Virtually any form of exercise, from yoga to weightlifting, can act as a stress reliever. Even a little exercise can go a long way toward stress management.
Each member of my own family has been dealing with personal stress recently and we each have a different physical outlet for stress.
When I am having a difficult time with stress, I like to lift weights or do high-intensity interval training to get my heart pumping, focus on the task at hand, and feel strong and empowered, giving me a sense of accomplishment.
When my daughter is having a bad day she loves to go to an intense tumbling class. When things seem topsy turvy in her life, flipping through the air helps her see everything right side up again. I don't have gymnastic ability, but I can see how empowering it must be to be able to flip your cares away.
My stepson plays ice hockey or street hockey when he has pent up emotions. Any team sport, intense game, or contact sport is excellent for stress management.
My husband lifts weights, plays ice hockey, or does an exercise routine at home like P90X, when he wants to increase self-confidence and lower anxiety. Exercise also improves his sleep, which can be disrupted by stress and anxiety.
Although we each have a different practice to reduce stress within our lives, we each see the benefits that physical activity provides.
Virtually any form of exercise or movement can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.
The most important thing is to pick an activity that you enjoy. Some examples include walking, stair climbing, jogging, bicycling, yoga, tai chi, gardening, weightlifting and swimming.
If you are not sure where to begin, there are several free resources online.
DoYogaWithMe.com offers yoga instruction through free online videos you can easily try at home. You can even download the audio for free and listen to it anywhere with an MP3 player. You can follow the text link above to view a video designed for deep relaxation, or view the video included in this article for an example of a yoga routine designed for connection to your core.
Stress Relieving Benefits
Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, but also has some direct stress-relieving benefits.
- Endorphin Release. Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Although this function is often referred to as a runner's high, any physical activity, from yoga to a nature hike can also give the same feeling.
- Meditation in motion. After a fast-paced weightlifting routine or several laps in the pool, you'll often find that you've forgotten the day's irritations and concentrated only on your body's movements. As you begin to regularly decrease your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task can help you remain calm and clear in everything that you do, resulting in energy and optimism.
- Sense of Accomplishment. Feeling as though you have done something healthy for your body, mind, and spirit can give you a sense of accomplishment and the extra encouragement you need to find the strength to get through a challenging, stressful situation.
A successful exercise program designed for stress relief begins with a few simple steps. Here are some tips for reinvigorating your existing routine or starting a new routine:
- Break it down. It's always a good idea to begin a workout program with a goal in mind and to break that main goal down into smaller, specific goals. If your primary goal is to reduce stress in your life, your specific goals might include committing to walking during your lunch break or finding a baby sitter to watch your children so that you can slip away to attend a cycling class. Allow yourself to feel accomplished when you succeed in these smaller, specific goals.
- Success in numbers. Having a friend to keep you accountable at the gym or the park can be a powerful incentive. Working out with a friend, co-worker or family member can bring a new level of motivation and commitment to your workouts.
- Enhance your activities. If you've always been competitive in sports, you may want to also try other less competitive options that may help with stress reduction, such as yoga. Kinder, gentler workouts, may enhance your sport while also decreasing your stress.
- Consult with your doctor. Begin any new fitness program by consulting with your health care professional, especially if you have a medical condition or are obese.
- Walk before you run. Build up your fitness level gradually. Excitement about a new program can lead to overdoing it and possibly even injury. If you're new to exercise, aim for about 20 to 30 minutes of exercise three to four days a week and increase gradually.
- Do what you love, and love what you do. Don't train for a marathon if you dislike running.
- Pencil it in. Although your schedule may necessitate a morning workout one day and an evening activity the next, carving out some time to move every day helps you make your exercise program an ongoing priority.
Whatever you do, don't think of exercise as just one more thing on your to-do list. Allow for exercise to reduce your stress instead of adding to it. Find an activity you enjoy, whether it's an intense game of basketball or a meditative walk through a local park, and make it part of your regular routine.
Any form of physical activity can help you unwind and become an important part of your approach to easing stress.