Fat, Sad and Slow: This is Your Brain on Cortisol

How Stress Makes You a Crappy Person

by Skye Dawson
Fat, Sad and Slow: This is Your Brain on Cortisol

Funny thing, stress.

I’ve seen gym rats fret about their macros, go for weekly massages and get into near-fistfights over who’s right about a particular supplement. But mental health? Nah. Doesn’t count.

The same dudes who pump iron and treat their bodies like gold are the ones with untreated depression or anxiety. While they fine-tune their physiques, they’re secretly riddled with stress.

The thing about being an fitness-freak of any kind is that you’re going it alone. It’s tough. Crying about it solves nothing so you go along with the rah-rah-rah of it all and just try to suck it up.

The problem: stress kills.

It stops being “mental health” the second your frazzled body starts churning out cortisol, then it just becomes plain old “health.” Stress interferes with your hormone levels (particularly testosterone, which is kind of ironic when you think about it) and damages your insulin sensitivity. The result? A nice ring of flab around your middle and if you’re lucky, layers of fat all over your internal organs.

It gets worse, though.

Think of the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you. Try to remember the feeling of adrenaline pumping through you. Now, in that state, could you have balanced your checkbook? Stress taps out your brain. Chronic, long-term stress doubles your reaction times, puts you in a funk and makes you suck at rational thinking.

So when I say that stress makes you fat, sad and slow, it’s not even slightly an exaggeration. CrossFit trainers know that pushing the body past its ability results in injury. Pushing your brain past its ability results in injury, too, just in ways that are a little less visible.

For most of us in the free world, our brain is our biggest asset. Don’t be a hero and wipe yourself out with late nights and taking on more than you can handle. This will blunt your motivation, make you tired, crabby, careless, maybe even make you a bit of an asshole.

Luckily, stress relief doesn’t have to be all meditation and potpourri. In fact, that shit stresses me out more. But with the same attention you give to the rest of your life, spare a thought for your mental health.

Have the balls to take a step back when you’re losing focus. Go out into nature, veg out a bit, spend time with family, whatever does it for you. The idea is not to slack off but to refresh yourself. When you get back in the ring, you’ll be razor-sharp again.

Here are my favorite stress management techniques, ranked from worst to best:

  1. Alcohol. Excellent, but not really good as a long term solution, sadly.
  2. Sleep. Make a hot date with your pillow, just the two of you.
  3. Unplugging. Let the phone go flat and take the weekend off.
  4. Treats. I cycle between games or gadgets and things made out of chocolate.
  5. The best stress relief for me? Binge-watching TV series. Don’t judge. I do what I gotta do.

Do you have a stress management plan? What’s your favorite way to de-stress after a long day?

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