April is National Stress Awareness Month. At the time of this writing, the world is in the midst of a global pandemic and much of the United States is under lockdown orders. In other words, most people are undoubtedly aware of their stress levels right now. But depending on your mindset, stress actually presents some potential benefits. Much like exercise is a physical stress imposed upon the body that makes it stronger, stress also has the potential to make us stronger and capable of handling greater amounts of stress. Experts say the key is developing a mindset that stress can be beneficial.
Dealing with this current reality requires effective strategies for adapting to the current level of stress and learning how to adjust your mindset to create positive outcomes for you and your business. The good news is that if you exercise regularly, you already know a lot about how to adapt to and overcome stress.
Lessons From the Military
Special operations teams in the military have to work in some of the most stressful situations imaginable. They have developed strategies for overcoming that stress to achieve their mission. As an Operational Psychologist for the U.S. Army, Dr. Jess Harmon works with special operations teams and as a consultant to O2X, an organization that works with tactical athletes around the globe. She helps individuals deal with stresses they feel in their line of work. When asked how to handle the current stress that people may be feeling, Harmon points to adaptability as a key factor. Focusing on what you can control, rather than what you can't, says Harmon, will help you feel better about the situation and become more comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Here’s an example: Think about a really hard workout you’ve done lately—it probably felt uncomfortable pushing your body to the limit, but how did you feel at the end of it? You were likely relieved it was over, but you may also have felt more confident that you can survive—even thrive—during similar workouts in the future. You can apply this same mindset to everyday challenges by identifying ways to adapt to the situation and look at it as an opportunity to enhance your resilience by becoming stronger and capable of handling greater amounts of stress.
One immediate strategy for adapting to the situation is to continue working with your clients through an online portal. Recently ACE held an online panel discussion identifying strategies for how health and exercise professionals can start an online training business. And if you’re feeling a little intimidated about delivering personal training through a virtual platform, take a look at this follow-up ACE panel discussion on how to deliver an online training session.
Paul McCullough served as a Navy SEAL and is a founder of O2X. When asked how he dealt with stress when serving in the SEAL teams, he said that being a member of a team was essential to developing the confidence to overcome extremely challenging situations. How does it feel when you’re in a group workout? It may be extremely demanding, but seeing others experience the same challenge and work through it gives you the strength to do the same. Take this approach with COVID19: How can you contribute to the team effort to flatten the curve? Washing your hands frequently, sheltering-at-home and wearing a mask when you leave to handle essential errands are all tasks that automatically make you part of the team working to eradicate this virus.
Mindset is Everything
Dr. Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist at Stanford University who studies the effects of stress on the body. Dr. McGonigal gave a popular TED Talk where she identified important strategies for turning stress into a positive influence on your life. In her talk, she cites a study that found if you believe that stress is bad for you, it will be; however, the study also found that believing that stress can be beneficial changes the way people experience the effects of stress, including how your body responds.
Here’s another way to view the current situation: Think of this time as one long endurance workout; yes, it’s a challenge on a number of different levels, but you will come through it and one day look back at how you survived. If you’ve finished a marathon, a 5K is no big deal.
A common theme shared by McCullough and supported by Dr. McGonigal is that working as a member of a team or being connected with others can help reduce the effects of stress. One outcome of the shelter-at-home orders is that many group fitness instructors are rapidly learning how to teach virtual classes using platforms such as Zoom or Facebook Live. If you find yourself feeling stressed and miss the feeling of leading your group workouts, reach out to your tribe to create a virtual class. Think of how good you will feel leading a workout on Facebook Live or Zoom knowing that all of your regulars are following along with you.
By reaching out and connecting with others through virtual platforms, we can share in the experience, which, as both McGonigal and Harmon point out, is essential for overcoming what you may be feeling.
Stress is often an unavoidable component of modern life and recent events have created an extraordinary situation that very few of us were prepared to deal with. Having a positive mindset is essential. If you respond to COVID19 by constantly worrying about how it will affect you, it could indeed be a challenging time. However, if you take the current situation as an opportunity to learn a new skill set by teaching classes through an online platform or developing an online personal training business, you will be using COVID19 as a tool to strengthen your business.
To learn more about how to handle stress, view Dr. McGonigal’s TED Talk, How to Make Stress Your Friend, HERE or listen to a recent episode of the All About Fitness podcast with Dr. Jess Harmon and former Navy SEAL Paul McCullough HERE.