How exercise can help you manage stress
Imagine picking up a glass of water. It’s not too heavy; you can easily raise the glass and take a sip, clink it with your friends’ glasses or pass it across the table. Now, hold onto that drink for five minutes; it begins to feel heavy.
There are two kinds of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress is positively related to health and well-being; it is short-term and motivates and challenges us. Distress is the experience that stressors are out of our control or there is no end in sight. Also known as ‘stressing out,’ it is related to negative physical, psychological, and behavioural symptoms that worsen over time: elevated blood pressure, weight loss or gain, inability to relax, eating more or less, sleeping too much or too little, turning to negative coping mechanisms…
Exercise is related to both eustress and distress: It is itself a eustressor and can help you manage other stressors. Maximize its benefits as a eustressor by setting goals, challenging you, and trying new things; this creates and is related to health and well-being.
Exercise also helps you cope with other stressors healthfully: it triggers endorphin release, elevates mood, and helps protect against depression.
If you are ‘stressed out,’ introducing or maintaining an exercise routine can help.
A 20-minute walk – especially in nature – is a fail-safe way to lower cortisol, the ‘stress hormone.’ It also reduces subjective perceptions of stress. Aerobic exercise – as little as five minutes! – has anti-anxiety effects; it decreases tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and builds self-esteem. Anaerobic exercise including strength training elevates endorphin production : endorphins are released when muscles are stressed or torn.
Although light to moderate exercise is an effective tool to handle stress, intense exercise can do more harm than good if you are coping with major stressors. At these times, train at moderate intensity: 65 to 75 per cent.
In conclusion, exercise helps to prevent and reduce stress – if used appropriately!
It is a form of eustress which promotes health and well-being and protects against distress by promoting endorphin release and elevating and stabilizing mood. Always remember to schedule rest periods, eat healthfully and heartily, and always listen to your body!
By Manon van Mil
Recent graduate from the Cognitive Science program at Carleton.