We live in increasingly stressful times. Of course, the usual culprits like inflation and work deadlines are omnipresent. However, the world seems have turned it up a notch of late. Along with the arrival of Trump and Brexit, the media gods have seen fit to up our daily dosage of doom and gloom, leaving us mortals reeling. Indeed, anxiety disorders are among the most common worldwide.
The Main Problem With Stress and Anxiety
The problem with anxiety is that it creates a vicious cycle – when we worry, we lose concentration, which then impacts on our ability to work, ultimately leading to more stress. The accompanying insomnia only aggravates the cycle. It’s no wonder that more and more of us are popping pills in order to remain productive human beings. So how do you cope without resorting to drugs? Well, we all have our coping mechanisms. These include watching series, taking a nap, listening to music and eating.
But What Is The Most Effective Method To Reduce Stress?
We often see stress as a mental problem and therefore one that can be addressed only by relaxing the mind. This is perhaps why the more spiritual among us will draw the curtains, double-click on the Enya playlist and settle down to meditate. I am by no means mocking these people. On the contrary, I envy them.
When I’ve tried, I have found it almost impossible to shut out the innumerable worries and responsibilities in my head. Many of you can undoubtedly relate to this. It is true that meditation is effective for some people. It is important to recognise, however, that the body and the mind are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are two sides of the same coin. Often, a happy mind means a happy body and vice versa. This is why exercising is considered by health professionals to be the best way of reducing stress.
What Happens When We Exercise?
When we exercise, our brains release endorphins, which are chemicals that act primarily as natural painkillers. Not only this, endorphins manage our emotions, ensuring that they do not tip our moods too far to one end of the spectrum or the other. Indeed, relaxing activities like meditation, massage therapy and even sex have been known to stimulate the release of endorphins. Ultimately – to put it in a somewhat pretentious, yet sage-like, way – they help us achieve balance and this improves one’s mood and ability to focus on the task at hand.
Moreover, it also contributes to sleeping soundly, which further reduces stress. There is obviously complex biology and chemistry behind the workings of endorphins, but we simply like to think of them as natural narcotics. Okay, so exercise is great.
But How Much Exercise Do We Need To Reduce Anxiety?
Most professionals will recommend 2½ hours of moderate exercise (like brisk walking) and about 1 hour of intense exercise (such as jogging or swimming laps) per week to get the best outcome. But we understand – you’re busy. You have deadlines to meet, kids to pick up and the latest Game of Thrones episode to watch. Perhaps you are also lamenting over the thought of having to join a gym and the added expense that comes with it. But don’t fret.
According to psychologists, a mere 10 minute walk can be just as effective as a 45-minute workout. Even 5 minutes of aerobic exercise – that is, exercise that raises your heart-rate as opposed to lifting some weights – can kick your endorphins into gear and make you feel better. Keep in mind, however, that regular moderate to vigorous exercise will make you feel better overall.
Indeed it staves off the effects of stress and depression for longer and can act as buffer against the negative effects new traumatic or stressful events in your life. But if you need an urgent pick-me-up and time is limited, a short walk or 5 minutes of vigorous jumping jacks will do you a world of good. Of course, it is important to recognise that we are all different.
Does Physical Activity Help Everyone?
We have to keep in mind that certain forms of exercise will help some people more than others. Naturally, if you enjoy the activity it will have a greater effect on your mood. The best advice is to find what is right for you. If you’re extremely competitive, certain sports can actually increase your anxiety rather than abate it. At the same time, those who are more introverted may feel more anxious at the thought of social activities and should instead opt for a solo run or walk.
There is a small chance that you may be one of the unlucky ones who are immune to the positive effects of exercise, whatever form it takes. But then what do you have to lose by exercising? Even if your mood does not improve, your body will still thank you for the physical activity. At least then your physical well-being will be one less thing to worry about. And who knows, maybe you will have more success on the meditation front.
On A Final Note…
As enlightening and de-stressing as our articles are, exercise may in fact be better. We like our readers healthy and happy. After all, it is most conducive to further reading! So for your sake, and ours, go run around the block, walk the dog or jump in the pool.