can adapt even further and reach a new level of performance represented by the fourth dot in the graph.
When we reach this new level of performance and a similar stressor occurs our performance only drops to our prior baseline.
In other words we got better!
We are more resilient!
We are harder to kill!
This is why recovery is so critical to our health and wellness foundation. The question many people struggle with is how to know if they are recovered or not. Luckily there are lots of tools we can use to judge how recovered we are. In the next blog post I will describe what these tools are so you can decide which ones you can use to decide your recovery status.
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