What is stress and how can I manage it? 

April is National Stress Awareness month.  Stress is an inevitable part of life. It’s impossible to eliminate, but you can learn to manage stress with our help! But first, what is stress? 

When you encounter a ‘stressor’, the body prepares to respond to the threat. The autonomic nervous and endocrine systems respond by producing hormones. These responses include increases in heart and respiration rates, blood pressure, perspiration, and energy production. 

Stress is associated with numerous physical and mental health concerns; cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, immune system suppression, headaches, back and neck pain, and sleep problems. Stress also influences behaviours that affect health such as diet choices, sleep habits, and drug use.

Exercise can be an effective component to manage stress for many individuals. Regular aerobic exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your heart, and your spirits. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress. It's a common experience among endurance athletes and has been verified in clinical trials that have successfully used exercise to treat anxiety disorders and clinical depression. If athletes and patients can gain psychological benefits from exercise, so can you.

So how does exercise help to combat stress?

The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins are responsible for the "runner's high" and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts.

Behavioural factors also contribute to the emotional benefits of exercise. As your body shape changes and your fitness improves, so will your self- image.  You'll earn a sense of mastery and control, of pride and self-confidence. Your renewed vigour and energy will help you succeed in many tasks, and the discipline of regular exercise will help you achieve other important lifestyle goals.

Exercise and sports also provide opportunities to get away from it all and to either enjoy some solitude or to make friends and build networks. Exercise is play and recreation; when your body is busy; your mind will be distracted from the worries of daily life and will be free to think creatively.

Try physical activity that gets you breathless, such as cleaning or gardening, to reduce your risk of anxiety and stress levels by more than 40% and the more strenuous and frequent the activity, the greater the effect on mental health. 

There we have it; April is the month to give it a go! Engage in a class, 1:1 session or bootcamp to gain mental wellbeing, feel in greater control of your body shape, gain a sense of freedom and that much needed stress relief. 

By Lauren Waterworth ( Level 3 Personal Trainer, Level 3 Pilates Instructor Antenatal and Postnatal, Pilates Instructor & Specialist Paediatric Physiotherapist) Find out more about me here.