Managing Stress: When Exercise Isn’t Enough
A friend recently emailed me asking for strategies to manage stress.
She’s in a new relationship
Just moved in with her boyfriend and his young son
Is looking for a new job.
She is in a state of transition, feels stressed out and overwhelmed.
I know I’ve felt this way during transitions. How about you?
“I exercise,” she told me, “but I need something else. Help!”
Sometimes feeling stressed and overwhelmed is a matter of the mind. While exercise is great, additional strategies may be needed to settle worry based thoughts.
Tension vs Relaxation
James Flaherty, founder of New Ventures West, a company that trains and certifies coaches, demonstrated the difference between tension and relaxation at a coaching seminar a few years ago. He explained how when under stress, exercise creates more tension.
Activities like running or lifting weights contract muscles. To build muscle you need to create that tension. To effectively manage stress a more relaxing activity may be in order. Yoga, he said, is a perfect option. Yoga releases physical and mental tension instead of creating more.
You Can’t Stop Thinking
The goal of a quiet practice isn’t to stop thinking. It’s an opportunity to get curious about your thoughts and ask, “Is this true?”
Yoga, meditation, breathing, writing are all great tools to settle your thoughts. You gain focus and clarity needed to determine an appropriate next step.
Sit and Breathe
Along with the above explanation, I offered my friend the following instructions:
Sit quietly, in a space free from distraction. Close your eyes or gaze softly in front of you. Focus on breathing. You might silently say “inhale” and “exhale”. Take 10 deep breaths. When thoughts distract you notice them and bring your attention back to the silent “inhale” and “Exhale”.
(Or as I was recently reminded, “Smell the roses (inhale), blow out the candles (exhale)”)
See how you feel after 10 breaths. Stay with it if time allows.
Slow down to speed up
Exercise is great for stress relief. However, it’s a fast paced, tension creating activity. Sometimes what’s needed is the opportunity to slow down – body and mind – before speeding up again.
The next time you feel stressed out and exercise doesn’t work, consider engaging in a quiet practice. Meditation and breathing are two examples. Find something that works for you. (ie, writing, knitting, gardening, reading, talking with friends, a nap).
As for my friend, she’s still experiencing stress. However, in that moment of angst, she let me know that the breathing activity did help her feel better. And she’s made some decisions to help alleviate feeling overwhelmed.
What do you think? How do you deal with mental stress and worry? Do you exercise? Is there another strategy you prefer?