It is safe to say that we all have stress in our lives to one degree or another. Perhaps you are feeling the pressures from the state of our economy? Maybe you are not sleeping well because you are worried about that big project that is due tomorrow? Family issues from the nagging spouse to the arguing children or a visit from the in-laws may all cause personal stress. How we choose to deal with our stressors may significantly impact our health.
Findings from the 2010 Stress in America survey (commissioned by the American Psychological Association) noted that Americans are “struggling to balance work and home life and make time to engage in healthy behaviors, with stress not only taking a toll on their personal physical health, but also affecting the emotional and physical well-being of their families.” (http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/key-findings.aspx)
It should come as no surprise that if we don’t have healthy ways to deal with our stress the potential for physical consequences may develop. The survey identified that:
- Two-fifths of adults reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress in the past month.
- Nearly one-third said they skipped a meal because of stress in the past month.
- More than four in 10 said they had lain awake at night in the past month.
- The most common physical symptoms of stress reported were irritability (45 percent), fatigue (41 percent) and lack of energy or motivation (38 percent).
How can physical activity reduce stress?
Being physically active, whether it be taking a walk, gardening, going for a bicycle ride or whatever you choose to do, is an outlet to help you manage your stress. It is a positive coping skill with perks
Physical activity triggers the production of those feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins. Manufactured in the brain, and other parts of the human body, they help to reduce your perception of pain. Perhaps you have heard of the “runner’s high?” After a bout of physical activity, that positive feeling and energy you experience may be due to the release of endorphins. So, the next time you start to think that you may “skip” that walk or decide to not be active in some way, remind yourself of how good you felt after your last physical activity endeavor. And though it may be hard to get started, you know the end result will be worth it.
Thought collection. Giving yourself a physical activity “time-out” from your stressful situation may go a long way to help you collect your thoughts. Have you ever noticed the amount of brainstorming you do when you are on one of your walks? If you are having a particularly stressful day, perhaps your boss has given you even more projects to take care of in addition to your already jammed packed day, instead of allowing the overwhelming multitude of tasks to take you down (mentally/physically), take the time out to go for a walk to clear your mind, brainstorm approach methods and begin to develop a game plan on how to manage your day. The win-win in this scenario is you reap the benefits of being physically active while taking control of your stress which will ultimately allow you to be more productive and efficient with your work. Collecting your thoughts while being physically active a great way to manage and reduce stress.
Meditation in action. Meditation is a great way to manage stress by making a mind-body connection. Many of us may think of the classic forms of mediation such as focusing on your breathing or employing a mantra to concentrate. However, through repetitive movements such as walking, running, swimming, dancing or anything that incorporates bodily repetition, movement meditation may help bring a sense of calm and concentration. Your movement and breathing during these activities act as a mantra that brings about a sense of control and calmness. Another win-win scenario incorporating physical activity as a stress reliever
Sleep improvement. Ever notice when you are stressed your sleep patterns may be disrupted? Tossing and turning, waking up thinking about issues or harping on the same issue over and over again. Adequate sleep is necessary for healthy functioning. A benefit of physical activity is sleep improvement. According to the National Sleep Foundation “Sleep experts recommend exercising at least three hours before bedtime, and the best time is usually late afternoon. Exercising at this time is beneficial because body temperature is related to sleep. Body temperatures rise during exercise and take as long as 6 hours to begin to drop. Because cooler body temperatures are associated with sleep onset, it’s important to allow the body time to cool off before sleep.” (http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/diet-exercise-and-sleep) Sleep is after all a vital component in achieving good health.
Positive Self-Esteem. When you feel good about yourself you are more equipped to handle stress. Being physically active on a regular basis elicits improved feelings of self-worth and the “can do” attitude. When your body feels better, through physical activity, your mind feels better and stress is more easily handled.
Bottom line, we will never be able to fully escape stress or stressful situations. Through a conscious decision to build up your arsenal of positive coping mechanisms you will be much more apt to handle situations as they develop. Physical activity and your decision to make it a regular part of your day will give you a “leg up” on those stressful situations with improved clarity and coping. So get out there and be active!
For more information about the 2010 Stress in America survey methodology click here.