Stress can wreak havoc with your metabolism, raise your blood pressure, burst your white blood cells, make you flatulent, ruin your sex life, and if that’s not enough, possibly damage your brain.* Why don’t we throw in the towel right now?
There is hope.
Over the next few days I will give you some tools to help you reduce stress and improve your life.
I start with exercise because this is the stress reduction approach I rely on frequently, and I’m deeply hoping that putting it first will mean that I’ll live to be very old and healthy.
Exercise is great to counter stress for a number of reasons. First, it decreases your risk of various metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, and therefore decreases the opportunity for stress to worsen those diseases.
Next, exercise generally makes you feel good.
However, do a properly controlled study, even with neurotic introverts, and exercise improves mood. This probably has something to do with exercise causing the secretion of beta-endorphin.
In addition, there’s the sense of self-efficacy and achievement, that good stuff you try to recall when your thigh muscles are killing you in the middle of a fitness class. And most of all, the stress-response is about preparing your body for a sudden explosion of muscular activity.
You reduce tension if you actually turn on the stress-response for that purpose, instead of merely stewing in the middle of some time-wasting meeting.
Finally, there’s some evidence that exercise makes for a smaller stress-response to various psychological stressors. That’s great.
Now for some qualifiers:
Exercise enhances mood and blunts the stress-response only for a few hours to a day after the exercise session.
Exercise is stress reducing so long as it is something you actually want to do. Let rats voluntarily run in a running wheel and their health improves in all sorts of ways. Force them to, even while playing great dance music, and their health worsens.