Everyone reaches points in their life when they feel stressed out. Maybe they’re anxious, or worried about current and future events. But how do we deal with these moments? You can try many different “destressing” tactics. Everything from taking a nap, to spending a night out at the bar with some friends. While these things can help you to feel better in the moment, nothing has the long-term benefit that you get from exercise, why is this?
We know that regular physical activity has a range of health benefits. Everything from the heart and circulatory system, to food digestion relies on staying active to function properly. Our stress response systems need us to take part in regular activity as well!
Anxiety and stress are controlled, partly by the central nervous system, and partly by the endocrine system. When you’re exposed to something that stresses you out, the hypothalamus in the brain gets going and signals the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol . When the situation that the brain is detecting goes away, this response should disappear.
Now, in our modern society, it’s not just once in a while that we find ourselves exposed to something that triggers a stress response. If you find it easy to manage the stressors in your life, then well done! But many people out there find that stress is a regular issue in their lives.
Whether you’re running late for work, freaking out about an upcoming date, or maybe cutting it close on the rent. These are all things that add anxiety to our lives. If you don’t have a way of mitigating the effects of the stressors you’re faced with, they can have a negative effect on your overall health.
So, how can we avoid letting the stress build up to the point where we’re getting beaten down? Well, one great way is to maintain a regularly active lifestyle.
Before you say “I don’t have time, I have to get to the things that are stressing me out first!” you’re actually way more proactive and productive when you regularly exercise.
Why is this? When you exercise, it drives blood flow to the brain, which increases alertness. There’s also the added benefit of an increase in dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine which all help to elevate your mood. Exercise even increases your cognitive ability and problem-solving functions . All of these together end up making it much easier to tackle any problem or stressor that is bringing you down.
What’s more amazing than just the benefits, is the fact that it only takes 5 minutes of activity to see these results (which increase further as your bout of activity continues). So, if you’re feeling stressed out, get out there and go for a quick jog, get a few rounds of walking up some stairs, or maybe do few sets of squats and push ups wherever you are. It literally only takes 5 minutes!
Helps Reduce Anxiety
Now, what if you’re someone who’s developed an anxiety-related disorder? Well, for anxiety and panic disorders, there are a range of benefits that stem from different levels of activity.
When a person with these disorders engages in vigorous physical activity it can be considered to fall under the title of exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is a type of treatment where a person is repeatedly exposed to a trigger with the knowledge that this will lessen the effects of said trigger over time. With vigorous activity the heart rate is elevated, which can lead to certain stress responses e.g. Panic/anxiety attacks; evidence suggests that over time these stress responses will decrease in frequency and severity.
Of course, it’s best to speak to a healthcare professional, and get their opinion on your specific situation.
When engaging in any level of activity endorphins are produced, which help with reduced perception of pain, increases in sleep quality and ability, and reduced feelings of stress. These are all shown to be contributors in reducing the negative effects of panic/anxiety disorders. Although most people experience benefits from physical activity, researchers agree that it may not be 100% mentally beneficial to those with anxiety and panic disorders; like all forms of therapy the results may vary. With this in mind, there is no dispute over the physical benefits of leading an active lifestyle and therapists suggest being active if at all possible.
If you’re just starting to implement your healthy active lifestyle, it’s good to start out easy. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states that there are notable differences in stress levels and demeanor after as little as 5 minutes. They also express that a good initial objective for regular exercise should be 3-4 sessions per week ranging between 20-30 minutes in duration of moderate aerobic physical activity . This is a good start, but eventually you want to aim towards hitting at least one 30-minute session a day of moderate to vigorous exercise to get the most psychological benefit. Good luck, and hopefully you’ll soon begin to enjoy an active lifestyle as much as we do at GGF!
1. Exercise for Stress and Anxiety
2. Study: Physical Activity and Anxiety: A Perspective from the World Health Survey
Stubbs B et al, 2017, Journal of Affective Disorders
3. Study: Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety
Elizabeth Anderson, Geetha Shivakumar, 2013, Frontiers in Psychiatry
4. Effects of Stress on the Body
5. Exercise Increases Productivity