This week I cried. Nothing new there obviously, but this week I cried in the gym. My happy place. Not only had I hidden in the toilet in front of a group of people who are used to seeing me kick some burpee arse, I was for the first time unable to find solace in the place that had never failed to provided me with it.
So how did I end up almost dropping two kettlebells on my feet and running away? Quite simply, I am tired, not just my body, but my mind.
When your body is tired and sore, the power of the mind is an incredible thing. How often have your legs felt like lead and all you want to do is curl up on the sofa with Netflix and the cat, but you go train anyway? Mental tenacity can push you pass the discomfort and allow you to achieve brilliant things, often more than what you thought possible. However, when your mind also becomes worn out it can feel impossible to undertake workouts that you may have flown through the previous week. Mental exhaustion really does challenge that fundamental connection with your body which allows you not only to physical execute the move but do so with strength.
When I am under prolonged periods of stress I notice that not only am I unable to sleep despite feeling hugely lethargic, but my reactions begin to slow and I loose my coordination. When I train under these conditions I usually find I cannot perform at my best, if at all and quite often end up injured because I either make mistakes, or am unable to recognise when I simply have had enough. This is hugely demotivating as not only do you feel like you are moving backwards in terms of progress, but when you realise that your happy place can actually make you sad.
Cut back to me last week covered in an interesting blend of sweat and tears and wondering what the hell to do with myself. We all know that some exercise can help manage stress and anxiety but when it begins to cause your body pain that it cannot recuperate from, it is time to try and rest. Resting for me however, is not as simple a decision as it may seem. Not only does the gym provide me with the ability to manage my anxiety through the benefits of physical exercise, it is my primary social environment and therefore pretty central to my existence. I also struggle (as many do who regularly train) with the guilt of a missed session.
So did I figure what to do? Well, sort of. I decided to take each day as it comes and really try to be considerate of how tired I felt. There is a very important distinction to make between being sleepy and the kind of heaviness in your bones that comes from exhaustion. That is the tiredness that you should not push through. I will be doing less intense training sessions and focusing more on mobility and breathing techniques. Finally, I will be a little kinder to myself. If I want to nap, I will nap. If I want to eat cheese, I will eat cheese. I will try not to set ridiculous standards for myself until I feel ready to push forward again.
And most importantly, If I need to cry, I will cry
N.B There a many other sources, far more knowledgeable that I, who have written at length about the best way to exercise (or not) when the body and mind under severe stress. This article from Girls Gone Strong and this one from Triath Love are both brilliants reads and I would also strongly advise speaking with a trusted trainer or doctor if you have particular medical concerns before making any decisions.