What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to a change that requires a physical, mental or emotional adjustment or response. It can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous, or anxious.
We all know that stress is a normal part of life that can help us learn and grow. Lot’s of people will tell you that certain types of levels of stress “build character”. However, stress can cause us significant problems.
Stress releases powerful neurochemicals and hormones in our body that prepare us for action (to fight or flee). If we don’t take the appropriate action, the stress response can lead to health problems. Prolonged, uninterrupted, unexpected, and unmanageable stresses are the most damaging types of stress.
Most of the ways we deal with stress (drugs, pain medicines, alcohol, smoking, and eating) are actually counterproductive in that they can sometimes make the stress worse and can make us even more sensitive to additional stresses in life.
Some proven ways of managing stress are regular exercise, meditation (or other relaxation techniques) and learning new ways of coping which creates some predictability in your life. The management of your stress depends on you and your willingness to make the right changes for a healthy lifestyle. Nobody needs to be stressed.
Stress and Running
If you ask most people why they started running, I’m sure you’d get various answers from weight loss, general health benefits, running since a child, enjoying the runner’s high and even for a particular goal (a charity 10k). However, no one can deny the fact that running (and exercise in general) has a great effect on stress levels and helps to keep it to a minimum.
As I mentioned previously, stress causes a release of biochemicals into your body which causes your heartbeat to increase, preparing your body for fight or flee. If we don’t take the appropriate action, the stress hormone cortisol is released into the body and can cause physical damage to the body. Running (and exercise in general), in a way, simulates the flight response and helps bring the biochemicals into balance.
Running also releases endorphins into the body which are the neurotransmitters causing the “runner’s high”. Endorphins also help to reduce the sensation of pain which is said could explain why some runners can run even while injured. This means running could be seen as a valid treatment for those suffering from depression and might even produce better results than drugs or psychotherapy.
If you’re feeling stressed, think about what is causing the stress. Remember the “fight or flee” reaction it’s creating? You need to deal with those feelings in a healthy way that allows you to cope with the stress and reduce any further occurrences. Running and any exercise is a great way for you to deal with stress and any pent-up emotions. Running has always helped me to take my mind off my problems, however I must (and so must you) always remember that eventually the source/cause of the stress needs to be dealt with or removed.
You or I may never be completely free of stress but through running you’ll certainly notice it a lot less.