Have you ever gone to an event you weren’t really keen on attending but ended up having the time of your life? Exercising when we are stressed feels a bit like that.
When you are stressed out, you don’t feel like getting out of bed and taking a walk or running on the treadmill. But once you get over the initial resistance to working out, your mood lightens, and you feel much better both physically and mentally.
Nothing we do can guarantee that we will be able to keep stress at bay forever. However, developing healthy coping strategies, such as an exercise routine, can help us fare better when under pressure.
Exercises aren’t made equal, and there are some routines that can quickly bring up your energy levels or clear a foul mood within minutes. Smiling is a simple exercise that can instantly lift your spirits and those around you. But how does physical activity reduce stress, and what are the best workouts to immediately feel better?
How Exercise Reduces Stress
Many health practitioners recommend exercise to reduce stress because it offers mental health benefits by lowering our stress hormones. Here’s how that works:
1. Releases Endorphins
A regular exercise program that incorporates physical activity, such as nature hikes or a quick run, is guaranteed to help release endorphins. Endorphins are feel-good hormones released in the brain when we work out.
In addition to triggering a positive feeling, endorphins also lower pain perception. As a result, exercises that help the body release endorphins are great for stress relief, especially in people with anxiety disorders.
2. Reduces Cortisol, the Stress Hormone
Specific exercises, like swimming, can decrease the levels of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone and is responsible for fatigue, skin breakouts, and weight gain in certain areas, such as the face and midsection.
High cortisol is not good for your mental or physical health. Lowering cortisol levels can take many forms. Exercising is one of the fastest ways to get rid of the stress hormone. By sticking to a routine of regular exercise, about 150 – 200 minutes a week, you can effectively lower cortisol levels in your body.
3. Provides Relief From Everyday Worries
Mindful exercises like yoga promote relaxation, which offers relief from everyday worries. By occupying our time with healthy distractions like sweating it out or stretching, we pay less attention to recurring negative thoughts.
Deep controlled breathing exercises also aid in lowering stress levels by slowing down the heart rate and blood pressure, thus reducing stress hormones in our system.
4. Improves Body Image
When we look good, we feel good. Chronic stress affects our well-being, and this can spill over to how we view our bodies. When we work on our physical fitness, we improve our self-confidence and mental fitness. Increased physical benefits such as toned muscles, reduced risk of illness, and increased strength improve our body image.
5. Better Physical Health Translates to Improved Mental Health
Regular physical exercise translates to better and improved health. Exercise is known to lower blood sugar, reduce the risk of high blood pressure and generally improve our immune system.
The Best Exercises For Stress Relief
When we are stressed, it may be hard to accomplish anything. Simple routines like getting to work, cooking a healthy meal, or leaving the house can take so much effort. Exercising may not be on the list of things we want to do.
That’s why it is highly advisable only to do exercises that are easy on you. A simple walk down the stairs and back, or no-jumping repetitive floor exercises, are good enough. The goal is to get moving and reap the benefits of exercising without exerting yourself. You can slowly build up momentum as your stress levels ease down.
Here are some exercises to try out:
Progressive Muscular Relaxation
Stress can manifest in different ways, including tensing muscles. Headaches, back and shoulder aches can be stress manifestations. Progressive muscular relaxation (PMR) helps to ease stress by consciously tensing and relaxing muscles. This technique is highly effective in lowering anxiety levels.
Aerobic exercise or cardio is excellent for stress reduction. A simple walk around your garden or the park can elevate your mood and instantly make you feel better.
Other forms of physical exercise like jogging, dancing, and swimming release endorphins into your system and are the quickest way to elevate depressive feelings.
Stress affects us in more ways than we are probably aware of. When under a lot of pressure, it is hard to stay calm. Anxiety and depression can show up in how we breathe. Shallow rapid breathing and shortness of breath are physical effects of stress.
Breathing exercises manage stress by promoting mindful, slow and deep breathing. These exercises are a great go-to for quick stress relief, especially when out in public. You can practice breathing deeply using the PIE method.
Autoregulation exercises aim to adjust exercise levels to individual capabilities, motivation levels, and performance. When adopting a new exercise program, it pays to tune in to how your body feels and how much exercise you can safely accomplish.
With autoregulation exercises, you avoid exercise burnout or giving up altogether because you bit more than you could chew. Here’s a simple guide to getting started on an autoregulation exercise for stress relief.
Regular physical activity can help in easing stress. However, we may sometimes need more than getting a move on to feel better. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or anxiety, you are not alone. There are many resources, support groups, and mental health professionals to help you manage stress. It is never too late to reach out and talk to someone who cares.