Stress Management For Dummies
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Did you know that exercise is one of the better ways of helping you cope with stress? You already know how beneficial exercise can be as a way of keeping your weight down, your body buff, and your heart ticking for many more years.

Exercise and sustained activity — in whatever form — can decrease your blood pressure, lower your heart rate, and slow your breathing — all signs of reduced arousal and stress. Exercise is a natural and effective way of slowing and even reversing your body’s fight-or-flight response. This section shows you how you can make exercise and activity your allies in winning the battle against stress.

Calm your brain naturally

When you exercise, you feel different; your mood changes for the better. This difference is not only a psychological response to the fact that you’re doing something good for your body. It’s physiological as well.

When you exercise, you produce endorphins (literally, natural morphine from within your body), which can produce feelings of well-being and calming relaxation. This positive feeling helps you cope more effectively with stress and its effects.

Activity, not exercise for stress relief

The word exercise has never been a favorite word for most people. It connotes too much work with too little fun, like taking out the garbage or making the bed. Exercise is something you endure and complete as quickly as possible. The word exercise is associated with sweating, stretching, straining, pulling, lifting, more sweating, and taking a long shower. At least the last part is fun.

You may think of exercise as something outside the range of your normal day-to-day activities. However, a better way of thinking about the goal of staying fit is to replace the word exercise with the term activity.

The word exchange is more than semantic. Any increase in your level of bodily activity — aerobically or non-aerobically — and any muscle-toning or stretching contributes positively to your state of physical well-being. And who ever said activity has to be in a gym, on a court, or with a dumbbell? Many people mistakenly believe that to exercise you must engage in rigorous sports, go to a health club, or find some other specialized facility. Not so.

After a hard day of work, the chances of your putting on a sweat suit and lifting weights or completing a 6K run are slim. The good news is, you don’t have to. The trick is to find naturally existing outlets for activity that are readily available and easily integrated into your lifestyle and work style.

Exercise, cleverly camouflaged as daily physical activity, is all around you. The hard part is knowing it when you see it.

Never jump abruptly into a new program of physical exercise. Your head may be ready for the change, but your body may need more time to get used to the idea. This strategy becomes all the more important if you’ve led a rather sedentary life in the past. Check with your doctor first for an official okay, and then begin slowly, gradually adding more time and effort to your workout.

The following are some simple ways you can introduce small bits of activity into your day:

  • Park your car a little farther from your office and walk the rest of the way.

  • Use your TV time effectively. While you’re watching TV, do some sit-ups, jumping jacks, push-ups, or stretches.

  • Walk away from your stress. As an exercise, walking has always had wimp status. But if done consistently and for a sustained period of time, it can be a terrific way of staying in shape. The nice thing about walking is that it can be pleasantly camouflaged as strolling or sight-seeing — both painless activities.

    And if you crank up the pace and distance a bit, you have a wonderfully simple form of aerobic exercise that can enhance your feeling of well-being, mentally and physically. Walking is a great way to clear your head and calm your mind.

    And remember to take a mini walk or two during your day. Your walks can be as short as down the block to the corner store or a lap around your office or house.

  • Do something you like. If you don’t like the exercise or activity you’re doing, the chances of sustaining it are small. Find something you really enjoy, like one of the following:

    • A favorite sport. Golf, tennis, bowling, baseball, basketball, racquetball — whatever.

    • A favorite activity. Horseback-riding, dancing, trampolining, swimming, ice-skating, or rope-jumping — or anything that gets your body moving.

    • Gardening. Yes, if done for a sustained period, gardening can be considered a form of exercise.

    • Bicycling. Find a place where you can bike safely and enjoyably. If you don’t know where those places are, contact your local parks and recreation office. Or ask friends or people you see on bikes what they suggest.

    • In-line skating. In-line skating is here to stay, because it’s great exercise and one of the more painless ways of getting a physical workout.

    Be sure to wear a helmet and other protective gear when you’re on your bike or on blades — even on short rides in your neighborhood. Accidents can happen anywhere.

  • Become a player. One of the better ways of staying in shape is playing at something you like. Every big city has just about every conceivable kind of sports team, from Little League to pick-up games in the park on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

  • You don’t even have to be especially proficient at a sport to get on board. Check with your local YMCA or community center for teams that are forming, and ask at work if teams already exist. Go online to find a meet-up site that brings together like-minded weekend players for just about any activity.

  • Climb your way out of stress. I have good news, and I have better news. The good news is, research done at Johns Hopkins University shows that, by climbing stairs for a mere six minutes a day, you can add up to two years to your life.

  • The better news is, if you live in a big city, you encounter lots and lots of stairs every day. With land at a premium, most cities are designed with height, rather than width, in mind. Although some cities are more vertical than others, all have more than their share of opportunities to climb stairs.

  • And, if you don’t live in a big city, you can find climbing opportunities in other places. Ask at your local high school to see whether you can climb the football stadium bleachers. Does your shopping mall have stairs? If so, become a mall walker! Opportunities for stair-climbing aren’t limited to the big cities. Consider it a challenge to find stairs wherever you live.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Allen Elkin, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and the director of The Stress Management & Counseling Center in New York City. Nationally known for his expertise in the field of stress and emotional disorders, he has appeared frequently on Today, Good Morning America, and Good Day New York.

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