It may be startling to know that about 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms of stress and 73% experience psychological symptoms of stress. Knowing that stress is a contributory factor to conditions like cardiovascular disease makes managing stress levels all the more important. Aerobic workouts, breathing techniques, and meditation are all helpful exercises you can utilize to lower your stress levels.
Stress can affect you both mentally and physically. Feelings of mental anxiety or worry can easily translate to pain in the body.
Physical symptoms of stress typically include:
- Upset stomach
- Muscle tension
- Change in appetite
- Teeth grinding or clenched jaw
- Change in sex drive
Mental symptoms of stress typically include:
- Irritability or anger
- Feelings of nervousness
- Lack of energy
- Emotional instability, feeling like you could cry
- Panic or worry
3 Exercises to Help Lower Your Stress Levels
Both physical and mental exercises can help you release some of the built-up tension and anxiety in your body and lower your overall stress levels. The following 3 types of exercises each offer a unique approach to lowering stress levels:
If you’ve ever heard of “runner’s high,” then you’ll understand the idea that physical exercise can completely change your mood and energy levels. Moving your body and getting your heart rate up through aerobic exercise helps get your blood moving is an effective way to manage stress levels.
The neurochemical basis for aerobic exercise and its lowering effect on stress levels are a result of endorphins. These feel-good hormones are released by the brain during aerobic exercise and counteract stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which cause many of the stress symptoms described above.
Jogging, cycling, or even just a brief 20-minute walk are all aerobic exercises that can help you reduce your stress levels. When aerobic exercise is used on a consistent basis, you will find that managing stress levels becomes much easier.
Stress is as much physical as it is mental. Mental symptoms of stress can include worry, irritability, anger, insomnia, or even panic. Practicing meditation or yoga, where you focus on your breathing, can alleviate many of the mental symptoms of stress.
A simple sequence of deep breathing, where you breathe in slowly, hold your breath briefly, then exhale out slowly (and repeat for 15 counts) can help you reduce your stress. The best part of breathing exercises is that you can do them anywhere, anytime.
If you want to try some mindful meditation techniques to practice your breathing and manage your stress, check out our article here.
Progressive Muscular Relaxation
This type of exercise may be one you haven’t heard of, but it can be especially helpful for relieving both mental and physical symptoms of stress at the same time. Like a breathing exercise, progressive muscular relaxation has you ease into a meditative state, where you lie down in a comfortable, quiet, and secluded place.
Rather than simply focus on your breathing, however, progressive muscular relaxation has you doing minor physical activity in the form of muscle contractions. For instance, you will often go through a series or sequence of contractions beginning with the facial muscles and ending with contractions in the feet.
A typical muscular exercise, for example, would have you clench your fists tightly, hold the contraction briefly, then release. The idea is that as the muscle relaxes, you’re releasing any tension in that muscle group. Lying still and focusing on the muscle groups one by one is also a way to mentally relieve yourself of other stressful thoughts and negative psychological symptoms.
Managing Stress Levels
It’s important to learn how to manage your stress. As discussed, stress can manifest into illnesses and conditions that can affect your physical health and mental health. When stress symptoms are ignored, minor pains in the body or feelings of anxiety in the mind can grow into bigger problems that become harder to treat.
By practicing the exercises outlined above, you can learn to manage and prevent a lot of the stress that comes into our lives on a day-to-day basis and set yourself up for a longer, healthier life.
Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Exercising to relax. Retrieved March 30, 2018, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax
Stress Statistics. (2017, May 18). Retrieved March 30, 2018, from https://www.statisticbrain.com/stress-statistics/