Should you train when you’re sick or stressed?

I am not a very stressed or anxious person. The only time I’ve actually felt real, strong anxiety, was this time last year when I was waiting to hear if I had my now-job. It even made me sick. But that’s unusual.


Because I am not that stressed or anxious, I don’t really recognise it when it happens. It creeps up on me slowly, until one day I find myself thinking “why am I sleeping so badly? Why do I feel as if I have no energy to do anything but work?  Why am I constantly eating all the food?” And then I realise – it’s stress.

At the moment I’m really busy at work, having started a trial yesterday. Plus I am pretty stressed about what will happen on Brexit – it is not like an election where I am in the lucky position of not much of it really affecting my life, Brexit would have a serious effect on my house, my job, my income. And I am still trying to buy a house, stressed about the impact of Brexit, about whether the buyers will pull out for whatever reason, about whether we will be able to move in before James goes to Chicago. Oh wait – there’s another thing I’m stressed about!

I have done no exercise for a week and a half now, partly because I haven’t had the time (working 16 hour days will do that to you) and partly because I’ve felt I had no energy. But it got me thinking about the similarities and differences between not training through stress, and not training through illness.

So should you train if you are sick or stressed?

People often say that, for example, if you just have a head cold, you’re okay to train, but if it’s in your chest, you shouldn’t. Well, I feel awful with a head cold. I barely want to get out of bed with a head cold, let alone do any exercise!

There is one simple rule to abide by: don’t feel guilty for not training.

If you’re not training because you’re stressed, feeling guilty about it will make you more stressed. Getting ill is not your fault so there is no point feeling guilty about something you can’t control.

And this is where being ill and being stressed differ. If you are ill, I am firmly in the camp that your body is working hard trying to recover from the illness. By all means have a slow cycle to work (or whatever) if the fresh air will make you feel better, but pushing yourself is just going to distract the body from its key aim at that point – making you feel better. I firmly believe that getting ill is often the body’s way of telling us it needs a rest – and we really should be listening to it!

On the other hand, I think exercise really helps deal with stress. If you can’t fit it in – don’t worry about it. Sometimes there just literally is not enough time in the day. But if there is time, an easy workout of your favourite exercise will really help blow the cobwebs away. I like to go for a run – it takes no organisation, all you need are trainers and a sports bra, and even a 20 minute run (total of 30 minutes out of your day if you’re quick at changing and showering!) will give you some fresh air and re-energise you. 

So with that in mind, I have some renewed enthusiasm to do a quick 20 minute something this afternoon!


Ps this didn’t post earlier for some reason – I have just come back from a swim and now feel so much better!

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5 comments

  1. I’ll take a day off, maybe two, if I’m sick but after that it’s on. I won’t push to exhaustion but I like to get the body temp up. I always feel better after I do.

    I realize I’m in the minority on this.

    I’m right with you on the stressed out workout though. Give me an hour on the bike and I can think straight again.

    • Last time I was really sick I couldn’t be more than 5 minutes from a toilet… Both ends….(!) for well over a week. Respect to those who would have gone out training like that but I would feel pretty sorry for anyone else cycling / running on those roads after me!!

      I need to keep reminding myself about exercising when stressed though. All too easy not to and I have been feeling so lethargic as a result.

      • Let’s just leave that as “clear and obvious exceptions to my own personal rule. I haven’t been that sick in 15 years, but if I ever experience that, it’s obvious grounds for “this too shall pass, I believe I will let it”.

        Chuckle.

  2. I have been off all this week with shingles which is absolutely horrid – from my reading it commonly occurs from stress and exhaustion (both of which I was choosing to ignore in favour of fitting in absolutely everything!) and now I’m paying the price, it seems. To be honest, I’m a bit shocked as in general I’m a really healthy person and rarely get ill and feel bad that I have let my body get to this state. Definitely in need for rest! I wish I could be out training but this time, I’m listening to my body!

    • Sorry – only just got around to replying to comments on this post! I really hope you are better now, shingles sounds awful. I’m also generally a healthy person, I might have a cold or two tiring me out for a few days but nothing else. So completely agree with the shock when you suddenly get struck down by something more serious 🙂

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