Does thinking about exercise stress you out? No more!
Anxiety about what’s going on right now, and what the future holds, can feel overwhelming, and the need for self-care has never been greater. Self-care is what we do to take care of our mental, physical and emotional health. It helps us heal from today’s challenges and prepares us to better manage the stress and anxiety we face each day. Self-care shouldn’t feel like a chore, and it shouldn’t create additional stress. And it should definitely improve our mood and our relationship with ourselves and others. A tall order.
Where do exercise and fitness come in? Right at the beginning of self-care.
Trey Potter is a fitness professional and owner of Apex Strength & Conditioning https://www.ascsalina.com/ . His approach to fitness is holistic – he sees exercise as essential self-care. “Typically, when we start thinking about fitness what we see in our head is some type of external benefit or outcome. You lose body fat, become more flexible, have more endurance, or get stronger.” But Trey emphasizes while those are all great physical results, the benefits of exercise go far beyond that. Physical activity can lower our stress levels and improve sleep, boost confidence and self-respect, enhance focus and mental function. In other words, Trey notes “not only do you get the physical benefits of being healthier and in better shape” when you exercise “you also get the mental and emotional benefits that help you be a better parent, spouse, and professional.” And that is what self-care is all about. Because you cannot care for others if you do not care for yourself. There is nothing selfish about self-care.
It's critical that we stay home right now, and that we are doing things differently. It can be stressful when the house is suddenly full all day long, or if find yourself home alone, without regular contact with friends and colleagues. Add to that a worry about getting the bills paid or what the future holds, and you have the perfect conditions for creating a stress storm. In fact, we have the perfect conditions for letting acute stress become chronic stress. Acute stress is short term – a fight with a partner, burning dinner, kids that won’t stop fighting. Chronic stress is longer term – the stressors that we encounter over and over that never resolve. Our bodies are good at dealing with acute stress. Blood pressure goes up, breathing speeds up, hearts pound, but after the event, most of us return to our pre-event physical base fairly quickly. In the case of chronic stress, our bodies create a new normal. Our blood pressure resets to a slightly higher level, our heart beats faster all the time, and we walk around tense without even realizing how tight our muscles are. And chronic stress affects our mental health. We feel more anxious and less able to cope. Ordinary events like spilling a glass of milk or being unable to find our keys can become overwhelming moments of anger and panic. We lose the ability to see the positive side of things and we begin to focus on all that we lack, rather than what we have.
There’s no doubt exercise is an effective way to help manage both acute and chronic stress.
Physical activity changes the way our bodies process hormonal changes and exercise affects neurotransmitters like dopamine that affect our mood. Exercise also provides a chance to escape the stress and focus on something else. Katie Pembleton, coach, counselor and founder of Common Thread knows the mental health benefits of exercise. “Exercise has been shown to reduce both anxiety and depression, enhance self-esteem, and improve mental functioning.” And Katie notes “research studies have linked exercise to an increase in blood flow to the brain which positively impacts the parts of our brains that moderate our stress response system. This all leads to a positive effect on our mood and motivation while building mental resilience.”
Building a healthy lifestyle can feel like a challenge, and with everyone’s schedules getting wrecked and stress at an all-time high, it’s easier than ever to shove all this to the back burner. But that’s exactly why we need to have this conversation now. Stress management and your health are at a premium right now. Letting your mental and physical health spiral out of control is only going to make everything worse in the long run. We know that eventually we will go back to work and school and go shopping without masks. We need to stay healthy now, so we get through this period of uncertainty with strength and feel prepared to rebound
Trey breaks it down into three steps.
First, motivation. Motivation is always temporary. Trey compares motivation to having a cat - it comes and goes, and it does what it wants and doesn’t really care about you. The key is to not rely on motivation at all. Instead, you need to dig in and figure out why being fit and active is important to you. After that, it's time to set process goals. So instead of setting a goal of getting in shape, the goal could be to work out two days a week for 15 minutes. Check out Trey’s article The Secret to Staying Motivated on his blog for some ideas on getting started.
Second, plan to get it done. When schedules are extremely fluid Trey recommends doing small chunks of exercise throughout the day versus one long workout. This makes exercise more manageable. You can fit it in when it works best, and it keeps you active throughout the day.
Finally, don’t let preconceptions about what you need to do or what equipment you need keep you from starting. According to Trey, getting started means you just need to be active. If you’re just starting to build the exercise habit then just go walk for 5-15 minutes, 2-3 times per day. If you’re more experienced you can get into some more structured exercise routines, but it’s not completely necessary. For many of Trey’s clients, he just assigns 3-5 exercises. “I want them to accumulate 50-100 reps throughout the day. It’s up to them how they want to do it.”
And Trey’s final advice? “In the end, the only wrong answer is doing nothing. Get out and walk, do a yoga video, knock out some pushups and squats, or whatever else you feel like doing. Just move and move often right now.”
One of the biggest benefits of exercise for me is the benefit that comes from knowing that I achieved something each day. When I have spent at least a few minutes every day moving or stretching, I can think about that accomplishment and feel strong. And be grateful that I took care of myself. You can celebrate the fact you were positive in the face of adversity, that you took steps to manage your response to a situation rather than just reacting or feeling like you are getting blown around by the wind. You can feel grateful that you were able to move, to breathe deeply, that you made a choice to treat yourself with care and love. Applaud yourself when you took the stairs instead of the elevator, when you parked as far as possible from the store (and other people!) when you dance your heart out to YMCA.
There was a time when I would have been insulted if everyone crossed the street when they saw me coming. Now I just feel grateful that I can move, that I can feel the sun, grateful that I can breathe easily. And a friendly wave from a stranger who is at least six feet away from me helps me remember that I am not alone – there are lots of people struggling with this reality but together, we will rebound.
Next week, we'll explore stillness rather than movement as a way to manage stress in uncertain times. Meditation is more than cushions and incense. Our guest will be Tobi Ewing. Tobi is a painter, yoga & meditation guide & wellness entrepreneur. She is also the passionate mind & founder of Beyond The Clouds. Life experience has taught Tobi that wellness is all around her & she is deserving of it. Her road here was divine & intentional. Tobi aims to diversify wellness spaces & make wellness convenient & lifestyle-friendly. For her, this looks like modern & relevant brands that are genuinely inclusive of race, gender, sexual orientation & body diversity
Tobi has graciously offered to help us all by leading a live guided meditation, and you will have an opportunity to expand your practice with a one-to-one session with Tobi!
Stay healthy and move!