Understanding stress and how to manage it with exercise
Studies show that aerobic exercise and mindful movement can help people better manage and cope with stress, here are some tips to try right now.
Everyone experiences stress in some way, shape or form— and during a pandemic like we’re in now, stress and anxiety are even more prevalent and pervasive.
For our own wellbeing, now is the time to reduce and manage stress as best we can.
Let’s break down what stress is, how it manifests in the body and discuss some strategies that will help us cope with stress and restore a sense of control.
What is stress and how does it affect the body?
Stress is defined as the disruption of the body’s homeostasis or equilibrium in response to a real or perceived threat or challenge.
When a person encounters a stressor, the body’s nervous system prepares to respond by producing hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. These hormones result in a cascade of physiological reactions that make up the fight-or-flight response, which is the body’s way of coping with the perceived threat, including:
Stress symptoms may include
- Higher heart and respiration rates
- Higher blood pressure
- Perspiration and increased energy production
- Suppression of immune function (as a result of the increase in cortisol production)
- Difficulty sleeping and fatigue
- Muscle tension
- Irritability and short temper
- Lack of concentration
- Change in dietary habits
Everyone experiences and reacts to stress differently. But if one can find a reasonable way to “actively cope with the stressor,” then they usually perceive more control over the situation.
Source: Stress Relief: The Role of Exercise in Stress Management, American College of Sports and Medicine Health and Fitness Journal (ACSM)
What are some ways to manage stress?
Several studies show that exercise, including aerobic exercise and mindful movement, can help people manage stress by boosting the body’s ‘happy’ hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin.
Exercise can also be used as a break or distraction from stress. Try to keep up with the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. If you don’t have time for an hour-long workout, spread out your ‘exercise breaks’ throughout the day.
Here are some other strategies you can implement right now to manage stress, as recommended by the ACSM:
- Identify your stressors
Can they be eliminated, addressed or minimized in any way?
- Get enough rest
Set regular bed and waking times to prevent fatigue, maintain energy levels and routine
- Improve time management
Set up a time management plan to help you schedule and prioritize tasks. Don’t forget to schedule in your exercise sessions!
- Eat well
Diet changes and overeating can happen when you’re stressed. Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet to prevent unhealthy weight changes and to maintain your energy levels
- Rely on your support network
Talk to your friends and family on the phone or online, stay connected with your communities, and share your feelings with those you love and trust
See more Here’s some specific advice from the World Health Organization on how to deal with COVID-19-related stress for the general public, children and health care workers.
Stay motivated and keep moving with these workout videos
Find all 28 Days of Mindfulness
- A much-needed boost of endorphins
Get free access to our 7-day workout plan on Merrithew™ Connect!
- Working from home?
Don’t forget to breathe and release tension in your shoulders, neck and spine. Take a break with these stretches for better posture that you can do without leaving your desk
- Keep your kids occupied
Get your kids moving with these 10 fun exercises that they can do inside the home or in the backyard
- Wake up your body
Before heading from your bed to the kitchen to your home office, add in a bit of gentle movement to wake up your mind and body. Ease yourself into the day with these Matwork exercises