Juggling a demanding career, with marathon training and this blog, along with trying to squeeze in time with my friends and family, means that life can get really hectic at times. Often I’m on the go from when my alarm goes off at 5am and won’t stop until 10pm. While some see being busy as a sign of success, and in truth I used to be one of those people, now I see it’s actually a sign of trying to do too much and can lead to living a very stressful lifestyle.
In the past I suffered from trying to do too much. I would go for weeks at a time without stopping to rest and it would get to the point that no matter how much sleep I got I would be constantly tired. When it came to workouts and runs, I would just go through the motions, ticking another chore off my to-do list, but in reality lacking the motivation I needed to get the most from the workout. And no matter how much I managed to fit into my day I would always feel guilty that I wasn’t doing enough. I was exhausted, stressed and unhappy. Basically, I was reaching the point of burnout.
And I’m not the only one who has gotten to this stage. As a runner, I follow a lot of other distance runners on social media and I often see posts of runners being extremely tired or ill but still working out. Of runners working 12 hours or more and then heading off for a two hour long run. Runners suffering with anxiety and others feeling guilty about missing runs. I’ve even seen posts of runners admitting that they’ve suddenly burst into tears due to feeling overwhelmed. While the honesty of these runners is amazing, and I know what it’s like because I’ve been there, I also think that feeling like this is becoming too normal, when really runs and workouts should be something fun and enjoyable – a healthy way to de-stress from everyday life – and not something that causes even more stress.
Last year I realised that while stress is unavoidable, constantly living a stressful lifestyle is not healthy. As a result over the last 12 months I’ve made a lot of life changes to help improve my wellbeing. A big change was reducing the amount I run each week and, instead of focusing on trying to get 40 plus miles done a week, I now focus on the quality of my runs and making sure each run has a purpose. I’ve also started cross training with more gentle exercise and have been swimming much more as a way to relax and still get a cardio workout. I’ve reduced my strength training to about twice a week and have focused on the quality of the reps rather than trying to lift heavier weights. I’ve also stopped feeling guilty about missing runs or workouts when life has gotten really busy and just accepted the fact that sometimes life gets in the way. After all, I’m not a professional athlete and, although I want to hit certain marathon goals, I won’t do it at the expense of my wellbeing.
I’ve not just made changes to my workouts but with overall lifestyle as well. I no longer feel guilty about having a few drinks over the weekend to relax (although I aim to stay within the NHS alcohol unit guidelines). I’ve gone back to focusing on eating an 80/20 diet (80% healthy, 20% treats). I’m meditating more and making the effort to spend more time with my family and friends. This year I’ve also done more activities away from exercise and work that I enjoy, even simple activities, like going to the cinema, have helped me to take a step away from getting too caught up with work and workouts.
And I’ve discovered that sometimes just taking a step back and prioritising who and what is important for your mental and physical health helps to improve all areas of your life.
This year I’ve taken the pressure off but I have been feeling more positive, fulfilled and relaxed than I have done in a long time. I’m more productive with my blog, I’ve fallen back in love with running again and I’m achieving professional and personal goals. And I’m currently making plans and taking up exciting challenges for next year.
Are you stressed?
According to the NHS these are the signs that you could be suffering with stress:
How you may feel emotionally
- irritable and “wound up”
- anxious or fearful
- lacking in self-esteem
How you may feel mentally
- racing thoughts
- constant worrying
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty making decisions
How you may feel physically
- muscle tension or pain
- sleep problems
- feeling tired all the time
- eating too much or too little
How you may behave
- drinking or smoking more
- snapping at people
- avoiding things or people you are having problems with
While it is advisable that you speak to a medical professional if you are struggling with severe stress or burnout, here are six ways that have helped me deal with stress:
- Daily meditation
- Cut down on high intensity exercise
- Spend time with friends and family
- Get more good quality sleep
- Eat a balanced and healthy diet with lots of fruit and veg