We often think of stress as being something annoying, a mental or emotional issue, but stress can also have serious implications on our physical health as well. The NIH (National Institutes of …
My name is Patrick McGilvray, and I’m an experienced marathoner, ultra runner, Sports Nutritionist, Master Life Coach, and weight loss coach for runners. I’ve dedicated my life to helping runners just like you properly fuel your body and your mind. So you can get leaner, get stronger, run faster and run longer than you ever thought possible. This is Running Lean.
Hey there, and welcome to episode 81 of Running Lean. My name is Patrick McGilvray, the weight loss coach for runners, and today we’re talking about stress, in particular, good stress and bad stress. So we often think of stress as being just something that is annoying. It’s like a mental or emotional issue. But stress can also have serious implications on our physical health as well.
The NIH, National Institutes of Health, says that continued strain on your body from routine stress could lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder, and other serious illnesses. But here’s the thing, stress is not always a bad thing.
There’s another side of stress that’s actually considered not just good for us but actually required in order for us to grow and thrive as humans. In other words, some types of stress are bad and should be avoided, and some are considered good and should be embraced. So today on the podcast, I’m going to talk about good stress and bad stress, which types are detrimental, and which are considered beneficial for our health and well-being.
But first, hey, if you like this podcast, you have to come check us out on Facebook, the Running Lean podcast community is a group of positive, like-minded people, the group goes hand in hand with this podcast, it extends the conversation that we’re having here on this podcast, it gives you a chance to have a voice. So you can ask questions and get answers and feel supported and get encouragement and inspiration.
And this month, in the Facebook group, we’re doing the dry July challenge, which is we’re giving up alcohol for the month of July. And just to see how that affects our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
And a lot of people are getting some pretty interesting, positive results from just not drinking, you know, they didn’t realize that they had, that they could have so much more energy, or that maybe their weight loss was really stalled because they were drinking or they just feel better, you know, or maybe their running is improved.
So this is an opportunity for you to kind of check us out and take a challenge with us. And the dry July challenge is something we’re just doing for the rest of this month. But I mean, you can do this anytime you want, right? It’s just a chance to like take a break from alcohol to see how it feels for you, right?
So if you’re one of those people that just wants a little bit more than what you’re getting here on the podcast, come and check us out in the Facebook group. I do some weekly coaching and teaching in the group as well. So we sort of have more than what you get here on the podcast. Okay. And it’s fun. Did I mention that we’re fun? So just search for Running Lean community on Facebook and join us over there.
And if you ever want a little help with all this stuff, like speaking of stress, I understand how stressful it can be to try to figure out what’s the right diet, you know, what’s the right exercise regimen? How much running should I be doing? What does strength training look like? You know, I want to like stop eating sugar, but I’m not sure exactly how to do that. What does it mean to be fat-adapted? How does that work? Like? How do I do that?
This can be kind of confusing, and I get it, I totally get it. And that’s why I work one on one with you as your coach. I work with runners every single day who are becoming the healthiest and most badass versions of themselves. And a coach is there to help guide you provide experience, expertise, support, encouragement, motivation.
And one of the most important parts of coaching is accountability. People tell me all the time. Yeah, I wasn’t going to stick to my plan, but then I knew I was going to be talking to you later today. So I definitely went for my run. Or I did the workout I said I was going to do or I didn’t eat cake because I knew that I would have to report it to you and tell you that I did that and I didn’t want to feel like I let you down or feel like I let myself down so that accountability is a huge part of coaching.
And just coaching is just one of those things that helps you stay on track and helps you to achieve goals you have. Goals that otherwise seem pretty daunting and pretty hard to do on your own. If you’re interested in coaching, just go to runningleanpodcast.com/apply. And that’s it. Well, you and I will jump on a quick zoom call, we’ll have a conversation, and we’ll just see if this is something that you’re interested in. Cool. Awesome.
Okay, let’s get into this topic of stress today. So I was doing a little bit of research on this. And I came across some pretty interesting stuff, which I’ll be sharing with you here in a moment. But I just want you to know that there’s this sort of stigma around stress and like stress just being all bad.
And I just have to say that there is another side of stress that is good and required, and absolutely essential for certain functions here. So I’m going to get into all of that. But just let’s talk about what stress is. So, you know, there’s the one type of stress that we really kind of focus on is this chronic stress, okay, this is where, you know, maybe it’s because of your job, or because of relationship issues or financial issues or whatever.
You are in a state of chronically elevated stress hormones, you are chronically worried about things, you’re chronically angry about things, you’re chronically fearful, or in some sort of conflict. And this is the bad kind of stress. So chronic stress is the kind of stress that we really want to avoid.
Because your body in a state of chronic stress is a sick body. Alright. So chronic stress will manifest in this way where, you know, we constantly have raised cortisol levels, cortisol is the stress hormone. And when we have raised cortisol, we’re always under this like fight or flight mode, like our body is in a state of like, chronic panic mode.
And this is something we’re we’re wired for, it’s something that we’ve evolved as humans to, for a reason, like, stress is a good thing. Okay, so if you’re facing a saber-toothed tiger, you know, it’s good to feel stress in that situation. So, cortisol gets produced, and that raises your blood sugar. And that gives you some energy, your heightened awareness, you know, your awareness is super heightened.
And you’re in this state of like, you know, fight or flight. And, oh, you know, it’s kind of like panic mode, right? And it gives you energy, you know, you get this release of like, sugar into your system so that you can fight or run away. And so this is why stress is this is kind of how we’ve evolved with stress. And it’s normal, and it’s good, it’s a good thing.
Like, we want to be able to experience that moment of stress when we’re faced with some kind of immediate danger like that. You know, and today, though, here’s the thing today is different. Like, we don’t have a saber-toothed tiger, we’re not faced with these types of immediate dangers, like you may step out into the street and not see that a car is coming.
And you know, all of a sudden, you have this burst of adrenaline, cortisol, heightened sense of awareness, and you immediately step back and don’t get hit by the car, like that’s probably about the equivalent of, you know, facing off the saber-toothed tiger.
But what chronic stress looks like today is, you know, you’re just all day at work, you’re worried about things, you’re getting bombarded with emails, and, you know, you’ve got five different managers yelling at you all the time. And then you come home, and maybe you’re in conflict with your partner.
And of course, on the drive home, you’ve had to deal with all this traffic, and you’re just like, we’re in this state of chronically being in panic mode, we’re chronically in that fight or flight mode. And this is not a good place to be at all. It can cause all kinds of issues, all right, we can cause all kinds of physical ailments.
And so we’ve got to really be careful not to fall into the trap of, you know, living our lives in a way where we’re chronically stressing ourselves out. Some other causes of physical stress would be, besides like work-related things, or maybe your relationship, you know, issues would be not getting enough sleep or poor quality sleep, this is going to put your body into a chronic state of stress.
If you never get enough sleep, if you just you’re not getting enough sleep every night or your sleep quality is really terrible, then you’re not getting the rest that you need. And you are going to be in a state of elevated stress all the time. Your diet can cause physical stress on your body.
You know, a diet high in sugar will cause stress and inflammation to your cells. And diets like, like actual like, quote, unquote diets, like when people go on these extreme diets where they’re super low calorie for extended periods of time, that puts your body in a, in a state of stress, that’s not good for you.
Another thing that a lot of people don’t realize they’re doing to themselves, but they work out too much. So they’re actually like, every single day is a hard day, you know, they’re doing two workouts a day all the time. And they’re just like, cranking it out every single day, they’re always they’re stressing out their body, they’re always like going hard, they’re never giving themselves a chance to recover, and repair, and, and get the rest that they need. Right.
So it’s just like too much, too hard, and too often. So we got to be careful about some of these physical causes of stress. And then we have like, emotional stress as well, as well, we have like, you know, like I mentioned, relationship issues, or, you know, some of the leading causes of stress with people is like the death of a loved one.
This is a huge cause of stress for a lot of people or loss of a job, or divorce, or getting married. And I think these two things are funny, it’s like getting married or divorced, or to vote one of two of the most stressful things that can happen in your life, right. And we think of getting married as being such a blissful thing, right? But no, it’s like one of the biggest stressful events in your life, or moving to a new home.
These are all stressful things that cause like emotional stress, okay. And I want to say this about these types of stressors, stressors in our life, like, the real cause of the stress is not these things, you know, getting married is not what’s causing you to be stressed.
Okay, stress is an emotion, stress is a feeling. And we know that all feelings are created by your thoughts. The fact that you are getting married, does not automatically mean that you are going to be stressed out. Getting married is, you know, for a lot of people, it’s just pretty chill and pretty fun. But for a lot of people it isn’t, it’s stressful, because they think it’s got to be perfect.
And they’re worried about how you know about the table seating and about relatives sitting with each other, or you know about the food or about, you know, what kind of cake they’re going to get whatever it is, you know, there’s like a million different decisions to make. Is it going to be as magical as is all the Instagram posts I see about it?
You know, the same thing with like, getting divorced, like it’s the divorce itself does not cause the stress, but it’s your thoughts about the divorce that caused you to feel stressed. It’s not that you know, somebody dies that causes you to feel stress, it’s your thoughts about them and what that means to you, you’re thinking to yourself, I’m never gonna see this person again.
You know, it’s those types of thoughts that cause you to feel stress. Or maybe it’s somebody that you have to, you know, you have to take care of the funeral arrangements and things like that, that can be stressful. But again, it’s all about your thoughts. Okay. I just wanted to like, quickly mention that, like, we’ve talked a lot about this on the podcast, where, you know, our thoughts always cause our feelings and stress is a feeling it’s an emotion, and that we have control over how much of this we want to feel now is sometimes, you know, stress a common and a totally applicable emotion and that experience.
Yeah, it’s okay to feel stressed out when you’re getting divorced or getting married or somebody, somebody dies that you love. It’s totally normal to feel that way. And it’s okay to feel that way. We don’t want to necessarily change that. But I’m just I just want you to know that it isn’t the event itself. It’s always your thoughts about it.
Okay, so anyway, we want to try to prevent these types of emotional stress though, we want to try to prevent these things from becoming chronic. You know, if you get a divorce and it’s been like three years and you still are just eaten up about it, like, that’s something we need to work on, right?
You need to learn how to manage your thoughts and feelings around these types of situations. Yes, it’s okay. If somebody you love dies and you feel stressed, and you feel sadness, and, and all these other emotions, that’s totally normal. But if it’s chronic, that’s when it becomes problematic, okay?
So chronic stress from whatever the cause whether it’s emotional stress, or whether it’s physical stress, you know, from working out too much or not getting enough sleep. Chronic stress can put your body into that panic mode into that fight or flight mode, and it just stays there. So your cortisol, always high, your blood sugar, always high insulin, always elevated, you’re storing fat all the time, because your body’s in this survival mode, right?
It’s not in, you know, the mode of like, you know, everything is cool and chill. It’s like, oh, I got to hold on to all this extra body fat because, you know, I needed it for survival. And this causes a ripple effect on your hormones, you end up you know, feeling hungry all the time, and you end up overeating and you can’t lose weight and your athletic performance suffers, you feel tired and sluggish all the time.
Chronic stress can just lead to all kinds of physical issues. And, you know, I mentioned earlier the NIH talked about, you know, stress-causing heart disease and blood pressure and diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder, and other serious illnesses, and maybe not causing them 100%.
But absolutely, leading to these things and, and a factor in these things becoming prevalent in our lives. Even more disturbing though, according to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to six leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.
This is a problem. Chronic stress is not good, it is not good. And we need to be doing whatever we can to eliminate chronic stress from our lives so that we don’t end up one of these statistics, right. So there’s, there’s another side of stress that I want to talk about here today.
And that is the one I’m just going to call it the good stress. Okay. So we’ve talked about chronic stress and how it can have really detrimental effects on your mental, emotional and physical well-being.
But then there’s a different kind of stress, it’s the good type of stress, which is acute stress. So acute means severe and sudden, acute is short term stress is the kind of stress that’s here momentarily, and then it’s gone. As opposed to chronic stress, which is long-term, it’s ongoing.
Chronic stress is like never-ending there’s no end in sight to it. Okay. So why is acute stress good. So acute stress is actually required, in order to improve certain systematic functions in your body, right, we need to have certain stressors on our systems, in order for them to adapt, grow and improve and get stronger.
Okay, so for example, if you want to get stronger, if you want to build stronger muscles, then you need to do some weight training, you need to do resistance training, you need to overload your muscles, you need to stress out that system.
Like you need to literally lift things that are so heavy that they cause microscopic sub-cellular tears in your muscle fibers so that you will become stronger so that those muscles will then those muscle fibers will grow stronger in repairing themselves, right? This is the overload principle, we overload the muscles so that they will repair and get stronger. But we don’t do this you know, 10 times a day every day, right?
You do weight training a couple of times a week. And then you do it for a short period of time, maybe 30 minutes, maybe an hour, and then you take a day off or two days off. And when you do it this way you’re creating acute stress, acute stress in your muscles. Very short term, very severe, and sudden.
And then you let them rest. You let them prepare, you let them grow and you become stronger in the process. There’s no other way around it, if you want to get stronger, you have to stress your muscles, you got to stress your muscular system, your skeletal muscular system has to be stressed in order for it to get stronger and grow.
Same thing with if you want to become a faster runner like you have to do some sort of speed work, right? For example, sprinting, sprinting is an amazing workout super hard, though, right? But we’re talking about sprinting as fast as you can for like 20 or 30 seconds at a time very, very hard, very acute, very severe, very sudden, very short term, but very stressful, very stressful on the system, on your cardiovascular system.
And on your entire muscular system that is you know, functioning that is up responsible for your muscles functioning properly for good running form, and to get faster as a runner. And so you do like 30 second sprints, then you may rest for a minute or two, you do this like five or six times, and then boom, your workout is done.
And again, it may be 30 minute, 45 minute workout, something like that. It’s very short but very stressful on your system. But then your system responds by becoming more efficient, you become more efficient at running faster, you develop more cardiovascular endurance, from running faster, faster, so you can actually run faster for longer periods, and your muscles become stronger in your form becomes better.
If you want to become a more powerful runner, maybe you do something like hill repeats, right, so this is a terrible workout, right? Pick a hill and run up the hill hard. You know, by the time you get to the top, you should be totally cooked, like your lactic acid should be building up and you should just be like, I can’t run another step. And then you know, jog it back down and do it again, do that six times, right?
Again, we’re stressing out the system, but it’s a very quick, very short bursts of highly stressful situations on your body here. But this is what makes you become more powerful, you’re going to build much more power in your legs, because then when you’re running the flats, you’re going to be like this is easy.
And then when you do face a hill in a race or something like that, you’re like got this no problem at all right. And this all like ties into just building cardiovascular endurance, you know, if you want to improve your cardiovascular system, and improve your endurance, as a runner, you want to be able to run longer and longer, you just got to you got to get out there and run longer miles, you got to keep increasing your mileage.
Slowly, you don’t do it all at once you don’t go out there and run 50 miles every other day. That’s because that’s just going to put your body into way too much stress. So what you do is you build up your mileage slowly, you increase it by, you know, I think a good rule of thumb is 10% a week.
And you build up to that, and then you back it down you like you know, then you go through you might do up week, like three weeks where you’re increasing mileage, and then you do a couple of down weeks, and then you go up up up a couple of down weeks, you know, and this is how we increase our endurance, you know, we can run 50 miles or 100 miles, you know.
So this is the difference between acute stress and chronic stress. Another thing is, that’s kind of cool. Like, let’s say you want to increase your body’s ability to burn fat. So you could do something that’s kind of acute, you can kind of stress your system a little bit by doing like a 24 hour fast.
This is something that on the outset, you might think, oh my god, that’s crazy. How can you not eat for 24 hours, it’s not that big a deal, to be honest with you. You eat dinner, and then the next day you just eat dinner like, right, it’s not a big deal. Especially if you’re not eating a lot of sugar and carbohydrates, you’re going to find this actually pretty easy because your hunger is not out of control anymore, right?
But again, this is kind of stressful on your system, right? Because your body is like goes into this little bit of like panic mode in a way. And it starts tapping into your stored body fat for fuel because it’s like, oh, we need fuel. We’re not getting anything. So let’s tap into the stored body fat over here.
Again, this is like stressing out the system in a very short burst and in a very controlled way. And then you go back to eating normally after that. And so this is how we improve our systems. This is how we get stronger. This is how we become more powerful. This is how we get faster. Faster is how we improve things like our fat-burning system, right?
So intermittent stress is actually a good thing, it’s good for your brain too. They’ve done these studies where they’ve shown that short-term stress actually primes the brain for improved performance. Intermittent stressful events help keep your brain more alert. And you tend to perform better when you’re more alert, right?
So these researchers at UC Berkeley, this is about 10 years ago or so now. But they did this study on rats, and they found that significant but brief, stressful events. So like acute stress caused these rats, they cause the stem cells in their brains to proliferate into new nerve cells that improved the rats’ mental performance.
And the researchers’ findings reinforce the idea that stress hormones help an animal to adapt to become more aware to become more resilient. The next time they’re faced with that same type of stressor, like think about this, like, let’s say, you are you go through a tough breakup, well, in your next relationship, you’re going to be more resilient and less fragile, right? If you end up in a breakup again, right.
And the same principle applies to, you know, lifting heavier weights will build stronger and more resilient muscles. Alright. So stress has a ripple effect. And it can be a good ripple effect or a bad ripple effect. So chronic stress has this negative ripple effect, right?
Like I mentioned earlier, cortisol is higher, insulin is higher, blood sugar is higher, you’re in the state of elevated, elevated panic mode, like all the time, and this leads to chronic diseases, and a lot of times it can lead to death. Right.
So chronic stress has a ripple effect, but it’s not a good one. Acute stress, though, has a ripple effect. But it’s a positive ripple effect, right? Because it leads to adaptation to improved cognitive function to improve muscle growth, to improve speed, and improve endurance, even fighting disease is a ripple effect of a good stressor.
So if you think about how we fight disease, like a pathogen that comes into your body, like a virus or a bacteria, that’s a stressor on your system. But then our body responds in a way and fights that off. Right. So this is a natural kind of stress response, which I think is kind of cool.
So my kind of takeaway that I want you to kind of take from this episode would be to choose your stress intentionally. I want you to seek out stressors that are good for you, like seek out the good kind of stress, the ones that have positive benefits. And here’s something I need to say like, yes, these types of stressors are going to be hard, and they hurt and they’re stressful, right? If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be an adaptive response.
So you cannot get stronger without going through the stress. You cannot get faster without stressing out your system. Like people want to run faster, but they don’t want to practice running faster. Why? Because it’s hard because it sucks because, you know, it’s just like, it’s really terrible like to do sprints or speed work or hills or anything like that. Like it’s really tough, right?
But if you don’t do it, and they’re just like, oh, I’m so slow. You know, I don’t understand why I’m not getting faster. Okay. Are you doing speed work? No, no, I hate speed work. Oh, okay, then I got nothing for you. Like you got to do the work. You know, if you want to get stronger, you have to lift weights.
And so many people are like, I wish I was stronger, but they’re not doing anything to change that they’re not doing the hard stuff. And again, it’s hard, it feels terrible. It hurts you know lifting weights hurts it should you’re literally tearing your muscles a little bit, you know, and but it’s a good thing, right? It’s that good kind of acute stress that we want, we want to embrace that we want to choose that type of stress intentionally.
Even some type of like mental and emotional stresses like you know at work if you have to complete some big project on time or maybe you got to give a speech in front of a large crowd these things will create some acute stress for you. But then what happens you adapt you grow. You increase your comfort zone, you improve your cognitive function.
The next time you have a big project do like you’re going to be more confident the next time you have to stand up in front of a large crowd and talk, you’re gonna feel more poised, like, all these things help you to adapt and grow.
So choose acute stress, choose your stress wisely, you know, becoming faster or stronger or more emotionally involved, it requires a certain amount of stress, it requires some discomfort, some unease, you know, intentionally, putting your body and your mind through stressful events will help you to adapt, and grow and become more.
Listen, there’s no easy button, you can’t just sit around watching Netflix all day, and hope to become a better runner. Right? You can’t just sit around running the same, you know, speed all the time. And hope to get faster, you have to push yourself, you have to push yourself past your level of comfort, you have to get out of your comfort zone, right?
This is the does the hard hard part, I know. You got to get uncomfortable, right? And you have to do it the right way. You have to do it acutely, not chronically not every single day, this does not mean you go and do speed work every single day. You know, I suggest doing speed work once a week, do it hard. You know and do it quickly and get it over with and then give yourself a break. Give yourself a chance to adapt to that.
So your work this week is to embrace it, embrace the good stress. So whatever that means for you lift the heavy things, do that speed work, run those hill repeats. But do these things intentionally and quickly, and then give yourself a break. Take a rest day so that you can recover and so you can grow and adapt and then we continue this process right?
So here’s a good example yesterday at the gym, I did some heavy back squats. Very very heavy is very hard. And right after that, I did a sprint workout. And when I started running for my sprint workout, I just did like a mile warm-up. My legs were cooked. I mean, I was it was so hard just doing the warm-up to get to where I was going to do my sprints.
I was like, I don’t know about this. This isn’t a good idea. Because my legs were literally like pretty toast but I’m like okay, here’s my goal for today. A hard leg workout. And then sprints like I did some this is acute stress, total, totally good example of acute stress, right. But I knew that today was going to be my rest day. And then I wasn’t doing anything. No, no lifting today, no running today.
And I knew that today was going to be a day where I can repair and adapt and recover. And that I’m going to improve. You know, so that workout yesterday was really hard. I did my sprints, I did six by 30 seconds and 30 seconds is my limit like I’m running as hard as I can for 30 seconds. And those last 10 seconds are just miserable, right?
So the point here is that today, I’m just giving myself a chance to adapt and grow and totally recover from all of that. So that really acute stress on my body yesterday is a good thing. I’m not going to do that every day, there’s no way I could do that. And I actually have been combining my strength workouts and my speed workouts. And so that I can actually have a day off.
So I make my hard days hard and I make my easy days super easy. And that way I am not burning myself out. Because I was kind of getting in that way when I was running every day, I was running or working out or lifting weights or whatever, every single day. I wasn’t running every day. But I was doing some sort of a quote-unquote hard workout seven days a week.
And I was starting to feel pretty burned out. This is like my body going into this panic mode and staying in this state of chronic stress. So I was like, Okay, I got to do something about this. And ever since I’ve been, you know, making my hard days, combining my hard workouts on the same day and then taking like a total rest day.
Oh my gosh, I’m sleeping better. I feel more energized. My workouts have been improving. So this is all good stuff. And this is the way we’re designed, right? Avoid the chronic stress. Embrace the acute stress, choose your stress wisely, you know, and become stronger, become faster, and become that badass version of yourself. Cool. All right, well, I hope y’all got something out of this episode today. And if you did, consider sharing it with a friend I love you all keep Running Lean. I’ll talk to you soon.
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