Tap into your own brain to ensure you stay active during stressful periods
There is no denying that stress affects us all at times. We can all recount singular events and particular times in which stress affected us negatively. This comes in the way of how we think, feel, and then behave. Let's delve further into how we can best deal with stress, looking at exercise as an effective tool to combat what life throws at us and still move forward with resilience and strength.
Firstly, not all stress is bad stress. There are periods in which we may feel stress, but know deep down that it is occurring on the path to something positive. Quick examples of this could be: anxiety before a first date, exam worries, or the application and interview process for a job.
What do we do with stress?
We can perhaps catastrophize our thinking, believing that the worst-case scenario is sure to occur. Other unhelpful thinking habits may be present, such as assuming our emotions are completely factual, as well as thinking in an 'all or nothing' (black and white) sense.
Such thinking patterns that are perhaps ingrained in us, may well make the stress much worse. Our feelings are likely to be affected by such thinking, in addition to different behaviour that is derived from these thoughts and feelings. The behaviour can include withdrawal from such a process (e.g. exercise, interview, date, exam) and/or bring on a lack of self-confidence or self-worth.
How do we positively aid stress reduction?
Whilst there are some arguably uncomfortable truths above that many or all of us, have identified with over time - there absolutely is hope. The reality is, we all find our ways of best dealing with stress. Some are certainly labelled unhelpful, e.g. excessive alcohol, caffeine or recreational drug use. Some choose to binge on Netflix programmes some just procrastinate and do nothing. Those who read this article though will likely find that exercise is one of their foundations for a positive life balance.
Extensive scientific research is out there on how exercise helps our physical and mental health. What I'd encourage you to do is to find a form of exercise that you enjoy the most - the one that you're most likely to 'turn up' for, without excessive barriers (e.g. I hate running in the rain, or "nope, I can't do that without equipment").
Use this form of exercise as a space in which you can channel all emotions - positive (goal-oriented behaviour, provide yourself with a daily boost) and mental (relieve today's work stress, worries or insecurities).
Tips to tap into your brain's emotional regulation system through exercise
Our brain has 3 emotional regulation systems and recognising your own needs can help you programme your own exercise to help you during these stressful periods. We are all different and have different responses and different needs so tap into your own thinking and plan accordingly.
- Drive system (Achieving, focusing, progressing and wanting): Set goals and track progress. Set your sights on a new PB or try something new. A new climbing route, a heavier lift, a new fitness class or a new distance in the pool. Setting small goals can help tap into the drive system.
- Threat system (Anxiety and negative emotion, e.g. anger): Channel your anger, lifting weights can give you a feeling of relieving stress or coming along to a combat or GRIT class can really get your feelings of anger out.
- Soothe system (Feeling protected and safe, cared for, trust): A slower-paced swim, a yoga class or even getting out in the fresh air for a walk can do wonders.
If you're experiencing a time of stress acknowledge that stress, to varying degrees, affects us all. Explore your own stress triggers and what types of stress you have in your life. From there you are in a much better place to deal with it. Think about how you normally interpret stress and when you can react through your own thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
To aid your stress levels tap back into the parts of your brain that help you get through it and adjust your exercise accordingly. Keep your exercise levels up and if you are short on time a short workout will be just as good if not better than your normal workouts. If you need some help, chat to our fitness team or come along to a fitness class. Classes are great for keeping your timings on track and allow you to build these into your life. It's likely in stressful periods you will plan your day or your week to help, whatever you do make time for yourself and your physical health to help with your mental health.