International Stress Awareness Week has just concluded. This annual event focuses on stress management and reducing the stigma associated with stress. Around 33% of Americans report experiencing extreme stress, and 77% experience stress that impacts their physical health (stats from The Recovery Village.)
There are numerous things you can do to combat stress in your life. Connecting with other people, getting enough sleep, following a healthy diet, minimizing screen time, making time for things you enjoy, and pushing back against unreasonable demands can all help to reduce the amount of stress you feel.
Did you know that exercise can also be tremendously helpful? We all know that keeping fit is good for our bodies, and it can be good for our brains too. Read on to learn how exercise helps to manage stress and how you can use your workouts to improve your mental as well as physical health.
Exercise Releases Endorphins
Endorphins are hormones that help to relieve pain, decrease stress, and contribute to an overall sense of wellbeing. Activities such as laughing, listening to music, eating delicious food, and having sex all release endorphins. Exercise is another great way to get them flowing.
Endorphins are neurotransmitters, which are your body’s messengers. They attach to the reward centers in your brain and help you to feel calm, relaxed, and happy. They can ease symptoms of depression, improve self-image, and even contribute to weight loss.
If you’ve ever experienced a runner’s high, then you have experienced endorphins at work. But any type of exercise, from jogging to hiking to simply dancing around your living room, can release endorphins and help to reduce your stress levels.
Movement Can Be Meditation
When you think of meditation, you might think about the kind that involves sitting still. While this can be beneficial to some people, it is not for everyone. If you prefer to keep moving, then exercising can be a form of meditation in movement.
Here’s how to do it:
Next time you’re working out, try doing so without the aid of distraction techniques such as music or headphones. While these may make your workout feel easier, they can also take you out of the moment and reduce the meditative properties of exercise.
Instead, focus on how you feel. Acknowledge and admire your surroundings. Pay attention to the feel of your workout clothes against your body, weights in your hand, or the road beneath your feet. Pay close attention to how your body feels, too. Do your muscles feel tight or loose? Do you feel any pain or discomfort? How is your breathing? The key is not to be judgemental, but simply to notice and treat every observation as information.
Exercise Can Be Social
While some people prefer to work out alone, exercise can also be a social activity. Connecting with others is a great way to reduce stress, and keeping fit together allows you to bond over a common goal.
So why not grab your partner, a friend, or a family member and go for a run, hike, or bike ride together? You could also join an organized activity, such as a running club, yoga class, or course of dance lessons. Being around others in a supportive atmosphere will lift your mood and put a smile on your face.
Exercise Gives You Confidence
Self-confidence, or how you feel about yourself, is an important aspect of stress management. It empowers you to take control, take care of yourself, and set boundaries with others when necessary. And exercise can improve your self-confidence.
Regular exercise increases awareness of your body and your physical health. If you keep up a regular workout practice, you’ll feel yourself getting fitter and stronger. You will reach goals and achieve things you didn’t think you were capable of. All of this boosts your confidence and self-esteem. Seeing changes in your body, such as weight loss or greater muscle definition, can also help you to feel great about yourself.
Exercise Takes You Out of Your Head
No matter what types of stressors are on your mind, chances are that if you are very stressed, you’re thinking about them almost constantly. This is not good for your mental health or overall wellbeing.
Exercise can help to redirect your focus, grounding you in your body for a while instead of in your head. It distracts your mind and gives you something else to think about. When you’ve finished your session, you might find that you have a different perspective on the stressful situation or at least that you have enjoyed a much-needed reprieve from thinking about it.
This post is provided for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. If you are suffering from chronic stress and it is impacting your health, see your doctor.