I'm a self-confessed "stress-pot". It's not an easy admission to make, simply because I hate being stressed. And knowing I stress over little things, stresses me out more.
Without exercise, I'd be locked at home, brimming with stress and depression. I know because I've been there when injured. It's something you only notice if exercise is a central part of your being.
Most people I know who workout regularly say that they use exercise to manage their stress--as well as to look better, be healthier and all the rest.
It seems that if exercise isn't a part of your life, you might be at a disadvantage when it comes to daily stressful situations. By starting to exercise, you can learn to stress less.
That may not be the case for everyone and there are other ways to cope with stress, but for me, exercise is the most natural, effective and cheap coping mechanism. Exercise and stress are closely related.
How Does Exercise Relieve Stress?
If you don't have a very active lifestyle, and often feel strangled by stress and depression, you may want to take note.
Here are the main ways exercise and stress are connected:
When stressed, each of your body systems (cardiovascular, nervous, respiratory, muscular etc.) need to interact efficiently for you to respond well. Exercise helps your body systems practice interacting with each other, in a healthy way. This directly leads to a better overall response to stress.
These are your natural pain killers that give you a "high". Although more research is needed, there's no doubt that long periods of moderate to high intensity exercise, does have a happy affect on your emotions.
Fight or Flight
This is your natural reaction to any stressful situation. The problem is that much of today's stress doesn't require either physical fighting or running. But your body still provides the chemicals for it, which can be harmful if they remain. The best and most logical way to clear the chemicals, is to actually do some exercise.
Rhythm and Flow
Some exercise, like running and cycling, lets you get into a rhythm. That rhythmic flow of a repeat action relaxes your mind. It's a bit like focusing on nothing and everything at the same time. It's your time. Just make sure you keep an eye on where you're going!
Any sport or exercise with friends, gives you the chance to socialise, that you may not normally get. "Having a laugh" with friends is more than just fun. It gives you a chance to share your problems, and know that someone is there if you need them.
Lack of sleep often leads to a vicious cycle. You become more stressed and anxious during the day, which means it's even harder to sleep at night. Exercise not only helps break that cycle, but can lead to a positive cycle instead. When you sleep well, you'll have more energy in the day and be more productive.
Organize your Life
Stress is often caused by a lack of organisation and planning, whether it's in your work life or home life. Following a workout plan, where you set yourself goals and ultimately have a sense of achievement, will help you transfer those skills to the rest of your life.
Stress Busting Exercises
When it comes down to it, any exercise is better than none. Don't worry about which exercise is the best for others, focus on yourself and what you enjoy.
If you're not sure, then try different things out. Use the buttons on the top left of this page to find something you enjoy.
Here are some more tips to exercise and stress less:
Mix up your exercise. It depends on your goals (burn fat, get fitter, build muscle etc.), but including a mix of, for example, aerobic, interval and circuit exercises will benefit you the most overall, when dealing with stress.
Adapt your exercise to your type of stress. If you tend to feel out of control, try rhythmic exercise (as described above - running, swimming, cycling etc.) and some yoga or pilates to focus your energy. If you tend to feel angry and aggressive, try combat exercise like martial arts or boxing.
Make the first move. I know it's hard when you're stressed out, depressed and don't feel like moving a muscle. The problem is, things will just feel worse if you don't. So, however small it is, make that first move. It could literally be putting on your exercise shoes and going for a walk. Build from there.
Take it easy. If you're just getting started with exercise, go slow. If you have any concerns, see your health professional first. There's no point jumping in head first if you pick up an injury.
Now you know the many connections between exercise and stress. The facts are hard to ignore, try doing some exercise today and see if it makes a difference.
If you know anyone who always seems to be stressed or short-tempered, let them know about exercise and stress. You can't force anyone to do anything, but you can point them in the right direction.