The human body is built to experience and react to stress. It’s part of our evolutionary survival mechanism to protect us against potential dangers, such as running from a predator.

Today’s stressors however are not so much on a physical level, but more on a mental/emotional level, such as worrying about how to pay the bills, relationship or work issues.

Stress is a normal part of life, and is perceived differently by each person.

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It can be positive (“eustress”) – such as a getting a job promotion or completing the London marathon for charity – keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger.

Or it can be negative (“distress”) – struggling to reach deadlines at work or struggling to make it to school in time to pick the kids up. As a result, the person becomes overworked and stress-related tension builds.

The symptoms of stress are themselves distressing. In fact the body’s response to stress can feel so bad that it produces additional stress. During the stress response, then, mind and body can amplify each other’s distress signals, creating a vicious cycle of tension and anxiety.

Because the root cause of stress for most people today is emotional, it is best controlled by changing how you react to the situations that trigger stress in your life. Though stress control can, and should, also involve the body.

Regulating stress levels is about balancing the two branches of the Autonomic Nervous System – the Parasympathetic Nervous System and the Sympathetic Nervous System.

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS); it is often referred to as our “fight or flight” system.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) is its counterpart, and can be thought of as the “rest and digest” system. Together, they work in balancing all areas of the body to help you act, react and recover.

Exercise for Depression and Stress

Though exercise is itself a form of stress, when used is the right way it can help reduce levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins – chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.

Endorphins are responsible for the “runner’s high” and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts.

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Regular exercise will bring remarkable changes not just to your body, but for your mind also. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress.

Almost any type of exercise will help. Walking is a prime example. Even a simple 20-minute stroll can clear the mind and reduce stress!

The trick is to you use controlled breathing

Rapid, shallow, erratic breathing is a sign of tension and increases the stress response. Whereas, slow, deep, regular breathing is a sign of relaxation and reduces the stress response.

By getting more oxygen into your lungs and then into your bloodstream, your muscles will have more fuel and your heart will be able to beat slower and with less effort. In this way, you will interrupt the ‘fight or flight’ response and trigger the body’s normal relaxation, or ‘rest and digest’ response.

While following a regular exercise program is a great way to relieve stress, some workouts can actually cause a stress response in your body. Research shows that endurance workouts in particular, increase production of stress hormones.

So when you’re looking to restore your stress levels with a flowing, sweat session instead of that killer spin class, engage in exercises that allow you to breath slowly and deeper.

While yoga is a proven exercise for depression and stress reducer, it isn’t for everyone, and can actually be more stressful for some people.

Connect here with Expert Dean Griffiths.

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