“Stress is when you wake up screaming and you realize you haven’t fallen asleep yet.”
The past month for the Hansen women, and yours truly in particular, has been ultra-stressful. Due to health issues, I am in the process of moving my mom out of her home and into mine while getting her house ready to sell. Simultaneously, my baby girl, Nikki, is leaving home for Wild Wonderful West Virginia for her first year of college and Becca is heading off to law school at N.C. Central. Add in work obligations and the various other life stressors that occur every day and my stress-o-meter is pegged out.
Married or single, young or old, stress is an ever-present force in our lives. This age of multitasking has us not taking time to relax, exercise or just sit in a quiet place for a bit. While there are wide varieties of “Happy Pills” available at your local pharmacy, the best remedy for stress is exercise.
According to a recent poll by the American Psychological Association, 14 percent of respondents listed regular exercise as their way to cope with stress, but what about the other 86 percent? Well, these folks either don’t ever exercise or drop out of an exercise program because of stress and fatigue. Exercise takes time and energy, and when both are in short supply it is easy to rationalize skipping a workout. In addition, both stress and fatigue make you feel bad and when people feel bad they look for ways to feel better — immediately.
Psychologists who study health behavior have found that when people are experiencing negative emotions, such as stress, depression, anxiety, anger or sadness, the need to cope with the negative emotion becomes a top priority. The need to feel better right now overrides the drive to do something that may lead to future benefits. In other words, if you feel bad you think skipping your workout will make you feel better so you skip it. In the long run, hanging tough and still making it to the gym is much more beneficial. Research shows that feelings of stress are often reduced after a period of physical training. Regular physical activity causes endorphins to be released in the brain that elevate mood. In addition, the resulting changes in self-esteem from physical training create a welcome diversion from stress.
So how do some people manage to exercise regularly despite hectic home and work schedules? One of the reasons is that they use exercise to help find balance in their lives and to reduce the feelings of stress. Instead of saying to themselves, “I feel awful today so I am going skip the gym,” they have the mindset to look forward to working out as a means to feeling better. Here are a few helpful hints from Dr. Barbara Brehm an expert in fitness psychology:
— Discover the link between feeling better and exercise: Figure out what types of exercise activities give you the most pleasure. Researchers have found that people vary greatly in their emotional response to exercise. People who are very fit need high intensity workouts to feel better while people who are novice exercisers may find moderate intensity activities more desirable.
— Talk yourself into exercise: Every time you exercise, notice how you feel better afterward. If you can connect those good feelings to exercise, the next time you plan on skipping your workout you can talk yourself into it again.
— Strive for balance in your life: While physical activity is a great stress reducer, exercise alone is not enough. Be sure you are eating right, getting enough sleep and cultivating the relationships and activities that make life worth living.
The next time you are stressed out or depressed, stop and think before you cancel your date at the gym. Visualize the way you feel after a great workout and use that as the focus. Sure it would be easier to go to the fridge and drown your sorrows in a big chunk of chocolate cake but you would pay for it later.
Kathy Hansen has over 25 years in the health and fitness field and is very grateful for her CrossFit workouts. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]