No matter where someone lives or what they do for work, stress can always find its way into an individual’s day. Sometimes, something as simple as running late for an appointment can be enough to trigger an emotional meltdown, while other people tend to experience stress for longer periods of time. Whether it’s based around money, personal health and wellness, or any number of other concerns, it’s normal to feel this way from time to time. But in a post on their health blog, USHEALTH Group has outlined some really great ways to avoid unnecessary stress.
However, prolonged periods of stress can take a huge toll on one’s body and mind, and in many ways, it can be viewed like any other ailment including chronic illness or temporary sickness. Thankfully, feelings of stress can be relieved through more than just changing the circumstances that cause it to begin with, as many different types of exercise can help soothe the mental pressure that most people experience. Ultimately, a deeper understanding of how stress plays into one’s well-being is essential to learning how to combat it.
Stress and the Body
Rather than something intangible that can make the mind race, stress is an emotion that has very real and measurable effects across the entire body. In fact, there are seven major ways that chronic stress can affect various parts of the body, and while some symptoms may be more noticeable in the short term, others slowly do damage after repeated stressful situations, and USHEALTH Group identifies these possibilities:
- Reproductive issues – Both men and women can experience changes in normal hormonal and reproductive functions due to prolonged stress. Sexual desire and ability to reproduce may be severely limited among both genders, and women may even notice a change in their normal monthly cycles. Premenstrual symptoms might be exacerbated, and typical menopausal symptoms can become more frequent and severe. Women who have difficulty conceiving may find that stress is one of many contributing factors.
- Nervous system fatigue – When the body encounters a stressful situation, a chemical process occurs that many refer to as the “fight or flight syndrome.” While this is a natural process that helps keep individuals safe, the constant triggering of this reaction over and over again can cause long-term damage to the body. Essentially, each time the nervous system goes into fight or flight mode, it uses up energy and creates repeated wear and tear on the brain and hormones.
- Digestive concerns – Sometimes, a stomachache can be brought on by stress, but constant worrying can lead to a host of other intestinal issues. While ulcers themselves are not caused by stress, poor eating habits during times of uncertainty can contribute to this condition. Stress itself does directly relate to an increase in bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and more and can trigger flare-ups in those with irritable bowel syndrome. While healthy eating is important during all times in life, maintaining a balanced diet during particularly stressful periods is essential to one’s health.
- Hormonal exhaustion – The human body has a natural system of checks and balances built into place, and when a stressful event occurs, a hormone called cortisol is released. While it occurs naturally each day, certain activities will cause it to be produced in excess, and over time, this can fatigue the endocrine system. A breakdown within this system can lead to health issues including diabetes, depression, and immune disorders.
- Cardiovascular deterioration – If a sudden stressful event occurs, it’s normal to experience an increase in heart rate for a short period of time. This ties into the fight or flight response but also causes the heart to contract more strongly and places a strain on blood vessels and arteries. It’s unavoidable to maintain an even heart rate over the course of one’s entire life, but regular periods of stress can permanently damage portions of the cardiovascular system and even lead to a heart attack or stroke.
- Exacerbating breathing problems – Individuals with healthy respiratory systems likely won’t notice many negative effects that come from ongoing stress, but for those who have a preexisting condition like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, any instance of stress can trigger an attack. Although it’s the body’s way of defending against potential attackers, the rapid breathing that comes along with a stressful situation can sometimes become a problem.
- Too much tension – Perhaps the most common place where people notice stress is in their muscles, as they are the body’s way of protecting itself against pain and injury. While a stressful day might temporarily settle in one’s shoulders or back, prolonged worry can lead to regular headaches and chronic pain. Ultimately, the probability of prolonged pain after an injury is related to how much stress is present, with individuals exhibiting a great amount of stress placing themselves at a higher risk of reinjury or less-than-ideal healing.
It’s easy to see just how impactful constant stress can be on one’s overall health and well-being, and while some activities like meditation or therapy can help reduce daily concerns, there are other ways to beat stress that can be fun and easy. People may point to journaling or taking a bubble bath; however, physicians often recommend more physical activity to really help battle these feelings. But does regular exercise really help when stress appears to be a mental issue?
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America regularly surveys adults living in the United States and has found that 70 percent of respondents experience anxiety or stress every single day. Most of them report that it interferes with their lives at least moderately, meaning that most people you pass on the street are dealing with a heavy mental burden. However, 14 percent of those who struggle with stress turn to exercise as a way to relieve their negative emotions. Walking and running top the list, but what else can individuals do?
Easy Exercises to Cope with Stress
Sometimes, the idea of spending time on the stair machine isn’t exactly the most exciting, but using exercise to deal with stress has proven to be incredibly effective. Individuals don’t have to be breaking a hard sweat or burning hundreds of calories each time they work out to reap the benefits, as the simple concept of some bodily movement is really all that’s needed. Exercise tends to have a cumulative effect as well, so incorporating some of the following ideas into a regular routine may prove to be more beneficial than occasional activity. As with any type of lifestyle change, it’s best to consult with a physician beforehand. On the Living Good Health blog, USHEALTH Group discusses these methods:
Bringing the Energy
Those who have a lot of energy despite regular stressful life events might find that high-intensity activities serve them best. Many times, things like Zumba or a spin class come to mind, but these activities don’t always have to be so formal. Putting on some music and dancing around at home for 20 to 30 minutes or even taking the whole family out for a fun roller skating trip can also provide the level of activity needed to banish mental worries.
Why do high-intensity exercises help fight off stress? As one’s heart rate increases, the body naturally releases endorphins, also known as “feel good” hormones. These chemicals signal to the brain that the activity taking place is enjoyable and, with prolonged regular activity, may even cause some individuals to almost crave exercise on a daily basis.
Going for a Ride
Living in a city sometimes means that taking a car everywhere isn’t always the best option, and for those who already own a bike, using this method of transportation to get to and from work is a great way to integrate some stress-relieving activity. Despite the fact that biking involves a lot of sitting, it keeps the body in constant motion and can help burn calories and boost one’s mood with ease. Plus, it offers new and exciting scenery with every ride.
Depending on an individual’s endurance, longer rides in varying environments can be a great way to clear the mind and rid oneself of anxious thoughts. Check out different types of terrain like riding on paths through a local park, heading out to the mountains for some fresh air, or simply taking a different route than usual to keep things fresh and fun. Biking is great for the whole family, but remember to wear appropriate safety gear and be aware of traffic at all times.
Although some might not consider it to be exercise, the practice of yoga or pilates can bring on amazing stress-reducing benefits. Depending on the type of instruction, these activities can range from slow movements that allow oneself to focus on breathing and mindfulness all the way to more high-intensity movements that help tone the body and even allow some to break a sweat.
Ultimately, some might say that yoga is one of the best ways to battle stress through bodily movement, as the environment and mood that comes along with it is one of peace. Yoga is just as much a mental activity as it is a physical one, allowing participants to work through their stress through the careful timing of breathing along with certain movements. Great for everyone, from young children to adults of any fitness level, it can be done at home or in a class setting.
Fight It Out
Depending on the situation, some individuals may experience stress that needs soothing or can be sweated out with some traditional forms of exercise. However, when these feelings are intense and need to be dealt with sooner rather than later, sometimes a good fight is what’s needed. Rather than throwing punches at the first stranger who enters the room, taking a martial arts class allows those who are stressed to work through their feelings in a productive manner.
It may be taekwondo, tai chi, or karate, but the fundamentals are the same. Participants can use sparring sessions to work through stress while also focusing on form and skill. Martial arts can help increase self-confidence, boost your ability to defend yourself, and in many instances, can be practiced nearly anywhere, as the basic movements don’t require any specialized equipment.
Is Movement the Only Way?
USHEALTH Group also points out that while regular exercise in any shape or form brings obvious benefits to one’s life, is it the only way to battle feelings of stress when they pop up? Some experts say no, as the connection between music and stress has been studied for decades and supports some very powerful theories. In general, medical professionals say that the way the brain interprets music serves a very significant purpose for human health and well-being, but just how far these benefits extend is truly amazing.
Many people have experienced the powerful effects of music; a sad song can bring someone to tears, and a fun upbeat tune will instantly put a smile on people’s faces. The same basic idea translates to stress and anxiety, as music allows the brain to be distracted from worry while simultaneously offering meditative properties and provides the ability to explore emotions. Individuals often feel as if listening to music is a waste of time, particularly when stress is caused from being too busy, but given that it helps calm the mind, it can actually start people on the path to greater productivity in the long run.
Various musical tastes will fit different moods, and experts recommend pairing one’s state of mind with the type of tunes being played. There’s something about mirroring the feelings inside with a song that you can sing along to that allows a release on an emotional level that exercise just can’t provide.
Music and the Mind
Not only will putting on a great playlist help dissolve stress, but turning to music therapy can go a long way toward dealing with chronic mood concerns. Using biofeedback, guided imagery, and other techniques with the help of a therapist, music can help individuals identify specific emotions or triggers and release the feelings associated with them in a positive way.
Meditation can also be enhanced through music, and in some cases, the term itself is defined very loosely. Sometimes, the sound of running water or a recording of a thunderstorm can help with stress relief, while for others, more classic options like listening to Mozart can improve one’s ability to focus and remember important information, even when in stressful situations. Researchers have even come to call this phenomenon “The Mozart Effect,” as it has proven to be so beneficial for individuals in high-pressure situations.
Reducing Stress Now and in the Future
There’s a good chance that life will only continue to become more stressful as time goes on, as politics, technology, finances, and nearly every other facet of modern-day life becomes more and more complex. Rather than committing oneself to a life full of anxiety and worry, individuals can take a proactive approach to soothing stress and knowing how to handle it when unexpected situations arise.
Regular exercise brings a wealth of benefits to the table when it comes to overall health, but the added level of stress reduction just can’t be beat. Try getting the whole family involved in riding bikes, taking yoga classes, engaging in martial arts, or starting a fun new aerobic routine. Not only will this be helpful in reducing parental stress, but it also helps model good habits for younger members of the family. Smaller children don’t always have the tools to communicate their stress effectively, so these exercises could be more beneficial for them than parents even realize.
The next time your stressful feelings are particularly high, try putting on music that helps soothe the mind while also allowing you to release some emotional energy. Depending on the person, this could range from soft classical tunes all the way to heavy metal and everything in between. Ultimately, using music to distract the mind and release the pressure associated with daily stressors is a tool that you can utilize at any time.
Keep in mind that general health and wellness also contributes to stress levels, and while the saying sounds rather cliché, people truly are what they eat. Incorporating a mix of healthy fats, lean protein, and plenty of fruits and vegetables into your daily diet can help keep your energy levels up. Also, making sure to get enough sleep at night allows individuals the cognitive ability to deal with their stress in productive ways.
Stress doesn’t have to get the best of your mental or physical health, as there are plenty of ways to cope with these feelings. Try incorporating light exercise or a music routine, and practice healthy habits to keep stress at bay and handle it effectively when it pops up unexpectedly.
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