Stress is a common side effect of, well, living. According to the American Psychological Association, roughly three-quarters of the population experience some kind of stress in their daily lives. For some, the stress is conditional – the result of a bad day or tight work deadline. For others, the stress is indistinguishable from a broader anxiety disorder – they may feel acute bouts of tension among a low-lying feeling of unease.
Whatever the source or severity, stress has negative mental and physical consequences. It can manifest in physical symptoms like gastrointestinal problems, chest pains and headaches, or it might take its toll on your physical health through longstanding issues like high blood pressure. Stress can also affect mental health, potentially lowering your self-esteem and quality of life.
This is all to say: Stress is as common as it is injurious. Combatting it begins with a steady regimen of exercise – but you shouldn’t stop there. Exercise should be one part of your overall stress relief strategy.
Let’s take a closer look:
How Exercise Helps Mitigate Stress
Exercise targets stress in a few ways. Firstly, working up a sweat encourages the production of endorphins – those feel-good brain chemicals that lower pain and regulate mood. Endorphins are created throughout several activities, like socializing, sex and even drugs (which is, coincidentally, the source of the term “runner’s high”). But the safest, best way to pump endorphins is through exercise.
Further, exercise lowers cortisol and adrenaline levels, two stress hormones responsible for the telltale “feeling” of stress. Between these two mechanisms – endorphin production and stress hormone inhibition – exercise creates a one-two punch against stress. At least, it does for a little while.
Other Strategies for Staying Calm
Exercise is often touted as a panacea for stress relief. While it is undoubtedly beneficial, you should round out your stress relief strategy with other proactive steps to feel an ongoing sense of ease and relaxation. Consider the following:
“Adaptogens” are natural herbs and mushrooms used to promote balance and improved stress response. Working a couple of adaptogens into your diet may have a profound impact on your stress levels. For instance, try putting powdered reishi mushrooms into your morning coffee or post-workout smoothie as a healthy way to unwind.
Your overall diet plays a significant role in how stressed you feel. A balanced diet rich in vegetables and Omega-3 fatty acids can lower your blood sugar, which in turn can stabilize your adrenal function.
Fighting stress isn’t a strictly physical undertaking. It requires mental and – for lack of a better word – spiritual work. Consider practicing mindfulness, a process of observing and accepting your thoughts. Many people find that mindfulness helps them cope with the ups and downs of daily life without disengaging them.
In summary, exercise is a potent anti-stress strategy, but it shouldn’t be viewed as the sum total of your efforts. To maximize your chances against tension and anxiety, employ other strategies like taking reishi mushrooms, lowering your blood sugar through diet, and practicing mindfulness.
*Photos by cottonbro