Since every aspect of our lives has been effected by the COVID-19 outbreak, it is an especially stressful time. When you are in a stressful state, healing and repair are down-regulated. The more moments of the day you are in a stressed, anxious, or depressed state, the less your body can keep you safe, from not only COVID-19 but all the other threats to your health and well-being.
The good news about that fact is the flip side. When you are calm, both mentally and physically, your body can get back into a healing, repairing and protecting state. The more tools you have to shift out of stressed state and into a relaxed calm state, the more chance you have of staying safe and well.
Exercise is something we know is important, but it is now one of our most essential tools for navigating this new normal while staying safe and well. Why? Because when you are stressed, your body is preparing for movement. That means remedies to reduce stress that include movement are the ‘super-food’ of stress reduction. Movement, that is not stress producing, gives your body and brain exactly what it needs in order to shift back into that magical calm state when you can truly ‘stay safe’.
Not all movement is going to reduce stress. You could be moving but still adding on to your stress levels. You could be moving and enjoying the activity, helping your body burn off that stress so it can get back to the state of calm.
In order to supercharge your stress reduction, movement needs to be done in a way that does not add to stress. This sounds obvious but it is where we often fall short of getting what we need most from exercise. We make it so darn stressful to get enough exercise!
If there was ever a time we needed to make exercise less stressful, it is now! There are several ways we can reduce the stress of exercising so it can supercharge our ability to stay safe and well right now:
Knowing you are doing enough: A few blogs ago we reviewed how much is enough exercise. That feeling like you should be doing more is like a big weight on your mental to do list, leading to more stress. Knowing you are doing enough frees up some much needed space in your list of things you ‘should’ do in day.
Knowing there is no gain in pain. The term “no pain no gain” is often taken to mean that pain is a sign you are making progress from exercise. What it really means is that pain is a side effect of pushing your body to do more than it is ready to do. The saying is meant for athletes and military professionals who need to push their body to excel over the competition, to remind them pain is just part of the process. It is not meant for those of us who want health benefits from exercising. There is not one ounce of science behind the strongly held, and stress producing believe that pain is a sign of progress. There is however loads of evidence that your brain is hardwired to avoid pain. Pain with exercise means your motivation is less likely to last. Lose this idea that pain is necessary for exercise to ‘count’ and you will lose much of the stress of exercising.
Knowing how to keep it flexible: I have spoken with many people lately who were happily moving along in a great exercise routine and then suddenly, the gym closed, schools closed, and their whole plan went up in smoke. As frustrating as that is, the fact is life is full of changes. Since exercise works best when it is consistent, using this time as an opportunity to think outside the box and create a flexible mindset about exercising is the way to reduce the stress of getting enough exercise. Many of you have shared with me discoveries about home based cardio and strength programs you never thought you would do. Others are using mini-workouts as ways to reduce the stress that builds up during a typical work day. Getting creative with the way you use exercise is your best ally right now.
Take a moment to consider if exercise is adding to or reducing your stress right now. Whether the guilt of not exercising is weighing you down or trying to get enough is adding to your stress levels, this is a great time to change course. Start with these three steps to using exercise to reduce rather than add to stress and you are on your way to a new normal with more confidence you can stay safe and well.
Keep moving and be well,