Is this the most stressed you’ve ever been in your life? Many of you reading this will say, yes, 2021 and 2022 have been Peak Stress. And it’s no surprise. We don’t need to remind you of all the global issues that have caused unbelievable stress. And things in your own life might be super stressful, too.
The great news is that you have access to an amazing stress-buster that is natural, fun, and widely available. How do we know that about you? Because you’re here, on the Hussle blog.
That thing is exercise. So let’s talk about how to move your body with some stress relieving activities to look after your mind. Stress-free days are ahead, who’s with us?
What is stress?
Isn’t it strange how so many different things can cause us to feel stressed? Huge things like bereavement or job loss, smaller things like workload or getting cut up in traffic.
The thing about stress is that it’s a biological response to any stressful stimulus (external or from our own minds). Our mind interprets the thing as a stressor, and sends out a series of compensatory responses. These responses are those oh-so-common feelings of tight chest, racing heart, splitting headache, irritability, tearfulness… the list goes on.
What’s interesting is that the human body gives out a stress response to something very real (a physical threat) or something more abstract (the thought of needing to give a presentation).
Chronic vs acute stress
Back in the day, our caveman ancestors definitely felt stress, but it’s likely that they only experienced stress for short periods of time. Like the time it took to be chased by a woolly mammoth, or fight a rival. That kind of thing. They didn’t experience the ongoing stress of a bad boss or a toxic relationship.
This is the difference between acute (short term) and chronic (long term) stress. Our bodies are set up to deal with short bursts of stress. In fact, that’s what stress is for! When you’re faced with a threat or danger, that stress response gives you the energy and focus to get away or fight.
But when stress is long-term and ongoing, our bodies struggle to handle the constant stream of stress responses. And this is where our health can start to suffer.
Stress hormones and health
When your body perceives any stress (acute or chronic, external or perceived) it will churn out high levels of the stress hormones, including adrenalin and cortisol. If the stress is short-lived, those hormones are helpful. But if it’s ongoing or happens on a regular basis, all that cortisol and adrenalin become a serious health problem.
Our bodies aren’t designed to be flooded with stress hormones on a regular basis. We all know the feeling of adrenalin – racing heart, shaking, sweating, palpitations. Adrenalin elevates your blood pressure and can cause problems with digestion and sleeping. Cortisol increases sugars (glucose) in your bloodstream, suppresses your digestive system, and even messes with your immune system response.
How does fitness help with stress?
Hopefully by now you can see that a little bit of healthy stress is useful, but chronic ongoing stress can cause real issues with your sleep, eating habits, digestion, and health. Having your blood pressure sky high and being unable to sleep is no joke!
So how can regular exercise help you reduce stress and manage the unavoidable stuff? There are three things to talk about here – happy hormones, stress management, and your perception of stress!
We’ve talked about the stress hormones, but we need to mention the happy hormones that can help us feel less stressed and more energised. Endorphins are a group of neurotransmitters that increase feelings of wellbeing and can even reduce our perception of pain. Exercise can increase the body’s production of these endorphins, giving you a sense of euphoria and peace. That’s where the phrase runner’s high comes from!
Exercise and physical activity can also help us to manage any existing feelings of stress. We’ve all had a situation where we felt close to crumbling under stress, then went for a walk or did a short workout and felt tons better. That’s what we’re talking about. Exercise is a great way to bring down those stress hormones and help our body and brain have a better outlook. Exercise also has a positive impact on heart health, blood pressure, digestion and immune health, which can counterbalance the negative effects of stress.
One bout of exercise can even reduce your perception of the stress you’re under, which is great if you’re currently dealing with stress that will be sticking around for a while (hello, pandemic!) Going for a walk, run, or bike ride, hitting the gym, doing a home workout, or doing team sport is an amazing way to take the focus off your thoughts and put all that energy into a physical flow state.
We know that regular exercise can help you sleep better, make better food choices, and even lower symptoms of mild anxiety. All of this builds a picture of a happier, healthier human. And isn’t that what we all want?
Many people find that exercise helps them feel more calm, clear headed, and better able to make decisions. Not bad for something that’s free and easily accessible – no prescription needed!
What are some of the top stress relieving activities?
Now you’re fully on board with the exercise as stress-buster idea, you’re probably wondering what kind of stress relieving activities to do. The good news is, it doesn’t matter! Whatever you enjoy (and can do without getting stressed) will be good for you. The important thing is taking time to move your body and disperse those stress hormones.
Walking for stress
Walking is one of the best stress relieving activities because it’s free and you can do it anywhere. You get the added benefits of fresh air, sunlight, and a change of scenery. If you can walk in nature, this is proven to be a huge help with stress and anxiety. But any walking is a calming, almost meditative activity that will help your brain and body deal with stress.
Running, cycling, other cardio
Steady state cardio is wonderful for stress because it’s just the right side of uncomfortable – this means you can’t really focus on your stress. And if you do, the heart-pumping sweatiness of the cardio will get the stress right out of your system. Choose a form of cardio you enjoy (no point stressing about it!)
Gym workouts for stress
Lifting weights or using resistance machines is a great way to work through stress. You’ll need to focus on precise movements, which takes your mind off your stress. And weight training is empowering, which will build your confidence and make you stronger inside and out.
Gym classes or online workouts
A great group workout is an amazing way to boost those endorphins, bringing a smile to your face as you work through your stress. Group classes and even online workouts tend to be social, which can lift your mood and make you feel more connected with like-minded people.
Yoga for stress management
Yoga is one of the classic choices when it comes to stress relieving activities, with deliberate movements and breath work helping you focus on the here and now. Choose a form of yoga you enjoy and let your body unwind as you welcome in those happy hormones.
Find a form of workout at one of our Hussle locations – we make it a stress-free experience.
How often should you carry out stress relieving activities?
We’re happy to report that there are no rules around exercise frequency for stress management. In fact, trying to stick to an unrealistic workout schedule is a stress in itself! Figure out what works for you, your lifestyle, and everything else you’ve got going on in life. Be consistent, and do what you enjoy. The only rule is moving your body on a regular basis.
3 ways to use fitness to manage your stress levels
A schedule to suit you
Don’t try to stick to a training schedule that will leave you even more stressed. Look at your other obligations: work, school, family, study, sleep. How many days a week can you exercise (and how long can you spend doing it) without it eating into time you need for other things?
Realistic fitness goals
Be realistic with your goals, too. If you can run twice a week, don’t pile on the pressure by trying to train for a marathon. If you can make it to the gym three times a week, now isn’t the time to enter a bikini comp. Remember, the main goal here is staying healthy and managing your stress.
Workout with a friend
Friends make everything better! When you’re not feeling great, exercising with a friend can double the mood-boosting effects of the workout itself. Whether you go for a walk and talk, head out for a run, do your favourite exercise class together, or hit the gym, training with a friend is one of the best stress-busters out there.
Hussle makes it super-simple to make use of some of the stress relieving activities mentioned and get regular exercise. Check out our range of gym passes and fitness locations to make the whole thing totally stress-free.