Stress & Allostatic Load

Grab a piece of paper and write down all the things in your average day that could possibly be a some kind of stress on your body, mind, and emotions. Potentially it could look something like the following;

  • Terrible Boss and/or workmates

  • Hate your job

  • Worrying about money

  • Traffic

  • Bad weather

  • Dog (or child) woke me up early

  • Arguing with your partner

  • I ate less than ideal food last night

  • Unhappy with body image

We could go on…

Now imagine each one of the stressors as a little pebble/rock that adds to a jar… What happens when one by one, you keep adding pebbles to the jar.. Our ‘jar’ becomes full. The cumulative total of all the stuff (pebbles) in your life (the Jar) that causes physical, mental, and/or emotional stress — is known as your allostatic load. It is important to be conscious of the fact that all of the stressors be it physical, mental or emotional fill the same ‘jar’… so for example, if we are stressed about money or we’re having an argument with our spouse… it may negatively affect the physical aspect of our like, like our performance in the gym.

But Is All Stress Bad?

Nope. We need stress in our life. Stress pushes you out of your comfort zone, it allows us to grow, to get stronger. Lifting weights is a potential good stress, for example. Having a cold shower… That ‘fight or flight’ feeling you get when you’re nervous before a competition or a speaking event.. a good stress.

A popular quote is;

“Get comfortable being uncomfortable”

It’s true; Discomfort leads to growth.

However, too much stress in any aspect of our life starts to be detrimental.

We can try and group different stressors in 2 jars (loving this analogy atm)..

‘ Good Stress’ & ‘Bad Stress’

Good stress:

  • is short-lived

  • is infrequent

  • is over quickly

  • can be part of a positive life experience

  • inspires you to action

  • helps build you up — it leaves you better than you were before.

But what happens if you lift weights 4 hours a day, every day, with no recovery.. Now it doesn’t seem so productive and what once was a ‘good stress’ turns into a ‘bad stress’, it starts to have negative effects on us. No longer are we growing or progressing, now we are starting to go backwards…

Bad stress:

  • lasts a long time

  • is chronic

  • is ongoing

  • is negative, depressing, and demoralizing

  • de-motivates and paralyzes you

  • breaks you down — it leaves you worse off than you were before.

One of the main & potentially most important aspects of what makes a stressor ‘Good Stress’ or ‘Bad Stress’ is how quickly or well we recover from it…

To start, it’s important to note that the way we deal with different stressors will be vastly different for everyone.

Each of us has our own “recovery zone”, and there will be numerous physical, mental and emotional factors that will effect that. So just as important as the stress itself is how you perceive and respond to it.

Notice how some people just seem to go with the flow and seem to be almost oblivious to situations that others would find highly stressful events? This is because everyone handles these situations in vastly different ways. The good thing is there are things you can do to better handle stressors…. Many techniques to ‘empty your jar’/ recharge, and many ways to learn to turn potential bad stressors into good stressors, or at least; ‘not so bad stressors’

Let's have a look at some different variables that will affect how we respond to stressors:

  • Our attitude and outlook — People with optimistic, proactive and positive attitudes are more stress resistant. And people who view stressful events as a challenge, and realise that change is simply a part of life, have a far larger recovery