There are so many reasons for us to feel stressed out. It could be a bad day at work, an argument with someone, ill health, and more. A 2018 report states that chronic stress is a national epidemic in the US – with almost a third of those surveyed said that they visited a doctor for a stress-related health issue. In the same year, 73% of working adults in Canada reported experiencing some level of stress.
Fast forward to 2021, and it’s no surprise that the stress levels have increased. A poll conducted by the Harris Poll, on behalf of the American Psychological Association, reveals just how stressed everyone is, especially parents.
Such high levels of stress can be dangerous. Stress has been linked to a number of health problems, such as headaches, heartburn, risk of heart attack, insomnia, high blood sugar, increased depression, and high blood pressure. This is due to certain hormones – adrenaline and cortisol, to be specific – being released by our bodies when we encounter a stressful situation.
Most of us can address stress by making small adjustments in our everyday lives. One of the best ways to combat stress is by taking part in exercise and sports. Perhaps you’re wondering, “How is physical activity related to stress?” Exercising can be used to metabolize the excessive stress hormones and restore your body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state. This can range from playing a tennis match or doing yoga to just taking a stroll in your neighborhood. The benefits of physical activity, in general, are manifold. It’s no secret that exercising is good for your health! By exercising, we keep ourselves in good condition – both body and mind. Let’s delve more into detail.
How does physical activity help reduce stress?
Exercising helps manage your stress hormones and regulates other processes in your body. It encourages feelings of relaxation and calmness while balancing the different chemicals within you. It’s an automatic mood lifter and a healthy way to spend time.
What else are the benefits of stress management through physical activity? Here are a few:
It feels good – Exercising releases ‘happy hormones’ known as endorphins. These are the same hormones that are released when we eat chocolate. Do an aerobic activity, like playing squash or going on a hike, to release these happy hormones. Doing cardio is also a good way to release endorphins.
Your mind calms down – Since you’re working your body, your mind tends to start focusing only on your present activity. All the buzz and noise in your mind stops. Go for a swim and let your brain take a break. It’ll keep away anxious thoughts. This is true for something as calming as yoga. It’s just as valid for a rousing game of football.
It’s good for your heart – Exercise is known to be good for cardiovascular health. It allows more oxygen to enter your bloodstream. Go for a jog and improve your blood and air circulation.
Helps your other organs, too – Exercising is good for your digestive system, immunity, and a host of other body parts. You could try gymnastics, Zumba, or learn a new dance form from YouTube!
Sometimes, there are certain effects of stress on physical activity and exercise. Feelings of hopelessness can act like weights around our ankles. It can feel hard getting out of bed on some days, forget going for a 6-mile run. There may even be nights where you can’t go to sleep just because anxiety has pumped up your heart-rate. We don’t talk about it enough, but there are quite a few effects of stress on physical activity. But we have to start somewhere. And if you know how physical activity can help you deal effectively with stress, it may be easier for you to take the required recovery measures. The first step to recovery is to identify the sources of stress. Find the root of the problem, and you’ll be able to nip it. There can be many different sources of stress, including work tension, family fights, feelings of powerlessness in an unhealthy environment, worry for the safety of your loved ones, and many more.
If you’re able to figure out what are the major sources of stress in your life, you’ll be able to take affirmative action. Is it a physical source of stress that’s gotten to you? Or is it something psychological? Are you building castles in the air and worrying about things that may never actually happen? Or are there actual people in your life who are intentionally causing you to worry? If you can figure out what is the main source of stress in your life, you’ll be able to bring in some peace.
Identify the sources of stress in your life
Look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses.
Sometimes, stress is related to the fear of aging or complications arising from illnesses. There can be a situation where someone close to you is suffering from illness, and it’s up to you to take care of them. In fact, a report by the American Psychological Association (APA) stated that more than half of caregivers feel overwhelmed by the amount of care their family members need.
Arguments between family members can lead to stress, as well, especially if they’re based on political, religious, or personal beliefs. When we cannot relate to people that we care for, we can feel emotionally distressed.
In such situations, it’s best to clearly communicate our fears and tensions with a loved one or a close friend. Having a shoulder to lean on can be therapeutic.
The death of a loved one is also a major trigger. So are abusive relationships. These are best handled by going for therapy and talking it out with a guidance counselor.
One of the biggest stressors includes financial worries. Job stress and work-life balance in the workplace can lead to feelings of failure or anxiety about the future. The impact of stress on work-life balance is such that it may lead you to push yourself to the limit. You might be motivated to earn more or fight feelings of worthlessness. But it’s important to maintain healthy job stress and work-life balance. If you don’t, stress will eventually affect both your personal life and work-life both. But you might be thinking, “How to balance the stress of work and life?” It’s actually a lot easier than you think. And it’s important as work-life balance and stress management go hand in hand.
To lead a balanced stress-free life, try inculcating healthy eating habits. A good diet for stress management plays an important role in keeping stress away. How does diet affect stress? Well, our gut health has been linked to our mental health. Since the brain and our stomachs are connected, whatever happens, is bound to affect the other. Additionally, a lack of vitamins B12 and D3 has been linked to feelings of depression and anxiety.
How does a healthy diet reduce stress? By eating food that is nutritious and contains enough roughage, such as fruits and nuts. It’ll help you get enough Vitamin B12 and D3. And these are responsible for many neurological functions. You can give yourself a boost of endorphins with the occasional dark chocolate, too! By maintaining a healthful diet during times of stress, you’ll be increasing your levels of tranquility.
Improving your ability to handle stress
Try to raise your sense of empathy. By connecting to others, you’ll be able to relate more to the people around you. In case your feelings of anxiety are getting out of hand, try to recognize when you need more help. There is no shame in reaching out to a professional therapist. If anything, it’s a responsible and mature decision to make.
You should also have some 'me time.' Take out an hour every day and spend some time with yourself. This will help you figure out yourself better and learn more about your fears, desires, and boundaries.
Limit alcohol and caffeine
It can be easy to stifle our sorrows with a few drinks, but that is not at all advisable. Does alcohol relieve stress? Many would say it does. Alcohol is a depressant that helps people numb out anxious thoughts. But drinking interferes with a lot of chemical processes in our brain, and this can lead to heightened levels of stress once the high wears off. So, asking “does alcohol stress the body?” is a better question, and the answer is yes, it does. Reports have shown that alcohol consumption messes with our sleep patterns. And lack of sleep is a major stressor. Another stimulant that messes with our sleep is caffeine. People tend to binge on caffeine throughout the day, and this interferes with their sleep patterns, too.
Make time for fun and relaxation
Aside from everything else, a major stress reliever is having fun! How does having fun relieve stress, you ask? Well, it releases those same feel-good hormones we keep talking about in this article – endorphins! A good joke, a nice movie, and indulging in physical activities, such as playing sports, are all great things to do when stressed out. These can help you manage stress in even the most difficult situations. But don’t get stressed over trying to beat stress – just take a deep breath, relax, make some time for yourself, and go out for a walk. You’ll feel better in a flash.
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