By JP Sears, Holistic Health Coach

Achieving or maintaining the sculpted body of our dreams involves hard work in the gym and dedication to clean nutrition, just to redundantly state the obvious. While not many people would dispute the validity of these essentials, the question begs to be asked, “What happens when they’re not enough?” Perhaps you’ve committed the input of effort and time yet the output of the sculptured physique you’ve envisioned hasn’t come knocking at your door. What then? You may postulate that there is a glitch in the matrix and an invisible force is playing torturous tricks on you. Or maybe you determine that you simply need to invest more blood, sweat, and tears, after all this trinity makes up the holy water of great bodies, does it not? But could there be more to it than that?

What if we looked beyond these norms to a routinely overlooked element that at first glance has seeming nothingness to do with our strength or leanness? Perhaps our gaze lands on the element of our stress levels.  Upon second glance, our vision expands and we can begin to see that our stress levels can have more than everything to do with why our body sculpturing efforts are handcuffed. If elevated stress levels are the Alcatraz of body shaping obstacles, then we can rest easy knowing the flip side of the coin is that stress reduction strategies become the genie in the bottle very capable of granting us the fitness improvements we so desire. The purpose of these words is to invite you into the second glance at your stress levels and offer strategies for reducing them in the name of paving a walkable path to embodying your physique goals.

How Does Stress Reduction Promote Body Sculpting?

To overly simplify the simple concept, stress reduction creates a hormonal environment that burns body fat and builds muscle in a way quite similar to how exercise does by optimizing your hormonal system. The difference is that when we’re stressed, stress reduction targets the block that is impairing our hormonal system from being in the optimal fat burning, muscle building state. Where as when we’re stressed, exercise does not do anything to address the elephant sitting on our hormonal system, therefore results may be frustratingly, slow, limited, or hormonally impossible.

Our main stress hormone is cortisol. When overly stressed, cortisol levels rise above optimal levels which cause a few eyebrow raising effects on our fitness goals:

  • Atrophy of muscle tissue
  • Body fat storage
  • Elevated blood sugar
  • Proportional decrease in Growth Hormone

While the first three bullet points above carry some degree of self-explanation, the last one is perhaps worthy of slight expansion. For every mile cortisol elevates, growth hormone lowers by the same distance. As if the stress hormone consequences of muscle wasting, fat storing, and elevated blood sugar (which means even more fat storage) weren’t enough, now it’s amplified as our cortisol elevation causes suppression of our fitness friendly growth hormone levels. Growth hormone is responsible for:

  • Protein synthesis (muscle building)
  • Fat burning
  • Anti-aging

The most effective way to increase our growth hormone level is actually to decrease our cortisol levels. The most effective way to decrease our cortisol levels is to take a look at what we’re doing to stress ourselves, which is what gave the body a good reason to elevate cortisol levels in the first place. For legitimate, long term improvements, our mission isn’t to look at elevated cortisol as the cause of our fitness downfalls. Our direction would be to acknowledge that elevated cortisol is a symptom of the stress we have in our lives and then address the respective stress head on.

Stress ReductionàCortisol ReductionàGrowth Hormone ElevationàLeaner more muscular body

Addressing the Cause

How do you know if you’re stressed? There is a great chance that if you’ve ever been diagnosed with the condition called “being a human” that you carry excessive stress.  Not to be overlooked is also the ease or grind with which your fitness goals come to you, as the more challenging the results are the more likely it is that you’re experiencing the symptoms of being stressed. What are the sources of your excessive stress?  At best to tickle your introspective observance, here is a brief list of some common ones:

  • Sleeping less than 8-hrs
  • Reactions to career pressure
  • Unmet expectations in relationships
  • Low self worth
  • Unresolved emotional wounding
  • Feeling purposeless
  • Eating toxic food
  • Note: If you’re having trouble identifying what actually stresses you out, it is likely that your stress is very real yet is also hidden. Working with a qualified coach or counselor is the recommended route for discovering and rebalancing hidden stress.

Once you’ve connected with what you believe to be your heaviest stressful baggage, specifically addressing it head on is ideal if you have the know how and inner resources to do so. The implication here is that the most effective stress reduction is individualized to your specific stress. Below are broad spectrum yet powerful methods of reducing stress:

  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Slow walking in nature
  • Keeping the television off
  • Mindful breathing
  • Blood sugar balance with clean food
  • Sleeping 8-hrs per night
  • Working with a coach or therapist


The stronger, leaner you is well supported by your efforts to address the softer side of life.  You’re invited to regularly remind yourself why it is you’re journaling, meditating, sleeping well, etc. These seemingly benign actions (or non-actions) have the ripple effect through your hormonal system that can untangle an otherwise impossible to produce fitness results web of imbalance. Overlooking your stress while anticipating your body to become sculptured can be like expecting a gold fish to win a fight against a wolverine, it can be a steep up hill improbable climb!  Inviting stress reduction to be an integral part of your health and fitness regimen supports you with the hormonal infrastructure to make it a much smoother glide to the results you dream of.

About the Author

JP Sears is a Holistic Health Coach in San Diego, CA. His one-on-one client practice specializes in holistic emotional healing and resolving self-sabotage issues. JP regularly facilitates classes and workshops nationally and internationally on a variety of healing and health topics while being widely acclaimed for his heartfelt and dynamic style. For more information on upcoming classes, tele-classes, or becoming a client, please visit Holistic Health and Fitness.