The 3 P’s of Stress
by Ian Craig
in Blogs

“But, I’m not stressed” he says as he overreacts to my observation that he may be under excessive stress from his 12-hour corporate days, his 15 hours of triathlon training per week, his poor diet and his strained relationship with his wife (simply because he is not at home enough to help with the kids)… How common is this scenario? Let’s just say every second client that comes through my door at the moment!

You see, in this day and age, we’re cultured to work hard and to achieve high levels in everything that we do - especially in Johannesburg. Stress is in the water here (and in other developed towns and cities throughout the world) - in fact, I think the gold rush still continues, except that gold nuggets come in the form of promotions at work and longer and longer races that have been conquered - ‘the land of the Comrades’. Despite my ‘healthy’ image, I am no exception to this culture - from age 11 till 30, I was chasing a place in the Olympics, through Uni I would only settle for a 1st in my three degrees, and for the past decade, I’ve been pushing hard to build up my freelance business in a very niche area (not that health should be niche).

I’ve been well ‘burned’ twice in my life and so I can see it coming in my clients. We all know that stress is bad for us - that much has been pretty well publicised. But we make the mistake in thinking that stress is just psychological stress - i.e. anxiety, overwhelm, depression etc. Like many of you, I’ve never felt psychologically stressed out - grumpy and withdrawn on occasion, but not ‘stressed’…

But, might there be other aspects of ‘stress’ that we’re not considering? I attended a lecture by the great thinker, Dr Alex Concord, a number of years ago - she is a medical doctor and an immunologist by training and a psychoneuroimmunologist by application - complexity is her field. But, she came out with model called the 3 P’s of stress that literally rocked my socks - it was so simple, but yet it was so profound. I suddenly understood myself at a higher level and all of my stressed out clients!

Take a look the image below - it is a recreation of her original model. Yes, psychological or emotional stress is a burden, but so too is our physiology and our physical pressures.

3 Ps

Because many people don’t resonate too well with the word ‘stress’, I tent to rephrase this concept to ‘Total Load’. It represents all of the life burdens on our body and mind - i.e. our life load. We tend to think we can separate our life out into little boxes - our work box, our family box, our exercise or training box, and our social box - and we think they will never meet and disrupt one another. Well let me tell you…. at age 16, I went through my first important set of school exams and during that time, I was running like a monkey - well, actually much slower than a monkey. On the day of my final exam, I ran like a chetah and I have zero doubt that if I was racing that night, I would have beaten any kid in Scotland.

If you are psychologically burdened simply by the amount of work you’ve taken on, or by a particular stress or ‘load’ in your life, it will affect you physically and physiologically - e.g. your immune system will be compromised, you may gain fat and/or lose muscle, your nervous system won’t be so tuned for maximum focus and concentration, you may have gut complaints or diminished recovery from exercise, and all-in-all, your body will move towards a state of disease quicker.

Likewise, if you are burdened by some physiological stress, even if it is just a bit of hay fever or IBS, it will affect you in your mind and because the 3 P’s model represents a finite resource, you won’t have as much mojo for exercise. Also, if we think about high levels (either volume, intensity or both) of training, it is well established that your physiological health (e.g. your immune system) will take a hit, and there is no mistaking why you are particularly short with the wife and kids a few days after completing an Ironman! Personally, when I was training particularly hard, I would spend many of the British winter months feeling bluesy and going in and out of colds and injuries.

We cannot separate our mind from our body and we cannot separate what we do at work from the effect it has at home etc etc. As humans, we are a fluid interaction of loads, burdens, stresses, so we need to consider them all together and control the output of each.

A good continuation piece to read is my Yin Yang article - it is about balancing hard exercise with recuperative exercise, but this concept can be applied into any aspect of our life.