If you’ve ever noticed how much better you feel after moving, you’ve experienced the link between exercise and stress relief. Even something as simple as 10 minutes of gentle yoga or a walk around the block can help you feel calmer. That does not mean you have to spend an hour working up a heavy sweat, either. All it really means is that exercise helps you deal with stress in a way that has almost instant relief in times of anxiety.
The irony of this is that when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or stressed, the last thing you feel like doing is moving. I know that when I hit burnout point, all I ever wanted to do after getting through a day of work is head to the couch to read, play Sims 3 or watch something mindless. Although this felt easier at the time, it did not do my stress levels much good at all. If anything, the less I moved, the worse I felt.
I won’t lie and pretend that I discovered the magical link between exercise and stress relief during those dark days. Sadly, it took me a lot longer to work this out (and it wasn’t like it was a brand new concept, either). Eventually, though, I started getting myself off that couch and I started doing some yoga again and I started walking, doing home workouts and even jogging. When I began to notice how much better I felt, I wished I had found a way to get off that couch.
The Link Between Exercise and Stress Relief
How exactly do exercise and stress relief play off each other? More importantly, how does exercising help to reduce stress? Here are some of the ways that moving can ease stress and anxiety.
- Increase feel-good hormones. Exercise helps your body release all those feel-good hormones that lift the mood naturally. When your body releases endorphins, you feel calmer and less anxious. This makes things feel easier to deal with and gives you the breathing room you need to keep going.
- Get the heart rate up (in a good way). Movement (even gentle movement) helps to increase your heart rate. When you get blood pumping and flowing into your system, you start to work up a bit of a sweat. Even if you are only taking a short work, this can help you feel calmer. It also helps you focus on movement rather than letting your brain go into overdrive.
- Increase energy levels. If you have ever taken a fun workout class at gym, danced around your living room or done any other type of movement that feels natural and easy, you will likely feel great afterwards. Remember being a kid and feeling free enough to bounce all over the place? That’s what you need in your life. It will give you the energy you need to keep stress at bay.
- Force you out of a rut. Moving and getting into a healthy routine is the best way to get out of a rut. I know all too well how tough this one can be. Once you force yourself to get up and do something different, that does not involve lying on the couch, you will be glad… I promise.
- Get you out of the house. Finally, exercise can also get you up and about, which helps to beat stress in numerous ways. You may try a group class and meet people. You may take a walk around your neighbourhood and take in the trees, flowers and sunshine. You may head out for a hike with friends or try something you haven’t done before. Getting out of the house is a good way to get out of your head for a while. This, in turn, helps you clear your mind.
Exercising might not become a habit overnight. You may have to make an effort at first. You may not really even enjoy it initially. Give it time, be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to let go, and you will start to see how the link between exercise and stress relief works.