With the holiday season upon us, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. There are special meals to prepare, gifts to buy and in-laws to deal with. Your normal stress levels can sky rocket. Consider exercise as a natural stress buster.
Physical activity, such as a rousing game of squash or an intense run, stimulates your brain to increase production of endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that act as a natural narcotic. Neurotransmitters are chemicals which act as messengers carrying information from our brains to other parts of our bodies. They relay messages between nerve cells called neurons. The anterior portion of the pituitary gland secretes endorphins, which inhibit the perception of painful stimuli. Endorphins have a similar pain relieving effect as morphine. (2) Virtually any type of physical exercise will stimulate increased production of endorphins and help manage stress.
A fast-paced game of tennis or several laps in the pool is meditation in motion. Physical activity redirects your focus from the day’s irritations and stressors to your body’s movement. Exercise reduces the elevated levels of the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. The resulting energy and optimism can help you feel calm and cope with stress.
Regular aerobic exercise successfully improves mood and sleep while boosting self-confidence. Mental stress can produce physical symptoms, such as tense muscles in the jaw, diarrhea, a pounding pulse or chest tightness. These symptoms trigger additional mental stress. During the stress response, mind and body intensify each other’s distress symptoms. Exercise halts this vicious cycle. (1)
Breathing exercises, mental exercises and progressive muscular relaxation are three types of autoregulation exercises. These exercises are techniques designed to replace the spiral of stress with a cycle of repose.
Deep breathing exercises begin with inhaling slowly and deeply. Push your stomach out. This puts your diaphragm to maximum use. Hold your breath briefly. Exhale slowly and think relax. Repeat this exercise five or 10 times and concentrate on breathing slowly and deeply.