Exercise to fight stress and anxiety; how a workout can work your mind into a more relaxed state.
The modern world, with all its positive advances, doesn’t come without side effects. Stress and anxiety being one of the most common hidden extras that an incredible number of people suffer from globally. Thankfully, we are now able to identify and diagnose issues such as these and discover ways in which to combat these overwhelming conditions.
Initially, hearing that exercise can help to relieve stress sounds like an oxymoron, in that you would think putting extra strain on our bodies and minds would induce further depths of despair. However, quite the contrary; it is studied, tried, tested and proven that regular exercise can in fact reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.
It is a known fact that exercise is good for us, yet trying to fit it into a busy schedule can often add more stress. Yet, we cannot impress enough how important it is to carve out this time for yourself to achieve a better level of wellness and balance.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be intense or lengthy exercise in order to have positive effects; virtually any form of exercise can provide relief and become a necessary part of your stress management.
How does exercise relieve stress and anxiety?
Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, it brings remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your heart, and your spirits. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress.
Physical activity increases the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.
Post-exercise you will feel an immediate sense of relief from your regular stresses and strains. Your mind has focussed on your body for the time you were in motion and taken away from any problems or issues which previously affected your thoughts.
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.
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.
All of these direct benefits through exercise can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.
How to get started and things to consider
Baby Steps: The best advice is not to run before you can walk, literally! Take it slow and build up your routine as you improve. Don’t start exercising seven days a week for two hours a day for example, if you feel you aren’t fit and haven’t exercised in a while. You’ll only end up feeling deflated, or even damaged. And this, in turn, could set you back rather than put you on an inspired path.
Do what you enjoy: Take up a sport or leisure activity that you enjoy and find pleasure in, rather than doing something that is completely new and over-challenge yourself. You want to feel motivated to exercise because you enjoy it, not fearful of the task.
Location: Look into local classes, clubs, groups etc. to find out what is available in your area, if you have to travel far to get your exercise done it will not only limit your exercise time but also you may be more likely to miss it. This can also prove costly and demotivate you. Also, include activities that can be done anywhere: walking, running, stretching, cycling, etc. The less equipment and time needed to get going the more time and opportunity you have to actually do it.
Partner up: it always helps to have someone you exercise with for motivational purposes, also you’ll be less likely to skip it as you’ll be letting someone else down (apart from yourself!). As well as this it is rewarding to be able to share your experiences, progression or even desperation with someone else.
Weekly Planner: make sure you add your chosen activities to your diary in advance so that it becomes part of your routine rather than something you try to add in if you have time. A weekly planner is a great way to incorporate and achieve sufficient time allocation to exercise.
Don’t give up: you’ll need to maintain whatever level of exercise you manage to achieve, so starting small, as advised, really helps. However, don’t overdo it as you build up as you’ll want to have a routine which you can stick to. When you get moments of ‘can’t be bothered’ try to find that thing which motivated or inspires you. Call a friend or colleague who you could take a brisk walk with, or go for a run, or take a class with.
Stick at it: it is even harder to begin again once you stop. A good way to avoid feeling demotivated is to give yourself goals, and set new ones once you achieve them. Consistently working towards something gives you that extra push you need to keep at it.
Change it up: keeping a variety of activities helps to prevent you feeling stale and tired of any particular one. Also, vary the levels at which you exercise, for example, some days you may take part in intense cardio, so another day take it down to a soothing yoga class or a short, brisk walk.
Any exercise is better than none: if you can’t fit more than ten minutes in on a particular day, use those ten minutes, don’t just not bother, it still has the desired effect. A quick ten minute walk, run or stretch is still exercise and will still have a positive outcome. Regular breathing exercises can also reduce stress, these take minutes to achieve.
To sum it up:
Few things are more stressful than illness. Many forms of exercise reduce stress directly, and by preventing bodily illness, exercise has extra benefits for the mind. Regular physical activity will lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol, and reduce your blood sugar. Exercise reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancers, osteoporosis and fractures, obesity, depression, and even dementia (memory loss). Exercise slows the ageing process, increases energy, and generally prolongs life.
Exercising as a way to reduce stress or combat anxiety can only come with a positive outcome; exercise is essential to our well-being, it keeps us healthy and supple, it also makes us feel good. Other things which make us feel good are not particularly healthy – such as overindulging or taking medication, drugs, alcohol, an adrenaline rush. Most of these are temporary fixes which have knock on negative effects. Exercise is the natural, healthy, free (mostly) option; it seems like a no-brainer.
Strength of mind is exercise, not rest.
Exercise for Health & Wellness – get qualified!
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences we offer quite a few exercise related courses – all of which, after successful completion of the coursework and examination, result in a diploma which is accredited in over 26 countries. Add these to your portfolio if you are already a qualified therapist – or educate yourself for your own benefit!
- Exercise for Health & Wellness – a very comprehensive overview of exercise and the ‘key factors’ associated with the mental and physical benefits of physical activity.
- Sport & Exercise Nutrition – an extensive overview of nutrition and its relationship to health and exercise, designed to give positive nutritional advice for everyone involved in any type of regular exercise.
- Sports Psychology & Dynamics – an in-depth introduction to the theory behind mind power and sport, including self-motivation, positive belief strategies, developing the ‘winner’ attitude, stress control, visualisation and other effective strategies.
- Yoga – this course includes a detailed routine, which is easy to follow, bringing the benefits of “relieving stress” and “clearing the mind”.
If these courses don’t interest you – visit our A-Z listing of Holistic Therapy Courses – we have over 60 to choose from!