April is Stress Awareness Month, which makes it a great excuse to get in touch with your body, reflect on what is troubling you and attempt to better manage the sources of stress in your life. When not properly managed, stress can cause or worsen health problems. Symptoms of stress can include headaches, upset stomach, high blood pressure, chest pain, insomnia and sweating. Data also suggests that certain diseases can be aggravated due to stress.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” —William James
For most of us, work is at the forefront of our issues with stress. Work stress seems to take its toll on everyone. In fact, according to the American Institute of Stress, four out of every five workers are stressed. This results in approximately $300 billion in lost productivity for American companies.
FIGHT STRESS WITH EXERCISE
The benefits of exercise on overall health have long been established. Regular exercise can help to reduce fatigue, stimulate the metabolism, improve concentration, fight depression and enhance cognitive function. By helping to increase your energy levels and providing your brain with endorphins, regular exercise can go a long way in helping you to combat daily stress. Studies have found that as little as five minutes of exercise each day can have anti-anxiety effects on the body.
Regular exercise has been shown to:
- Reduce tension
- Enhance mood
- Improve sleep
- Bolster self-esteem
It’s no secret that getting in a workout helps you to feel energized, healthy and in a more positive mood.
When the mind is under stress, your entire body feels the impact. So it stands to reason that the mind-body connection is very important in fighting and reducing stress. Exercise releases endorphins along with other activities like meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy and Pilates. Endorphins act as natural painkillers that help improve sleep. Quality sleep is also instrumental in combatting stress.
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” — Winston Churchill
TOP STRESS FIGHTING ACTIVITIES
Here are the top ways to reduce stress, burn calories and help you get in shape at the same time.
Use a weight or resistance training routine that works many different muscle groups to relieve the maximum amount of stress. By changing up the muscles worked, your workouts will produce more endorphins. Try incorporating exercises like bench press, leg extension, military press, sit-ups, seated rows, lat pulldown, biceps curls and leg press.
Aerobic Cardio Training
Incorporating aerobic or cardio exercises into your lifestyle can help you slash stress on a daily basis. The better your aerobic capacity, the better your body is able to handle stress. Aerobic training systematically exposes the body to increased amounts of stress as you build endurance. Endurance is essentially your body’s ability to handle stress for a given period of time. Experts believe that indulging in different forms of exercise such as aerobics or cardio training can help the body to develop improved resistance and better tolerance to stress.
Practicing yoga can also help reduce stress. Along with the endorphins of a good workout, yoga increases flexibility and can stimulate circulation. Most daily practices come with an added dose of meditation and mindfulness, which can help to soothe a troubled mind.
Sometimes when stress builds up, you feel like you just want to hit something. Enter kickboxing into the equation to pound away your daily stress. Punching and kicking are not just stress relieving, these types of workouts can also improve your cardio, endurance and muscle tone.
Hiking helps you accomplish several things that can reduce stress and bring about happiness. It allows you to get exercise at your pace and to your own fitness level. It gets you outdoors, in nature, breathing fresh air and accomplishing a goal. All these things help your brain to produce endorphins and release the serotonin you need to be happy and stress free.
“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.” — Kahlil Gibran
Nutritional Tips to Avoiding Stress
- Eliminate or greatly reduce consumption of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine
- Reduce your intake of sugar and salt
- Eat small, balanced meals throughout the day to stoke your metabolism
- Start your day with oatmeal – a complex carbohydrate like oatmeal can stimulate your brain to produce serotonin.
- Supplement with amino acids – aminos can help your body produce serotonin
- Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to heart health and can help reduce stress hormones
For more on managing stress, check out Practicing Self Love: Inspiration from BPI Athletes.