by: Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.
Who wouldn’t seriously welcome relief from life’s daily stressors? We spend nearly $300 Billion every year on stress-related health issues. If affects children, teens, and adults. Yes, it even affects members of The Sporting Club.
Simply put, stress is based on predicting extremely negative events and then living as though these predictions are “for certain going to” happen. As a result, stress creators suffer with often debilitating physical and emotional symptoms. Remember this: all stress is created through your predictions and interpretations of events in unusually harsh ways, not by the reality of these events alone.
Hans Selye coined the term “stress” in 1936. He defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” Today we understand that predicting or interpreting events in a harsh, severe and irrationally negative way create stress.
Sure, there are some events that will lead most healthy people to react with tension and concern. It’s the unusually harsh interpretation of these commonly “bad” events that lead us to react with increased intensity, often as if the events are “worse than bad”—awful, terrible and horrible. Can something be worse than 100% bad?
Here are three examples from the literature on irrational thinking patterns that can create stress:
Magnification or Minimization
Trap: You exaggerate or downplay the significance of an event rather than seeing it realistically.
Example: I absolutely have to get this project finished today or my career is over. Even though it went well this time it’s not good enough.
Escape: Put it in perspective. Ask yourself how you’ll look back on this in 1 or 5 years from now.
Trap: You expect that a certain future event will be negative and you act as if it’s already true even though there is no evidence to support it.
Example: Before starting a new activity you think that it will be too hard so you don’t even try it.
Escape: Tell yourself that your negative expectation is just one possibility and then think of other possible outcomes. Remind yourself of a time in your life when things turned out better than you expected. Keep a record of your forecasts and see how accurate you are.
Trap: You think the very worst of a situation even when there are other possibilities. You overreact.
Example: “My heart is beating fast! I’m having a heart attack!”
Escape: Look at the real probabilities. Focus on evidence that the worst did not happen, that things might not be as bad as they seem. Sometimes a headache is all in your head.
While I often help people deal with their created stress using psychological tools—(including police officers, firefighters, and military veterans, CEOs facing financial challenges, news teams covering gruesome stories, students dealing with bullying and finals, as well as couples in distressed relationships, baby boomers facing health and financial concerns, victims of serious crimes and athletes facing high level competition)—it is clear to me that physical exercise is just as essential an ingredient as are psychological tools in fully reducing, and often completely preventing, stress.
Yet, there is an irony. How can one form of stress, the stress of physical exercise, relieve another form of stress, which is mental? It’s really very straightforward: exercise is relaxing, and healthy for you.
Exercise reduces stress both directly as well as indirectly by preventing illnesses. Consistent moderate to vigorous exercise can lower your blood pressure, cut the risk of stroke-heart disease-diabetes-obesity- memory loss-depression-anxiety, improve your sleep, lower your cholesterol, create more endorphins (the feel good neurotransmitters), reduce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and melt daily tensions. Consistent exercise, healthy nutrition and rational thinking can add years to your life and life to your years.
So what physical exercises help reduce or prevent stress? After healthy stretching and proper warm-up, aerobic exercises, resistance training and plyometrics all help relieve physical and mental stress.
Intervals on the treadmill, burpees, power pushes, mirror sparring, lunges to bicep curls, bench jumping, planks, squats, push ups, walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, working on the GRAVITY machines, Yoga, Pilates, Zumba or other vigorous dance, are just some of the exercises that will melt your tensions.
You can walk away from your problems, meaning a 30 minute walk, about 100 steps a minute or so, several times a week, will also help you physically and mentally. Think of it as meditation in motion.
Consistent aerobic exercise, with strength training, brings healthy changes to your body. Your heart and your spirits will thank you. While at once exhilarating and calming, not only anxiety and stress can melt, but depression also has been shown to fade.
Adrenaline and cortisol are reduced with aerobic exercise and strength training, while endorphins increase. The former two are the body’s “stress chemicals while endorphins are the body’s natural mood elevators and painkillers. Don’t forget that with increased stamina, strength and even some weight loss, your self-esteem will likely increase too leading to more positive behaviors in your personal and work life.
If you are already a member of The Sporting Club, then you understand the role that exercise plays in preventing or reducing stress. You already think of the club as your personal health center. If you are thinking of becoming a member, or already belong but aren’t taking full advantage of the vast health oriented offerings, consider this plan:
- Establish a 5-30 plan. Five times a week, for 30 minutes, assuming you are healthy enough to do so, jog, walk, bike, go on the elliptical, for 30 minutes (interval training is best).
- Start with small daily goals—it’s about progress not perfection. Frequency is more important than anything else.
- Follow your personal style: solo or group classes, as along as its fun for you—yes, having fun is an important part of this plan.
- Got an iPod or other music player? Use it. It’ll help distract you and give you a beat to follow.
- Bring a friend with you—not a virtual one—a real one. Exercise buddies abound in The Sporting Club because people find exercising with others motivating.
- Give yourself one to two months of consistent exercise to feel comfortable with the exercise routine, meeting new friends at the club, and seeing/feeling the stress reduction benefits.