Unfortunately, most of us suffer from stress and anxiety at points throughout our life. For me, anxiety hit top marks over the last few months of lockdown worrying about family, friends, my children, my work. However, I am forever thankful that I have running to turn to when I need an escape. While I have many resources I use to deal with stress, including music and walks, running has consistently been my most effective coping mechanism, no matter what is triggering my anxiety. When I run, I can let my mind wander, process a challenging situation or completely zone out and just go for it.
Lockdown has affected my fitness for several reasons from lack of time to train myself through looking after my children, to mentally being in a dark place where I have taken comfort from excessive eating, baking, and for several months, fitness was the enemy! Now when it comes to running I’m not as fast, it’s not always comfortable. But for me after several months of playing at fitness it is time to return to a healthy lifestyle.
Exercise and Stress Relief
Since we’re all dealing with increased stress these days, I wanted to share why I turn to running for stress relief and have for over 25 years.
Exercise is a physical stress, but it can help relieve mental stress and improve mental health. Research in lab settings has found reduced emotional reaction to artificially induced stress after people exercise (source).
You know that thing people call a “runner’s high”? Well that’s an actual, scientific thing. When you’re doing aerobic exercise, your body releases a rush of endorphins which interact with receptors in your brain to block pain. Simultaneously, those endorphins trigger a positive feeling. Running also helps reduce stress hormones, like cortisol.
When I’m feeling stressed, I don’t always want to make the time to exercise, but I have learned that it always makes me feel better once I get the first 10 minutes over with.
Scientists have proven that exercising outdoors can improve mental health. My children go mildly insane by the fact I make them walk and or cycle every day. Living in Scotland means sunny days can be rare, and I insist we simply wrap up, pull on our waterproofs and get out for some fresh air. Fresh air every time makes me feel so much better. Plus, one of the best ways to get Vitamin D is from sunshine and Vitamin D is essential for mental well being.
If all of your workouts are inside, try moving one outside, whether it’s a short run, a run-walk outing or just a brisk walk.
Promotes better sleep
When you work hard, you sleep hard. And when you sleep well, you’re more focused and less cranky and exercise is a great way to encourage better sleep. (Accordingly to the American Institute of Stress, “When your body is experiencing chronic stress, it thinks it’s in a state of perpetual danger and that it shouldn’t be sleeping! You might be able to fall asleep but not stay asleep and you might wake up frequently in the night.” By using exercise to reduce stress, you’ll sleep better at night.
Improved physical health
Apart from the science of endorphins and stress hormones, exercise also improves your physical health. Exercise improves your metabolism, strengthens your heart, lowers blood pressure, and increases energy levels.
Change of Scenery
Sometimes you need to change your scenery to take your mind off whatever is bothering you. And with the COVID world we currently live in, it can be hard to get a change of scenery since we can’t travel as much. However what you can do is get outside to a park/ mountain/ cycle path/ or a walk in the country. This will improve your fitness, your mood, and your health. All of which I think people now are going to become more aware of than ever.
I love to exercise with friends, but there are days where I really need to go it alone. Running in particular helps me processes my thoughts, and I seldom finish without working out a solution for whatever the problem I have tried to work through may be.
So the point here, is allow yourself time to try different types of exercise, you need to try a few to work out what is best for your body and your mind. From there work individually or in a group and set yourself goals. All of this will I guarantee help lower those stress levels and make you feel so much better! Remember only you can take care and make time for you!