How fitness and overall wellness can combat stress
The old adage, “The only two things guaranteed in life are death and taxes,” is missing one aspect of life that everyone deals with: stress. Even though stress is something that everyone experiences, we all experience it at different levels and deal with it in different ways. You can’t eliminate stress but there are several ways you can manage it. One of the healthiest ways to combat stress is to exercise.
Not only does exercise benefit your physical health, but working out can also improve your mental health. Aerobic exercise is often suggested by physician’s for heart health but it can also keep your head healthy. The interpretation of how physical exercise can help reduce stress is often explained as chemical reactions but behavioral explanations also exist.
The benefits of aerobic exercise for your mental health are neurochemical based. Working out produces endorphins, which are responsible for feelings of happiness, relaxation and euphoria. While endorphins are being produced, stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are being reduced. Behavioral factors that can help reduce stress but not be as immediate as the chemical reactions, but as you begin to see changes in your body physically, you can increase your self-confidence and self-esteem. You may also experience increased energy, getting more done throughout the day and achieving the goals that you had set for yourself.
Why Exercise is the Best Way to Manage Stress
People manage their stress differently, some like to zone out and watch television, some like to sleep and others may use exercise as ways to deal with feelings of stress. According to survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 40 percent of Americans watch television or movies to manage stress and 42 percent choose to go online. The 82 percent of people who engaged in these activities were less likely to say that these activities are actually effective compared to the 43 percent of people that exercised to manage stress.
As human beings, our first reaction to dealing with and managing stress may be to want to have a drink, pick a fight with someone or honk the horn at the driver in front of us — something that’s going to give us instant gratification. The problem with these kinds of reactions is that they can make us feel better — but only temporarily. For lasting stress relief, physicians often recommend getting active. Physical activity, structured or not, can help get your mind and body out of the “fight or flight” response.
Whether you’re gardening, washing the car, going for a run or strength training, engaging in physical activity can get your body into a rhythm so that your mind is free to work out issues you may be having, find solutions to them or just daydream for a little bit. You can think of exercise as meditation in motion. When you’re running through the park, struggling through your last few reps of bicep curls, or holding the warrior pose you’re most likely focused on how your body feels. When you’re focusing on breathing and the movement of your muscles, you’re less likely to be worrying about that meeting with clients tomorrow or how you’re going to fix the flat tire you got yesterday. Your thoughts are redirected from the negative thoughts running through your mind during the day, working out gives your wandering mind a break.
How to Use Exercise to Reduce Stress
What’s great about exercising to help reduce stress is that it can only take about five minutes of aerobic exercise to lower stress levels. If you haven’t been active in a while, beginning an exercise routine can be intimidating but there are tips and tricks you can use to help establish exercise as part of your day:
- Start small. Making a huge change in your lifestyle is often not recommended because you're less likely to stick with it. Instead, start with smaller goals like taking a 10-minute walk after lunch or waking up earlier on the weekend than you normally would.
- Create a plan. It is recommended to physically write down a workout session into your planner or schedule. When you write something down, it’s more likely that you’ll commit to it. If you’re trying out different workouts, be sure to take note of the ones you enjoy so you can make working out more of a hobby and less of a task.
- Forgive yourself. You may “fall off” the workout wagon and that’s ok. What’s important is that you get back on and try again. This is why making small goals and changes will help you transition to this new lifestyle.
- Exercise with friends. Making working out a social thing can make it more enjoyable and keeps you accountable. You can go for a hike, hip hop class or join a rec league.
- Use technology. “There’s an app for that” is more than just an advertisement slogan, there really is an app for most things, especially when it comes to exercise and nutrition. Just go to your phone’s app store and search “exercise” and you’ll find several options.
Exercise provides physical and mental health benefits. It increases the health of your organs and muscles and decreases feelings of stress, depression and anxiety. Taking the time to work out can benefit your overall health. Remember, that you don’t have to do an intense workout everyday. Even making small changes to your everyday routine can help you reduce the amount of stress you encounter. For example, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away from building entrances, or fitting in a walk after work can all give you time to focus on your mind-body connection and let you release some pent-up stress.
Exercising is a great way to combat stress but you may still experience feelings of anxiety or depression. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health or a substance use disorder, help is available. At The Recovery, our staff of experienced professionals can provide a continuum of quality care. Call today to speak with a representative about treatment options that are right for you.