According to a recent study, 85% of Brits experience stress regularly, with more than a third of us feeling stressed for at least one full day every week. There are a million different reasons that someone might suffer from stress, with common triggers including financial worries, pressure at work, relationship difficulties and health concerns. It can hit us at any time, but as April is Stress Awareness Month, now is perhaps a good time to identify the source of stress in your life and explore strategies to combat it.
Many people use exercise as a way to fight against stress. The rush of feel-good endorphins that is released by the pituitary gland during exercise can act as a major mood boost (ever heard of the “runner’s high”?). Not only do they make us feel happier, endorphins, also known as the body’s natural painkiller, have been shown to moderate our appetite (reducing the temptation to comfort eat when we’re feeling stressed), release sex hormones and enhance the functioning of our immune system.
It’s not just the release of endorphins that makes exercise great for combatting stress. Focusing all of your energy on your body’s movements can help you to forget about daily irritations or worries – you’re likely to feel much more optimistic after thinking about something else for a while, instead of dwelling on what has caused your stress and getting caught in a negative cycle of thoughts. Stepping away from a problem and focusing your energy on something else can sometimes open your mind up to a solution you might not otherwise have thought of, too – a change in perspective can sometimes really help.
What’s more, with regular practice of any sport, you’ll see yourself making improvements, which is a great confidence-booster and something positive to focus on when other areas of your life may be causing you some stress. When you’re feeling overwhelmed it can be tempting to isolate yourself, and while it’s true that spending some time alone can sometimes help to restore some calm, getting out and being active is one of the best ways to reduce stress.
At Grow, our fitness classes are centred around the water rower, which is one of the best pieces of fitness equipment you can use in terms of busting stress. The rhythmic motion combined with the soothing sound of the water is incredibly therapeutic – if you’re feeling stressed before class, try to focus on the sensation and sound of your strokes and let everything else fade away.
Not surprisingly, yoga is also a common strategy to reduce stress, because of the wide range of emotional and spiritual benefits that it brings. Yoga is centred around the idea of mindfulness, which encourages living in the present moment, acknowledging the emotions you’re feeling and taking the time to zone in on a feeling that you want to commit to. So, when starting a yoga class, you could set an intention (learn more about this here) to release your stress and focus on your body’s movements for the next hour.
Gratitude also plays a large role in yoga practice, and teachers will often encourage their students to take a moment to zero in on what they are grateful for in their lives. One way to do this is to spend the duration of one pose focusing on one thing that you’re grateful for. Dedicating even just a small amount of time to acknowledging and appreciating the positive can help you find the strength to deal with the negative.
Fitness classes and yoga are two great ways to combat stress, but the most important thing is to find something that works for you! Above all, be kind to yourself – we all have bad days after all.