When I was writing the latest blog about SAD ( Seasonal Effective Disorder), which is basically a form of mild depression that can affect people mainly during autumn/winter months, I thought it might be worth giving a closer look to one of the triggers for depression, which is stress. After all, it is something that we have to deal with on a daily basis and on how well we do it depends our well-being and the quality of our life. Ok, so let’s start with a definition of stress.
What is Stress?
According to NHS website, stress is our body’s response to pressures that come from a situation or an event. It floods our brain with stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, that are responsible for triggering a ‘flight or fight’ response, leaving our body in a state of the utmost alertness and readiness to act.
Usually, that kind of response is quite beneficial and/or sometimes even necessary. Without this we would hardly be able to push through many of the difficult and challenging situations e.g. taking a driving test, doing a presentation at a work meeting or even giving birth!
Provided that this is only a temporary state, our bodies quickly come back to normal without any adverse health effects. However, if that kind of response becomes permanent and we constantly live with a high level of tension, we may find that it will eventually make our health, both mental and physical suffer greatly, leading to disease and a reduced quality of life.
Symptoms of stress
There are many different ways that stress can manifest itself but we distinguish two kinds of symptoms.
- Restlessness and insomnia
- Anger and hostility
- Sensation of dread, foreboding and even panic
- Taut facial expressions
- Neck and back pain
- Dry mouth and sensation of a lump in throat
- Clenched jaw muscles that subsequently cause pain
- Intestinal symptoms that range from butterflies to heartburn, cramps and diarrhoea
- Pounding pulse, rapid breathing and hyperventilation, light-headedness and fainting
How exercise can help with stress management?
The root cause of stress is emotional so it would be best to reduce life problems that trigger that symptoms in order to heal the mind. However, it is not possible to eliminate all stressful situations from our lives and that is why stress management should also involve our body as well as our mind. The reason for this is that a relaxed body sends messages to our mind helping it relax too and reduce mental tension. It is simple really…. a relaxed body=relaxed mind. Go to Science Daily to read some more about how exercise ‘reorganises’ your brain.
One of the ways to relax your body is through exercise. It does not only improve metabolism and heart health, significantly reducing the risk of many diseases ( one of the main triggers of stress!), but also has a remarkable capability of exhilarating and relaxing, stimulating and calming all of which are very helpful in fighting stress symptoms. Exercise can relieve the symptoms of anxiety, tension, mild depression that often go hand-in-hand with stress. It can improve the quality of sleep that can be negatively impacted by stress, depression and anxiety.
How does it work?
Physical activity improves your body ability to use oxygen and improves blood flow. Both of them have a great effect on the brain in a way that it facilitates the production of serotonin and endorphins, the good-feel hormones, that are natural painkillers and the ones responsible for the ‘runner’s high’ – a sense of well-being and euphoria that many experience after exercise ( that applies to any kind of exercise, not just running). At the same time, it lowers the production of stress hormones: adrenaline and cortisol.
Moreover, it helps you to take your mind off worries, providing a sense of clarity and calmness.
Repetitive motions involved in exercise make you focus more on your body and be more in the present which is very similar to when you are meditating.
What is more, exercise provides us with an opportunity to get away from it all. You may use it as an excuse to enjoy a bit of solitude and self-care or, quite opposite if you like, to make friends, connect with people and build social networks.
The other factors that can help lift our spirit could be when you notice your waistline shrink or muscles define and you begin to feel much better about yourself, which in turn boosts the feelings of well-being and self-confidence that are so much needed to face all the challenges of life. It makes you stronger and more able to deal with stress.
How to make exercise and stress relief work for you?
Any exercise can be helpful in easing stress by increasing your fitness and boosting self -esteem but don’t think of exercise as just one more thing on to-do list. Choose something that you enjoy doing and you will be more likely to stick with it.
Make a plan, pencil it in your busy schedule and take it from there.
You will be surprised how quickly it will become an enjoyable part of your routine, and with time even something you depend on. If you are completely new to exercise or have a health condition, do not forget to check with your doctor first, who can advise on the frequency and intensity of workouts that will be safe for you.
If you need more information on tackling stress, go to NHS website
Alternatively get in touch with us and come in for a no-obligation chat and we can see if we can make a start on helping you along your journey