A story about a client I love dearly:
We'll call her Jane for the sake of internet anonymity.
Jane has been training with me for more than a year now. Jane is STRONG. Like. MAD STRONG. but under heavy load or volume, she panics. I can literally see the light go out of her eyes, replaced by fear, the minute things get stressful from a strength or cardiovascular perspective, and often it will result in a missed lift (even an easy one) or a downward spiral of quality in successive reps. Stress = Panic = Shut Down = Inability to Perform. Got it? We'll come back to Jane in a minute.
Stress has become a dirty word in our society. "I'm so stressed!!" means something has gone awry. Stress levels are on my client intake forms because it is such a transformative force that it can promote, inhibit or completely eliminate for strength gain, fat loss and quality of life. It can be a deciding factor in whether we stay in a job, with a partner or involved in a dangerous or unhealthy habit, but it's how we perceive, manage and react to stress that makes or breaks us.
our brain is designed and evolved to seek out threat (potential stress) on a moment-to-moment basis. We evolved and developed to stay alive, so a significant portion of our energy goes into making sure that purpose is fulfilled. When threat is perceived, we have the option to flight, fight or freeze, all of which will result in some sort of action or inaction, a lightning fast decision that often happens at a subconscious level. This can happen because we accidentally stepped into the path of an oncoming car or because our heart rate just jumped in the middle of the SFG snatch test. (Rep 60 or so gets me EVERY. TIME.)
Stress can actually be the impetus for significant change and adaptation in the brain and body! A recent report states that it's about how we PERCEIVE and APPLY stress that makes all the difference. Strength and athletic training is a perfect example of this! Marathon runners and power lifters purposefully stress their bodies to the point of imposed trauma. This, rather than an indicator that it's time to power down, is actually a powerful motivator for your body to adapt to the load so that it can perform more effectively. Stress causes CHANGE when in the correct amounts and when applied and perceived appropriately.
So. Back to Jane.
During a training session recently, she was performing kettlebell snatch reps when I noticed that her face was ... to put it lightly... "deer in the headlights." Wide eyes, tight neck, panicked expression. Any rep that wasn't tamed properly or lacked power added to the panic and reps were getting successively worse although I knew she was fully capable of a clean lift. We paused and I asked her to soften and direct her gaze to a single point (yoga drishti.) She did, and tears sprung into my eyes (I'm getting choked up even now) because immediately, her reps improved. Perfect rep after perfect rep
Then... she forgot to tame the arc and the bell ricochet off her wrist.
But instead of freezing and dropping into a panic response, Jane hit the next rep with grace and ease. After a YEAR of allowing one bad rep to pull her apart, Jane's shift in response to stress completely transformed her ability to continue under load, at high volume, even when at the edge of her cardiovascular limit. She has continued to thrive under load, under STRESS, on a regular basis.
I tell people that binge eating isn't the problem...it's the alarm bell. Pain isn't the problem...it's your body telling you something is wrong in the system. Stress isn't the problem. Stress is the indicator that it's time to change. Jane displayed beautifully how that applies to physical adaptation. At a conscious/emotional level, we can use this to develop compassion and strength. I'm under a metric shit ton of career stress right now. (That's a scientific measurement. Shut up.) But if you offered me 6 months off? I don't think I'd take it because I'm learning so much about who I am and what I'm capable of. I'm adapting and changing in response to that imposed load.
Stress = Demand for Change.
The question is:
Are you going to adapt? Are you going to grow? Are you going to soften your gaze and focus your efforts? Or are you going to panic, freeze and shut down? Because you have a choice. Every moment of every day...you have a choice. Make it a good one.