Stress Awareness Month is held every April with the aim to raise awareness of the causes, impact and management techniques for stress. The past two years have been extremely challenging for individuals around the world and The Stress Management Society were overwhelmed in 2020 by those seeking support. This year, the theme is ‘community’, something we all lacked during the past two years and something that is extremely important to us here at The Movement Barn.
In this post, we look at the effects of physical activity on stress and how we might be able to harness exercise to improve the way our bodies react to stress.
The Science Behind Exercise and Stress
Neurochemicals are behind the mental benefits of exercise; being physically active helps to reduce levels of our body’s stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol whilst simultaneously stimulating the production of endorphins (natural painkillers and mood-lifting chemicals). It’s these endorphins which are responsible for the so-called ‘runner’s high’ and help us to feel more relaxed or positive.
Practice Makes Perfect
Exercise is a form of physical stress, so how can being active actually help mental stress? Aerobic exercise can provide stress relief whilst imitating the effects of stress, such as the flight or fight response. This essentially helps your body and its system practice and get used to those effects, potentially leading to positive effects (improved cardio, digestive and immune system) rather than the harmful effects we associate with mental stress.
Exercise Focuses Your Mind
Physical activity offers a perfect way to prevent your mind from drifting away to more negative thoughts. The repetitive motion in solo exercise or competitive nature of team sports help promote a focus, whether that be on your body or an end goal. By concentrating on the rhythm of your movements or your breathing, you can experience some of the same benefits you may get from meditation. Focussing on one single task instead of letting your mind wander can help instil a sense of calm and accomplishment.
Be Kind to Yourself
Although exercise can play an important part in the management of stress, it can also be a cause of stress for some individuals. Sometimes we just don’t feel like working out, and skipping a workout might make you feel a sense of guilt or failure. We should learn to listen to our bodies and instead try to understand what’s making us feel this way, skipping a workout or having a day to relax is not something to feel guilty about.
Physical activity doesn’t always have to mean working up sweat or exercising until you’re exhausted, simply moving your body with a gentle walk or yoga can work wonders for your mind.
Choose Something You Love
Exercise isn’t going to help reduce stress if the very idea of doing the exercise leaves you feeling negative. There are so many ways to move your body, whether that be something high impact like running or something that works on your flexibility like yoga. The important thing with exercise is to find something you enjoy doing and that way it won’t feel like a ‘chore’ or just another thing on your to-do list!
The Importance of Community
Taking part in exercise often gives an opportunity to become part of a community, for example if you’ve joined a running club or even an online fitness app. Since launching The Movement Barn, we’ve become aware of just how important our community is. It’s been great to see our members supporting each other over the past year and there’s a real sense of community within our coaching team too.
The Stress Management Society describes a community as having a sense of belonging and connection to others and feel supported and accepted by them. This sense of belonging can be achieved by exercising as part of a group, even virtually!
We hope this post helps you harness the benefits of moving your body for your mental health. If you’re unsure about where to start or feel you might be out of shape, then ask your doctor or a qualified personal trainer for guidance on what is right for you.