Exercise and Stress: What You Need To Know About Managing Daily Stress

Exercise and Stress: What You Need To Know About Managing Daily Stress

Key takeaways:

  • The U.S. has one of the highest stress levels globally, according to the American Institute of Stress Americans experience stress levels approximately 20% higher than the global average, with 55% reporting daily stress and a staggering 94% feeling stressed at work.
  • Chronic stress isn't just a mental burden – it also puts strain on the body and causes numerous negative effects, including respiratory and cardiovascular complications, digestive issues, and muscular system problems.
  • Exercise is an effective stress relief strategy because it triggers the release of endorphins, those feel-good hormones that boost mood and promote relaxation.

What Is Daily Stress?

Stress is a universal response to life’s changes and demands. Whether it’s juggling work, managing family responsibilities, or dealing with unexpected events, the pressures of daily life can easily mount up and trigger stress.

A survey by The Harris Poll conducted for the American Psychological Association unveiled some eye-opening insights into what's keeping Americans up at night. A whopping 87% of them stated that rising prices – think skyrocketing gas prices, hefty energy bills, and soaring grocery costs – are their major sources of stress. Moreover, the same survey found that 81% of respondents were deeply troubled by the overall state of global affairs and war.

What’s the Difference Between Good Stress and Bad Stress?

While stress often gets a bad rap, it's not always the villain it's made out to be.

Good stress can be a powerful force that ignites our bodies and minds with the energy needed to tackle challenges and complete tasks. A study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that short term stress can sharpen our alertness and boost both behavioral and cognitive performance. 

This explains why we’re able to learn quickly and adapt to new challenges when we start a new job. Similarly, when confronted with potentially threatening scenarios, like being alone on a dimly lit street, stress hormones flood our system to increase our heart and breathing rates and prepare our muscles to run or react swiftly.

Bad stress, on the other hand, can take over your life and rob you of your focus and clarity. In fact, adults grappling with elevated stress levels are significantly more prone to experiencing forgetfulness (39%vs.7%), struggling with concentration (38% vs. 6%), and encountering decision-making challenges (31% vs.5%).

How Does Stress Affect Your Body?

When stress lingers, it can harm our health in numerous ways.

Muscular system: 

Imagine gripping the steering wheel tightly during a traffic jam. You feel stressed out, and your muscles tense up. Once the traffic eases, your grip loosens, and your muscles relax. But what if I told you that tension doesn’t always let up?

When you’re constantly stressed, your muscles stay in a state of perpetual readiness. And chronic tension can manifest as persistent headaches, and nagging neck, shoulder, and back pain. Over time, these aches can become so constant that it might affect your daily activities because it hurts too much. As a result, you start relying instead on painkillers for relief, setting off a vicious cycle where lack of movement and dependence on medication further strain your body and mind.

Digestive system: 

Our gut reacts to every twist and turn of our inner world. Whether it's anger, anxiety, or elation, our gastrointestinal tract doesn't discriminate – it feels it all. So, when stress hits, it's no surprise that you might have a gut-wrenching sensation, feel nausea, or want to run for the bathroom.

Respiratory and cardiovascular systems:

Think about the last time you felt stressed – maybe it was before a big presentation or a meeting. Did you start to breathe faster and feel your heart pounding? This happens because stress hormones have a direct effect on your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. 

For individuals already struggling with conditions like asthma or emphysema, stress exacerbates breathing difficulties. And even for those without such conditions, high levels of stress, coupled with a history of depression or other psychosocial factors, can heighten the risk of experiencing a heart attack

The Role of Physical Activity in Reducing Daily Stress

When stress hits, we often focus on soothing our minds. We remind ourselves that deadlines are still weeks away or reassure ourselves that things will work out in the end. 

But what about our bodies? 

As I mentioned earlier, we often forget that our bodies are also bearing the weight of stress and neglect its needs. This is where movement comes into play.

Regular exercise serves as a dynamic tool for releasing the tension that builds up in our muscles during periods of stress. By engaging in physical activity, you actively dial down the production of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol while restoring a sense of balance and resilience to your body. Furthermore, it regulates your body’s internal clock and banishes the restless nights that stress can bring by promoting better sleep patterns.

The Best Exercise for Stress Relief

Believe it or not, one of the simplest ways to tackle daily stress is by adjusting your posture. You might think it sounds too easy to make a difference in your mental well-being, but consider this:

When you're feeling tired or down, you tend to slouch and shrink inward, almost like you're trying to disappear. That's because your mood influences your body's movement patterns. But here's the fascinating part: The reverse is also true. By consciously straightening your spine, lifting your chest, and taking deep breaths, you can actually send signals to your brain that have a profound impact on your emotional state.

Second, dive into the world of fascia. One of the most appealing aspects of fascia-based exercises is their accessibility and flexibility. Unlike traditional workouts that may require specialized equipment or dedicated sessions, you can stretch your fascia anywhere – be it at the supermarket, the playground, or the office. This makes it ideal for busy schedules or on-the-go lifestyles.

Engage in slow movement as your third stress-relief strategy, where mindfulness takes center stage. By moving deliberately and attentively, you immerse yourself in the present moment, tuning into the sensations within your body, the rhythm of your breath, and the subtleties of each movement. This mindfulness approach enables you to calm the mind and quiet racing thoughts. 

Exercise Tips That’ll Help You Reduce Stress

Keep in mind that the best exercise for stress relief is one that you enjoy and can incorporate into your routine consistently. Rather than fixating on intensity and assuming that harder workouts yield better results, focus on consistency and simplicity.

As you delve into stress relief through movement, consider integrating three essential motions: compression, traction, and rotation. Compression involves compacting tissues, traction creates space between joints, often achieved through spinal extension or hanging, and rotation maintains the individuality of fascia fibers while addressing movement limitations.

Ready to explore these principles further? Start your 7-day free trial of the Vital Life Studio, where you'll discover a variety of exercises and fascia-based routines designed to alleviate tension and promote a stress-free lifestyle.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this site is not intended to replace direct medical advice from your doctor or another qualified clinician.


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