Physically Pushing Yourself A Little Too Hard?
Caught myself doing it again just last month—believing myself to be just slightly super human. Thought I could work out extra-hard for weeks on end, juggle TONS of stress, and undersleep a bit without paying a price. And I’m someone who studies wellness! I should KNOW that there are no exceptions among us: We ALL face repercussions when demanding too much from body and mind. Luckily, I pulled back just before implosion—not without some side effects but in time to restore healthy balance. Of course, like most people, I’ve been here before, and this makes me want to issue some gentle warnings related to overdoing exercise & just generally pushing too far physically.
So, if you find yourself falling into a similar case of Super Human Syndrome, read on. I’ll share a few pitfalls (knowing them well both personally and from clients). Then come some common sense suggestions. Do you often catch yourself caught in these snags?
You Treat Sleep as a Luxury.
Cheating sleep is like pulling the bottom blocks from a Jenga tower in the first few moves. Sleep serves as the foundation for ALL aspects of health, and health WILL teeter with chronic sleep deprivation. 30 years ago, experts didn’t know this as comprehensively as today. In fact, I look back and see myself plowing through an uber-high-pressure college experience relying on only 4-5 hours of sleep per weeknight, copious amounts of caffeine, and sheer fear of failure. No wonder I felt truly lousy most of the time! That approach was considered NORMAL and, sadly, persists in much of the current American mentality. Today, like many in middle age & beyond, ironically, the opposite challenge can plague me: yearning for sleep but accruing too little. It's no exaggeration to say that shortchanging sleep (which for almost everyone means less than 7 hours a night) is the most egregious tradeoff concerning good health. For specific tips on sleep, check out the SomeBODY Strong post called "Seeking Sleep? 10 Do's and Don'ts."
You Wing It When It Comes to Food.
When we’re juggling a lot, including incorporating long workouts multiple times a week, it’s counterintuitive but really common to start eating haphazardly. Here’s another “Jenga block.” Just like sleep, food establishes the bedrock for everything that happens in our bodies and minds. Just when we need to fuel our bodies super efficiently, we might find ourselves throwing meals together or even settling for snacks as substitutes. This happens because —have you noticed?—food planning and prep sucks up lots of time! It’s worth re-prioritizing if you’re in this boat. Not only does eating nourishing food repair muscle, etc, it literally provides the energy needed to get through our day, steadies mood, and staves off disease.
You Ignore Seemingly Minor Pains.
We all know that pain is a red flag, but we often overlook MINOR pain. Remember the ancient motto, “No pain, no gain?” It should read, “Endure pain, lose gains.” In reality, MINOR pain is a red flag, and full-on pain can mean the ship’s sinking already. When it comes to fitness, nagging aches and pains can originate from overuse of a joint, from pushing physical limits prematurely (like going heavy with the weights before progressing to the requisite level of strength and power), from overtraining for weeks or months, or from constantly skipping stretches. All of this sets us up for injury (ie, the ship is going down!). So, if minor pain persists, pushing through means you may believe the basic premises of fitness do not apply to you. Many of us find out the hard way that they do.
It’s important to note that mental health conditions can also trigger physical pain & discomfort. After all, body, mind, & spirit closely intertwine. Research has shown that depression often causes chronic joint pain, limb pain, back pain, gastrointestinal problems, tiredness, sleep disturbances, psychomotor activity changes, and appetite changes. According to the Mayo Clinic, anxiety is often accompanied by increased heart rate, breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, feeling weak or tired and gastrointestinal problems. If you suspect you’re subject to a mental health condition, please collaborate with your physician or specialist on treatment. In a beautiful example of interconnection, exercise has been shown to impact mental health positively and can be an essential element of a wellness plan.
You Tolerate Mood Swings/Changes.
Overtraining in the fitness world means pushing the body too hard for too long, resulting in negative effects. Mood changes like irritability and depression are often a hallmark. But you don’t have to be a hard-charging athlete to experience this. Sleep deprivation and fatigue will cause mood change, too. Unfortunately, we often tolerate low moods & frequent fluctuations, hoping they’ll fade the next day. When they hang around indefinitely because we refuse to step back in some way, quality of life drops. Once you or someone close to you notices that your mood seems consistently negative, consider asking if it's something that deserves professional attention, or is it a state that would improve if you simply took a breather from pushing yourself phyically and mentally?
Finally, how can we avoid falling into these pitfalls?
Know Your Warning Signs
Most of the time we’re pushing really hard and refusing to let up because we think we’ll lose ground in terms of fitness. Fitness sits on a wire, though. It requires finesse, learning how hard to push for results and determining when we’re forcing to the point of diminishing returns. Everyone has specific symptoms when the latter kicks in. In my case, the hips tighten and burn incessantly, my mood clouds over into a gun metal gray, and a sodden sense of fatigue can make me sit down on the stairs midday—obviously, all signs that it’s well past time to regroup! How do you know YOU have hit your wall? physically? mentally?
Find Your “Edge”
When I practiced yoga daily (something I’ve been reincorporating this fall), I learned the incredibly useful premise of “playing your edge.” This means knowing just how far to push your body without over reaching, how to meet your body where it is TODAY, and how to patiently progress (or not) over a long span of time. It pulled me out of the usual “race” I’m prone to jumping into. (I’m not super keen on competing with other people, but when it comes to myself, I can slip right back into a relentless pattern that was my norm in younger days.) This idea can apply to many areas of life, but what would it mean as related to your physical fitness & practices? How much can you push before quality of life unravels a little? When do you practice recovery, which is just as essential to physical conditioning as is exercise?
Consult with Someone You Trust
I don’t know about you, but I can’t always see my own negative tendencies. Chuckling? Probably because it’s a pretty universal trait! When I’m way overdoing it physically and whining, my dear hubby points it out. He’s the kindest man I’ve EVER known and my biggest fan. That gives him lots of sway, and thank goodness! I trust him big time. Who do you trust? Who keeps you on track just because they care? Who helps you strategize because it’s their expertise (a doctor, therapist, health coach)? It’s tough work building our best health. It’s inordinately tougher doing it solo. Turning to another human may just return the balance your body & spirit need.
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay