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I know that working out helps the body out during stressful times. I've experienced myself this, after being stressed at work, hitting the gym 'releases' the tensions, specifically in my forehead (that area hurts and feels like there's pressure in it).

I've noticed that this seems to work only when my stress is caused by frustration (ex. arguing, unforeseen issues, mistakes due carelessness). However, lately, causes of stress has dwindled down to too much work, or perhaps overwork (like there's so much to do, after completing one development task, another is waiting) and no so much frustration. I tried to go to the gym but it seems it doesn't improve my condition so much, it just feels like I'm really tired.

My question then, is that the second cause of stress I mentioned above, getting some rest rather than hitting the gym maybe a better idea?

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5 Answers

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Even though stress can have a lot of negative effects on your mood and energy levels, a lot of these effects aren't directly caused by stress.

Instead it's the actions that stress causes which have the bulk of the negative effects.

A common pattern:

Bad Effect (i.e stress) -> Bad Action (i.e. poor sleep) -> Bad Result.

It's important to distinguish this because you aren't just trying to reduce stress, but also learning how to cope and control its impact.

Actions caused by stress:

  • Diet and Nutrition

    • Meal infrequency: a lot of people stop eating regularly when they are stressed. This usually means eating 1-2 meals a day which results in erratic blood sugar levels - especially when coupled with poor nutrition and low food quality.

    • Poor food quality: a common complaint for someone who is stressed is that they don't have a lot of time, which means they will rely on fast food/take out/vending machine snacks etc. Again low food quality causes low satiety, energy levels, blood sugar crashes, digestive issues and general unwellness.

    • Not enough calories: some people shut down under stress and barely eat anything. This is at the same time when your body is pumping stress hormones which sets you up for a crash later. The result is feeling cranky, irritable, negative, depleted, etc.

    • Dehydration: stressed people tend to be occupied with what's causing their stress and neglect healthy habits like proper hydration. This again can have a host of problems, especially mood, energy levels, and physical performance.

  • Activity and Lifestyle

    • Inactivity and Sedentariness: since you are working a lot, you are probably sitting a lot. This leads to poor circulation, muscle tightness/imbalances, and general mood/energy level disturbances.

    • Imbalanced Activities: similar to not moving enough, but more like spending an excessive amount of time on certain activities and neglecting others. This can be things like being in front of your computer all day or even just neglecting hygiene or relaxing/leisure activities.

    • Lack of exercise: might be attributed to lack of time or energy but lack of exercise itself can cause low energy/mood. It also makes it harder to get back to training since you haven't been training in a couple of days or more.

  • Sleep (most important)

    • Quantity: stressed = no time = sacrifice sleep. This is actually really bad because your entire system gets drained when you are stressed and requires MORE sleep to properly recover. But instead you cut back on sleep which means you are even less recovered to handle future stress.

    • Quality: obviously stress causes negative feelings/worrying which can impact sleep. Add to that a deteriorating lifestyle, poor diet, lack of exercise and probably a lot of stimulants (caffeine or otherwise) and you end up with really poor sleep.


Solutions

The key thing is to develop a structure or a plan and stick with it. This can be things like:

  • Sleep: set a cut-off time from your work/computer, at least an hour or two before bed. Spend the last half an hour in bed reading in low light. If you have a hard time sleeping you can look into melatonin which you can take ~1.5-3mg of an hour or two before bed. Install f.lux. Do calming and low light activities in the evening. Here's my other answer on sleep.

  • Diet: give yourself a calorie goal and stick with it. Decide how many meals you are able to realistically make/have in a day and setup exact times for them. So if 11 oclock rolls by, you drop everything and just go eat. Make sure to address any kind of food quality issue as well.

    For maximum hydration keep a filled water bottle with you at all times. Avoid diuretics like coffee and alcohol.

  • Activity: start balancing things out. Doing the same task for hours on end makes anyone feel miserable and your performance goes down the toilet. Take frequent breaks and do something else. Go for a walk, take a shower, cook something, talk to someone, etc. Even 2-3 short breaks can make a huge difference.

    Also find out what you really want to do during your day and find a way to do it. You have 16 hours of waking time in a day and no you can't work that much.

  • Exercise: don't set high expectations for yourself. You are stressed, you are tired, you are doing a lot. So that means you won't be able to perform at your best, that's fine. Do a light workout, warm up a lot, just do the best you can, exercise shouldn't be another source of stress. Also don't expect exercise to get rid of all your stress, it's not a morphine shot.

  • Stress management : Find what's bothering you and control it. Stop letting stress push you around and instead you push it around. Find problems and solve them, make to-do lists, put together a plan, write stuff down. If you just go muddling through a stressful situation you'll just drown. But if you structure and plan it and succeed it can become eustress.

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Part of the flight or fight response, stress leads to the build-up of costisol, a hormone that is released to help perform at an elevated state. While this may seem great, it does lead to diminished abilities to recover, higher blood pressure, greater fat storage, and with a chronic load of cortisol levels; can lead to serious health complications.

Exercise is a great way to get through stress.

If you feel better during/after your workout, the exercise is beneficial

If you find the exercise itself to be stressful and causing anxiety, it may be time to re-assess your exercise program. It might be time for less structure and more play.

However, if you're finding yourself too fatigued when you show up and just generally dragged down, it might be time to identify the problem head on.

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There are many different ways that the body deals with stress: tension and reduced energy are two, as you mentioned.
Sometimes it requires that you address the cause instead of focusing on a short-term cure.
It seems this time it's a matter of overwork - if it's more than a short term issue - see what you can do to address it and if your answer is nothing then you haven't really looked.

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Like Tsvetan says, you can't cure tireness. BUT you can cure the stress you get from work type stuff...

My advice to you is to put some PLAY in your training. Make it fun. Don't just do boring routine repetitive movements, but try to add some game characterestics to it.

Winning should not be your main goal here. PLAY itself is.

It brings your MIND & BODY in the here and now. This relieves your body from the stress you bring home from work. After a training of play you will feel a lot different and more relaxed. I do this kind of training when my clients are to stressed out for a normal personal training session and it works very good.

If you want more info on how to put more play in your usual training methods take a look at these names on the web: -Frank Forencich -Mark Sisson -Erwan Le Corre -Ian O'Dwyer -PTaGlobal Play

Another option is running a 3km run barefoot. This also takes your mind completely of work for some time because you have to be 100% alert for sharp rocks and stuff.

It also improves your running technique so that's two for the price of one if you ask me :)

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Well, these are two different types of stress...

When you are stressed from negative emotions they have to be released somewhere. The gym or boxing, or any kind of sport will do. But when you are overtired, then you need to rest... It is simple, you cannot cure tireness with work(pushing weigths is also work), you need to have a good meal and a good sleep...

Hope this was helpful...

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