'Tis the season to be merry and bright...and stressed! Along with the warmth of quality family time and the joy of giving is coordinating, cooking, standing in lines, sitting in traffic, eating, wrapping, cleaning, then not to mention all those end-of-the-year work deadlines? Yikes. You know what to do - lace up the kicks and head out for a run. Right?
Well, kind of. Exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself to relieve stress. But, there’s a chance that the very thing you do to unwind is setting you up for injury. Under a great deal of stress, energy levels are depleted (you know the feeling) and your muscles don’t react like they normally would.
Of course you don’t have to be completely calm and collected when you run. Those “flight or fight” hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, are known to boost performance when released in small amounts. However, it’s chronic stress, being exhausted and on edge over long periods of time that can make you vulnerable to injury.
Don’t worry though, simply by being aware of how stress can impact your running can allow you to burn off some of that holiday frustration and stay healthy on the roads.
Stress Scenario #1: You’re Distracted
You’re zoned out, going over every last detail of the holiday party, the shopping list, did you forget anything, what? While you’re recalling the details, you’re not likely paying attention to form, and you’re less likely to notice obstacles like potholes.
Run the flat, scenic route on a well-lit surface. You want to enjoy your run, so try to run in a place that will help you be present in the moment.
Stress Scenario #2: You’re Tense
You’re sitting at your computer all day trying to wrap up a project before the break, then you jump in your car and deal with holiday traffic to stand in holiday lines to make a last-minute purchase before your holiday party later. You can feel your shoulders near your ears, your jaw is clenched, you are in dire need of a run before the party.
Stop. You are at risk of straining something.
Sure, you’re on a tight schedule, but take 15 minutes to stretch out and warm up. Take deep cleansing breaths in and out. Try to visualize your run, put your day behind you. Enjoy.
On a side note, as a runner, you should always practice frequent stretching to stay limber and flexible, doing so now will save you physical therapy later.
Stress Scenario #3: You’re Eating Poorly
Arrrrgh. The holiday goodies are EVERYWHERE and it’s likely you’re indulging more than usual (it’s the holidays, duh), and that can make you sluggish. Even if you do manage to get down a few healthy meals, the nutrients aren’t getting fully absorbed. When you’re stressed, blood rushes away from the stomach, which means less digestive enzyme production and weaker digestion. Over time, this can lead to a loss of lean muscle tissue.
You know how to do this. Eat frequent small meals, make sure each includes a lean protein, complex carb and monounsaturated fat. This will help stabilize your blood sugar and keep your metabolism and digestion on track (and also make it easier to resist those holiday treats).
Stress Scenario #4: You’re Angry
Family disagreements and work pressure around the holidays can make you downright angry. You want to run like a bat out of hell to blow off some of that steam, but since you’re already fatigued from stress, you’re probably going to get tired faster and have difficulty maintaining good form.
PACE yourself. Take it down a notch (or three). Can’t do it alone? Maybe run with someone who’s a bit slower than you. They’ll keep your pace in check and maybe they’ll listen to you vent a bit, added bonus!
So, while it’s generally a good idea to exercise when you’re stressed, but just knowing how the stress you’re feeling this holiday season affects your body will help ensure you get exactly what you want out of that run, a little holiday stress relief!