Stress is an everyday experience for most people, ranging from early morning rising from the bed to start the days’ activities, to catching up with a bus, meeting up with a deadline at work, taking the kids to school and making ends meet. Aside from strenuous physical activities, stress can also come from emotional (e.g. a heartbreak, depression, anxiety, grief, guilt, low self-esteem), and health (e.g. a chronic disease) factors. So what really is stress?
Stress is basically how the brain and the body respond to any challenging, demanding, threatening, uncomfortable condition. It is also the response to a sudden change or trend, it could have emotional, physical and mental repercussions on the person. Signs of one being stressed include forgetfulness, aches, tiredness, weight loss or gain, increased heart rate, insomnia, blood pressure rise etc. Work, school, relationships, finances, family, rigidity, pessimism and change are attributing factors to stress.
Stress can be relieved in diverse ways; some are listed below:
- Healthy eating (balanced diet)
- Supplements (e.g. lemon balm, green tea)
- Soothing Scents (lavender, rose, orange blossom)
- Spend time with loved ones
Exercising is a common stress reliever, but the major issue is people are too stressed and busy to exercise, they see exercising as a form of hard work, this is not true as exercise has stress-relief benefits:
First, it pumps the endorphins: endorphins are hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system which have physiological effects. Physical activities bump the production of endorphins, which are referred to as ‘feel-good neurotransmitters’. It can be triggered by running, going hiking, and playing an arousing game of tennis.
Also, exercising serves as a form of meditation in motion. After a cool swim in the pool or a game of volleyball, the mind and body is in a form of order as one is refreshed and all energy is channelled towards the body’s movements. Stress in any form (anxiety or tension) is shed through the physical activity and a resulting calmness and energy are experienced.
Another factor is that exercising reduces cortisol (the body’s stress hormone), improves one’s mood, it creates a form of self-confidence, relaxation and lower symptoms accumulated from stress. It also improves sleep.
FORMS OF EXERCISE THAT RELEASES STRESS
Most times, rather than crashing when one is stressed, its best to first ‘sweat it out ‘, bathe to freshen up, before having your beauty sleep. Some practicable exercises that relieve stress are discussed below:
- YOGA: this is a form of exercise that involves strength training, deep breathing and mental focus. The effects of these activities are improved resilience and flexibility, physical tension relief, body relaxation response, reduced blood pressure, and mental balance. Focus is key in managing stress, and this is practised in yoga classes. The different poses practised requires concentration, hence the mind is focused on the task being carried out, rather than worry.
- TAI CHI: this exercise is of Chinese origin, and it links gentle, fluid and physical movement to breathe. It is referred to as ‘meditation in motion’, it increases flexibility and energy, muscular strength, immunity, creates better balance, restful sleep and cardiovascular fitness. Tai chi promotes focus like yoga but do not have intermittent pauses between the poses, it is a mental absorption in which all worries fade.
- WALKING: this is the easiest form of exercising and it reduces a lot of stress. Frequent walks reduce health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure & cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. It also reduces tension from muscles, deepens breathing and quiets the nervous system, walking also reduces weight, this is done by increasing the frequency, duration and intensity of the walk, e.g. taking a hilly road for a longer period.
- GARDENING: this is referred to as low-impact workout. Weeding can burn 200 calories of fat per hour and hauling of dirt can burn up to 600 calories an hour. It creates a form of refreshing as it connects one with nature, and promotes relief from acute stress.
- DANCING: this exercise form has physical, mental and emotional gains. It is an outlet for self-expression and creativity. It also allows one to interact and connect with other people, dancing reduces stress, boosts happiness, improves grace and agility and challenges the brain as new steps are taught and learnt. Researches have shown that dances have less risk of getting dementia. Dance styles in salsa, ballroom, swing or breakdance; these dance styles involve stretching the muscles, increases flexibility and fitness,
- TENNIS: this is a great cardio exercise. It triggers the brain to release endorphins and creates a form of peace and satisfaction. Tennis also connects one to others as it cannot be played alone. It prevents stress related health issues such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
- PILATES: this exercise form was developed to reduce ill health. It involves a series of exercises that lays emphasis on body awareness, core strength and proper alignment. It strengths and lengthens muscles and creates physical harmony. Mental concentration is necessary to keep you in the moment, with little or no room for worry; it is efficient for reducing back, neck and any other part of the body experiencing pain as a result of stress.
- RUNNING/BIKING/CYCLING/HIKING: out-door activities such as long distance running, cycling, hiking and biking provides a change in scenery and a breath of fresh air, clearing the mind. Climbing high mountains also creates an atmosphere of focus, and stretches the muscles, relieving one of any form of stress.
- BOXING (KICKBOXING): this is also another major way of reducing stress, all of the emotions (anger, guilt, fear) and stress are channelled towards the bag. It also involves controlled punching and kicking movements which stretches the hand and leg muscles. It basically gives an instant boost, helps to improve balance, flexibility and coordination. It’s an outlet to release energy,
- CIRCUIT TRAINING: this alternates weight training moves with cardio. It pumps the body’s endorphin level and improves one’s mood.