Can Exercise Help Manage Stress?

Stress. The body’s fight-or-flight response.

man pushing over boxes of stress

What is Stress?

Stress is the body’s way of responding to a stimulus particularly when it is under a feeling of threat or danger, either real or imagined, the body undergoes an automatic process also known as the fight or flight response.

Stress can be viewed as existing on a spectrum where at one end you have eustress which is manageable levels of stress that can help motivate and drive you out of your comfort zone to complete tasks. At the other end, you have distress, which is essentially the opposite. You’re unable to manage this level of stress and it can lead to you feeling overwhelmed while also triggering other mental health issues.

It is important to recognise when the stress you’re feeling begins to worsen and become overwhelming. When it gets to this point and is left untreated other long term mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, can occur. 

Stress is individually perceived therefore not everyone will feel like others around them when put in the same situation. Be aware of how you’re affected and if you find that the feeling is becoming uncontrollable, it is recommended that you get professional help as soon as possible to avoid the long term effects and health problems that may occur if left untreated.

Effects of Stress on Our Body

When the body is placed in situations where it feels threatened, the nervous system reacts by releasing stress hormones, as well as adrenaline and cortisol, to prepare the body for an emergency. This is why it’s called the body’s fight or flight response as the body is preparing to either fight and relieve the situation or to take flight and leave the situation.

Some physical changes that may occur during this response include:

  • Increased breathing and heart rate
  • Tightened muscles
  • Heightened blood pressure
  • Sharpened senses

However, changes are not limited to only being physical, some mental and emotional changes you may experience also include:

  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks

Benefits of Exercise on Stress

Exercise is known to improve your overall health and sense of well-being however it also has positive effects on feelings of stress in an individual. 

Some ways that exercise can help to relieve stress include:

  • Increasing the release of endorphins

When partaking in exercise, the brain increases its production of endorphins which are feel-good neurotransmitters that essentially make you feel good. With increased endorphins, the body also reduces levels of stress hormones. 

  • Reducing the negative effects of stress while also improving your mood

Regular exercise helps to increase self-confidence and improve your mood while also providing stress relief for your body. Sleep can also be improved as it is commonly disrupted by stress. Improvements in sleep will also ease overall stress levels and provide a sense of control over one’s body and life.

  • Putting your body in a state of meditation in motion

While exercising your brain is put in a state where it is more mindful and aware of the present moment as you’re completing your workout. 

Exercises to Help Combat Stress 

Any exercises that you love doing will work just as well to help you combat stress as long as you’re enjoying yourself. However, if you are looking for recommendations, here are a few that we enjoy doing:

With focus being the key to stress management, yoga is the perfect exercise for this. The combination of deep breathing and concentration allows your body to be in a relaxed rather than stressed state.

Seeing the physical changes in your body and confirming that you’re indeed getting stronger by lifting a heavier weight that you did last week is such a boost for your self-esteem and confidence. 

Have you ever wanted to hit something when you’ve gotten stressed or mad? If you had a boxing bag, you’d be able to do this as much as you want. Not only is it perfect for burning stress but you’ll also be getting in a solid workout.

  • Dancing

Is there anything more enjoyable than playing your favourite song and moving to the beat? You’ll definitely be getting a solid workout in and also relieve any feelings of stress you may be having. 

  • Swimming

This full body workout is amazing for your cardiovascular system and also has an element of resistance training as water is denser than air. Submerging in water also provides a sense of relaxation and comfort for some therefore making it even more effective at stress reduction.

All these exercises can be performed either individually or with others which will help to form a sense of connectivity and support amongst you and your peers, which would assist in lowering feelings of anxiety. 

Get Started on that Exercise Program

It’s one thing to want to exercise, it’s another to actually get started. Here are our tips and tricks.

1. Set SMART goals

SMART goals are - specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-limited. 

By writing down these goals you’ll be able to hold yourself accountable and also see what you’re working towards.

Deep dive into SMART goals here.

2. Find a workout buddy

Having a workout buddy will keep you accountable and motivated to ensure you don’t skip any days. By making plans with your buddy this will bring a level of commitment into your workouts and it can also make them more fun.

3. Have a versatile routine

By switching up your exercise routine once in a while, this will make it more enjoyable and keep you motivated to keep going. 

4. Start slow and progressively build up the intensity

If you’ve never worked out before, starting slow will keep you active while also ensuring you don’t injure yourself. If you’re stuck working during the day, be sure to take the time to take a break and move around to stretch your muscles. Once you become familiar with different exercises, start to ramp up the intensity to keep the workout exciting and beneficial to your lifestyle. 

If you’re ever feeling stressed again, keep in mind that any physical activity can help you unwind and you can always reach out for professional help when you need it 😊

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