Nothing takes its toll on the body, mind, and spirit quite like stress does.
The symptoms of stress can run the gamut from restlessness and irritability to panic and even rage. We may suffer headaches and pain, a racing heart rate, muscle cramps, and even fainting spells.
When stress becomes chronic, it is one of the leading contributors to the development of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide.
There’s no doubt about it. Stress kills.
Unfortunately, we now live in highly stressful times as the regular daily pressures of modern life are compounded by the seemingly endless restrictions and cycles of lockdowns in response to Covid-19.
Our stress levels are understandably through the roof.
Luckily, despite all appearances, control over these swelling stress levels are still within our grasp.
The answer lies in physical exercise.
Physical Activity and Stress Relief
“If a man achieves victory over this body, who in the world can exercise power over him? He who rules himself rules over the whole world.”
The effects of physical exercise for stress relief are well researched and documented.
Here are just some of the reasons physical exercise has never been more critical than now in these difficult times.
1. Stabilise Your Mood
Not only does vigorous exercise reduce harmful stress hormones in the body, but it also helps the body increase production of the feel-good neurotransmitters known as endorphins.
Though we are used to thinking of the body and mind as two distinct parts of our being, our mental wellbeing is inextricably tied up with our physical. So intertwined are they that vigorous physical exercise can trigger a more relaxed and calm mental state in us.
Psychologists are well aware of this phenomenon, and they even have a name for it. They call it The Exercise Effect.
2. Improve Your Sleep
Stress and anxiety are two of the leading causes of poor sleep. When we are worried and anxious are thoughts tend to run away from us. We propel ourselves needlessly into a hypothetical future of disasters and catastrophes, triggering our bodies to produce damaging stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline in the process.
Not only that, but we deprive ourselves of the rest and relaxation so desperately needed to help us manage the increasing pressures we endure in our daily lives.
Have you noticed how much more reactive and irritable you are when you’re tired? Sufficient sleep is essential for effective stress management.
Fortunately, physical exertion has been shown to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. Exercise is also credited with raising our energy levels throughout the day, ensuring we can cope in even the most trying of circumstances.
3. Enhance Your Cognitive Function
It’s one of life’s cruel ironies that it is when we most need to think clearly that it is the most difficult for us to think at all.
Proper mental functioning is essential for effective stress management, but this can seem an impossible task when the pressure is on.
Exercise helps us gain that much-needed clarity by increasing blood flow everywhere in our body, including in the brain.
This extra blood flow means more energy and oxygen to boost our mental performance when we need it most.
4. Increase Your Self Esteem
Sticking to an exercise routine will give you back a sense of control over your life. You will regain that essential sense of being the master of your own fate. The very thing that has been stolen from us in the current climate.
Personal autonomy is a crucial aspect of our self-esteem. Exercise can give this back to us.
Every weightlifter knows about hypertrophy. This is the process whereby muscle fibres are stressed just to the right point to force them to grow thicker and stronger.
Physical exercise teaches you to build resilience and develop the inner strength required to emerge front these stressful times as a stronger and more robust individual.