The Simple Solution to Stress
Problem: Stress is unhealthy. Don’t let it stick around.
Solution: Getting rid of stress is easier than you think. With minimal, relaxing exercise, you can cure stress.
Think of stress as termites. Termites are unwelcome, infectious guests. They crawl underfoot and disturb the comfortable feel of a space. Left unattended, termites can consume an entire building, and then you have a much bigger problem on your hands. But property destruction is not the only termite danger. Some people are allergic to them, even if they don’t know it!
In the same way, stress is problematic on its own, but also leads to further issues. I’m sure you can think of a time when pressures kept piling up one after another. You felt anxious, overwhelmed, and didn’t focus well on any of your tasks. However, what you may not realize, is that stress causes other negative side effects as well. For example, people who are stressed are more prone to:
Repeated colds or infections
High blood pressure
Trouble with memory
Cravings for carbohydrates and sweets
One of the reasons our bodies are more susceptible to these physical health problems when we are stressed is because of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is released in response to stress, and it spikes our energy so we can fight through the stressful situation. It’s a good thing as a short-term reaction to stressors, but can lead to negative health effects when it lasts too long, as is the case when someone is constantly stressed.
See how many other problems follow from stress?
That’s why it’s so important to address the issue. That’s why you can’t just think, “There are always things that stress me out, there’s no point in trying to cure stress.” Stress is more than an annoying feeling; it’s unhealthy. Luckily, all of the problems that stress causes also have the same solution: exercise.
Don’t worry, exercise can be simple. You don’t have to train for a marathon or even buy a gym membership. Your workouts don’t have to be the same every day, as long as you do something. It can be as easy as going for a jog when you get home from work, climbing your stairs a few times, doing some jumping jacks, going for a bike ride, or picking up a new, active hobby like tennis or dancing.
A good goal is to exercise 30 minutes each day. Every 30 minutes of exercise neutralizes 12 hours of stress! I can confidently say that you can manage this, because it doesn’t have to be 30 consecutive minutes. A good practice is to set an alarm to go off every hour. If you get up and move for 5 minutes of every hour for 6 hours, that’s 30 minutes!
I cannot emphasize the importance of exercise enough. Exercise releases anti-stress neurotransmitters, like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine that are important to your mood, memory, and ability to learn. Make the goal right now to do this for yourself! 30 minutes a day could save you from stress and its side-effects.
Committing to exercise is an important element of making it happen. Once you have that in the back of your mind, everything can become exercise. If you can walk to work, that’s excellent. Even if you drive to work, park farther away from the building and walk fast to your door, instead of squeezing into the spot closest to the main entrance. You might even save your car some nicks if you try that. With the goal of being active in the back of your mind, choose to take the family out to do bowling or mini golf instead of seeing the latest movie.
One patient I had, Julie, took a more concrete route. She told me that she hadn’t been feeling well lately, and that she was tired often. When I advised her to exercise in order to feel better, she frowned at me and said, “I don’t know if I have time to commit to regular exercise.”
I explained to her how stress is detrimental to health and should not be ignored. She said, “I suppose I could bring walking shoes to work and use my lunch break to get some exercise in.” Although at the time she seemed reluctant, she later confirmed with me that she had lost weight, her high blood pressure levels had gone down, and that she had experienced a surge of energy from her new routine.
“Exercising regularly helped me tremendously.”
Although she must continue to struggle against stress, now Julie knows what to do about it.
If you don’t believe Julie, maybe you’ll believe this study, taken from the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. The study tested the effects that exercise had on lowering stress levels in people who exercise regularly and people with sedentary habits. “This study…[suggests] that regular exercisers are more resistant to the emotional effects of stress…”
Ok, you might say, exercise helps with anxiety and emotional effects, but what about the physical side effects? Well, the study goes on to say, “…[exercise] may protect them against diseases related to chronic stress burden.” Does that help? The study is showing that exercise not only makes you feel better, but it protects you from the physical side effects that come from stress, listed in the beginning of the article.
The study reinforces that exercising regularly is key to reducing stress levels. I hope you take this to heart, and save yourself a lot of stress!
Action Plan: Right now, take out your calendar and mark down when and what you are going to do each day to get your 30 minutes of exercise in. You could even start right now by getting up and doing some jumping jacks!
Sales AR, Fernandes IA, Rocha NG, et al. “Aerobic exercise acutely prevents the endothelial dysfunction induced by mental stress among subjects with metabolic syndrome: the role of shear rate.” Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2014 Apr 1;306(7):H963-71.
Hallgren MA, Moss ND, Gastin P. “Regular exercise participation mediates the affective response to acute bouts of vigorous exercise.” J Sports Sci Med. 2010 Dec 1;9(4):629-37.
Childs E, de Wit H. “Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults.” Front Physiol. 2014 May 1;5:161.
Chronic stress puts your health at risk, by Mayo Clinic Staff, April 21, 2016 http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037?pg=1