Stress is a natural, if unwelcome, part of a full and active life. No matter how well you balance the demands of work, health, and family, you will naturally experience the kind of difficult situations that engender emotional strain. In fact, over two-thirds of American adults report that they experience stress and anxiety on a daily basis, according to the Anxiety And Depression Association of America.
Since stress is inevitable, learning how to manage the condition is key. One important tool is vigorous physical exercise, like running.
Unexpectedly bumping into your ex-spouse at a holiday party has the same physiological impact as if you just stumbled upon a hungry lion pride in the savannah.
In the short term, such an event can cause these reactions:
- The release of adrenaline and cortisol throughout your body
- A rise in pulse, heart rate, and blood pressure
- A tightening of your muscles as they are flooded with oxygen
- A surge in your immune system response
- A sharpening of your senses as you go into “fight-or-flight” mode
Note that the “fight-or-flight” response involves physicality: Battling or running. In an evolutionary sense, one action or the other was necessary for survival.
Fight Or Flight
In the modern world, it’s impolite—even criminal—to throw a punch when faced with a contentious ex-spouse, or when you’re dealing with a co-worker who refuses to do his job. Nor is it always feasible to flee a stressful situation, such as when you’re presenting an annual report in front of your boss’s boss. Yet bottling up the natural urges has real physiological consequences because it extends your body’s response to stress and doesn’t give your system time to return to normal.
Embracing daily exercise like running allows your body the release that comes when you engage the “flight” response.
The Zen Of Running
Running as a form of regular exercise has many well-known physical benefits, including:
- Increasing muscle mass and staving off age-related atrophy
- Increasing bone density and staving off osteoporosis
- Better weight management
- Lowering blood pressure
What is less known is that running is also a powerful tool in anxiety reduction. Not only does running twenty minutes or more a day reset your body’s physiological systems to a much healthier state, but the exercise affects your mindset as well. The runners’ “high” involves the release of endorphins in the brain, those opioid-like “happy” chemicals that just make you feel good.
Managing stress is an important life skill and daily exercise is only one tool of many. If you find that chronic stress is affecting your life and your health despite your best efforts, never hesitate to contact a mental health professional.