managing stress

Sweat out the stress

Managing Your Stress

Part Three: Embracing Unavoidable Uncertainties

Topic: naturally stressing your body

One of the best ways to deal with life’s stressful uncertainties is with exercise. If you’ve read the blog before, you know that I’m a huge proponent of exercise (particularly running). It’s not just useless hype, though, so don’t roll your eyes at another fitness freak preaching the benefits of exercise.

To keep it brief, I’ll only focus on two major benefits and how they relate to managing your stress.

First of all, exercise is a great way to take back some control. Last week I talked about crises occurring. Oftentimes, crises are out of your control. Sure, if they happen directly to you, you can control how you respond, but you can’t control the crises themselves. And if crises happen to those who you are close to, you often have even less control. When situations feel out of your control but are impacting your life, you feel the stress; you sit by helplessly — passively even — as the stress consumes you.

While you may not be in control of a crisis, you are in control of the choice to exercise. When it feels like everything is crumbling around you, it can feel great to take time for yourself; it can feel great to push — and naturally stress — your body. You’ll feel powerful lifting heavy weights, running hard, swimming as fast as you can, etc. You’ll feel in control of your body, and, oftentimes, exercise will also help you feel more in control of your emotions toward a crisis, which is the second big benefit.

exercise stress

When I talked last week about a family member being in the hospital during my three-week winter class, I didn’t really mention how powerless I felt. All I could do was make sure that I was at the hospital every night, but that was it. I was constantly on edge worrying about my family member, and I felt the stress daily.

Luckily, as a dedicated runner, I had a run each morning to help me push out some of my stress. I channeled all my emotions into my runs, pushing faster and harder than usual. It was therapeutic to be able to move my emotions out of my head, down to my legs, and onto the pavement. With each slap of my foot on the ground, I felt some relief.

run stress

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise is a great stress reducer because it:

  • increases endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals that your brain produces when you exercise. So exercising when stressed is basically a way to self-medicate (a very healthy way!).
  • is a form of meditation even if you’re not actually choosing meditation or yoga as your form of exercise. Not only does exercise allow you to channel your emotions, it also requires focus. When you’re focusing on the task at hand, those emotions often evaporate after a few minutes. You can also choose to use the time to meditate on your emotions, sorting out why you feel a certain way and thinking about ways to combat your stress.
  • improves your overall mood because exercise produces endorphins, gives you a sense of control, and can help you sleep better (and usually when stressed your sleep is disrupted).

So again, as this series is all about managing stress, one of the best ways to do so is to combat stress with stress. What does that mean? Combat stress that is out of your control with stress that is in your control. Stress your body naturally with exercise so that it’s too tired to be further beaten down by stress from a crisis. Use exercise to take out your anger, sadness or hopelessness; use stress in a positive, healthy way.

Do you like to exercise when you’re stressed out? Do you feel like sometimes stress can actually make you exercise harder and better?

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