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Stress Management: Even Superman Needs Sleep

By Marty Gaal

post-it notesWhile life can and should be a joyous celebration, the individual components of our daily commitments do tend to wear us out. Achieving a manageable balance between family, work and the pursuit of excellence in sports is an important component of becoming better than before. In other words, understanding how much energy you have to get through your day is a great way to avoid tilting over the edge in any facet of your life.

Each of us has different tolerances to stress regardless of where the stress originates. Our individual tolerances are a result of psychological and physical makeup as well as our chronological and athletic ages. 

For example, let's say Bill has 100 stress points in his stress bank account which he can allocate to his day. Bill has a wife and two children, a full-time job, and is training for a long-distance endurance event. Bill also has to deal with the variables of paying the bills, transportation to and from work, getting enough sleep, proper nutrition and so on. There's a lot going on. 

Bill puts his family first, so he allocates a bunch of his points to them — let's say 35. Bill also has to get to work to help pay the bills — another 35. That leaves 20 points for his training and only 10 points for everything else (his stress point buffer). There's zero left in his stress bank account. 

On a good day, this allocation works and he's able to get to the evening without feeling overwhelmed. But in reality, how many good days do you see in a typical week?  Maybe two or three if you're in the groove. Every other day, something pops up. Little Billy gets sick and can't go to school. A project at work hits some snags and runs up against a deadline. The bike needs maintenance and you can't ride it without a visit to your local shop. Boom! A stress point deficit emerges. Bill goes negative on his 100 point allocation and starts burning the candle at both ends.

You've all seen the results. Most of us can deal with a little bit of deficit for a couple of days, essentially borrowing points from the future, but after that our stress bank calls in its loan — through physical and mental exhaustion.  We have family strife, drop the ball at work and/or training sessions go to pot. Eventually we hit a wall and start to shut down, through illness of all kinds.

Even Superman needed his sanctuary and his sleep.

Rather than go negative on a regular basis, the healthy thing to do is re-allocate your points and deal with your life. No one exists in a vacuum.

So, how many points do you have and which account do you put them in? That's the first step in understanding how to achieve balance and work on becoming a better you.

Marty Gaal, CSCS, coaches endurance athletes around the globe from OSB Headquarters in Cary, N.C.  He currently has 97 points in his stress bank.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.