by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
Everything from the twinge you feel as swimsuit season approaches to the panic of a nearing deadline can trigger our stress response. Use exercise to increase your resilience to everyday anxieties …
Studies continue to show the benefits exercise has on the psyche. Fit individuals gain improved mental health. Exercise reduces stress, and decreases our reaction to stress when it does occur. This keeps the body’s fight-or-flight response under control to prevent the effects of chronic anxiety from elevated stress hormones.
A commitment to fitness helps prevent a tense moment from becoming a full-blown panic attack. Better to be breathlessness from a workout than an anxiety episode.
How It Works
Many health experts believe exercise is as effective as medication in combating anxiety. It helps relieve tension and the increased energy produced by the body during stress. Long-term, it instills confidence in your health and ability to overcome life’s challenges.
Workouts, especially cardio routines, help build resistance to stress. Vigorous workouts lead to better nourished brain cells, fortified to prevent harm when exposed to stress. Existing brains cells are preserved and new ones develop. The latter is a recent discovery; we can generate new brain cells into old age. The increased oxygen supply during a workout helps this function.
Exercise can immediately soothe the nervous system through its release of endorphins. Long-term, it continues to act as a buffer to stress. One who exercises frequently has a less exaggerated physiological response. Elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and other automatic anxiety reactions are less intense and don’t last as long. They are less likely to result in a panic attack, the harmful effects of which take time, and often treatment, to undo.
And, if swimsuit anxiety was one of your triggers, exercise also helps eliminate your (perceived) need for that anxiety as well as your response to it. A twofer!
Other Ways to Fight Anxiety
Supplement your workouts with these proven anxiety-reducers:
- Take full, deep, slow breaths. Attempt to remain motionless so you can focus on breathing. Challenge yourself; stillness is not easy when anxious.
- Distract yourself, preferably with a physical activity like a brisk walk, dancing, painting, drawing, or gardening.
- Make worrying a chore. Set aside 10 minutes daily to ruminate over issues. If these worries disturb you throughout your day, and they will, remind yourself of the “worry appointment.” This time designated for worry will help reprogram your mind to worry less.
Remind yourself you are in control, not your anxiety. Do this often, possibly through affirmations. Sound complicated? Affirmations are simply little niceties we say to ourselves like a mantra. Feed your brain positive words. They are the seeds to your thoughts.
If you struggle with chronic anxiety and panic attacks, seek professional support. You can overpower this.
“Stop Stress for Good: Exercise to Fight Stress,” by Kimberly Goad at fitnessmagazine.com.
Anxious man (introductory photo): flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/7558544264/
Approaching scale: freeimages.com/profile/crossfire