Fitness and Stress: How to Use Exercise to Reduce Anxiety
Stress can wreak havoc on your health but unfortunately it is an unavoidable part of life. In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, seven out of ten adults in the US say they experience stress or anxiety daily, and most say it interferes at least moderately with their lives.
Stress and life pretty much go hand in hand, so learning to manage how it affects you is an important. According to a recent Anxiety and Depression Association of America online poll, some 14 percent of people make use of regular exercise to cope with stress. Others reported talking to friends or family (18 percent); sleeping (17 percent); watching movies or TV (14 percent), as well as eating (14 percent) and listening to music (13 percent).
Of these coping strategies, it’s exercise that is most commonly recommended by doctors. Within the exercise strategy, walking, running, and yoga rated among the top ways to exercise to destress.
What happens when you’re stressed?
You’ve probably heard of your body’s fight or flight response. This evolutionary response which shoots adrenaline through the body, had a purpose thousands of years ago when you may have needed to out run or out smart a predator.
Now, the stress that we experience on our daily commutes, at the office, or a pesky notification on your smartphone doesn’t need the same response as physically fighting or fleeing a dangerous situation. Unfortunately, our bodies still react with the same chemicals which can wreak havoc on our health.
According to the Hormone Health Network, adrenaline is an important part of your body's ability to survive, but sometimes the body will release the hormone when it is under stress but not facing real danger. When no danger is present, that extra energy has no use, and this can leave the person feeling restless and irritable. Excessively high levels of the hormone, due to stress without real danger, can cause heart damage, insomnia, and a jittery, nervous feeling.
How can exercise help?
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise has some direct stress-busting benefits:
- Exercise releases endorphins. These are your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. While this feeling is often known as a runner’s high, a rousing game of tennis or a nature hike can do the same thing.
- Exercise helps you remain calm. After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you'll find your focus shifts from the day's irritations to your body's movements. As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything you do.
- Exercise puts you in a good mood. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, it can relax you, and it can lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety.
Getting your sweat on is a great way to destress. Find something you love and something that makes you feel good on the inside and the outside. Try a yoga or spin class, work with a Trainer, or meet up with friends for a racquetball game or spa session. As you can see, you’ll be doing your mind, body and soul a whole lot of good.