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Reducing stress with sport and activity

What do you mean by stress? 

Stress here refers to a range of negative feelings which we all suffer from time to time, but to which some people are more prone. These can range from depression (with symptoms of sadness, listlessness and hopeless thoughts) to anxiety (with feelings of dread, physical discomfort and possibly panic).

It also includes the feelings of irritability and having too much to do which can often accompany being a student at this present demanding time. We do not include severe depression with suicidal thoughts or extreme anxiety with severe panic attacks which may require a different approach.

How can exercise and activity help?

The benefits of exercise for improving physical health have been long known. However marked psychological benefits have been noted. These are due to a variety of possible causes:

  • Altered chemistry - exercise stimulates production of endorphins and opiates which create a sense of well-being.
  • Improvement in heart and lung function - leading to increased availability of oxygen for muscular and nervous functions.
  • Distraction - giving sustained attention to one area over a long time can lead to boredom, exhaustion and negative thoughts.
  • Exercise - especially that involved in learning or exercising a skill - diverts attention elsewhere, leading to a lessening of negative preoccupation.
  • Emotional expression - society places many constraints on the feelings we may display - and in doing so may contribute to a feeling of emotional sickness. Normally i sporting context a wider display of emotion - whether of frustration or camaraderie - is allowed.
  • Changed sense of self - physical activity allows us to set ourselves in a different context - to enjoy physicality, to accept our limitations and to take different risks - which contribute to a more flexible, and therefore healthier, world view.

What stops people taking enough exercise if it is so good for them?

  • Time pressure - if you have a busy study timetable it can seem too self-indulgent
  • Inertia - most forms of exercise require some minimal preparation and this can be an effort
  • Cost - many forms of exercise require an admission fee which can serve as discouragement
  • Anxiety - some gyms etc can be pretty daunting to walk into for the first time
  • Dislike of competitiveness - many people associate exercise with competitive sport - maybe they have had unpleasant experiences at school - and so never explore non-competitive exercise
  • Self-consciousness - people may fear others might disparage them in some way - this can be increased

So what can I do?

  • Regular exercise - two or three 30 minute sessions per week
  • Some team or pair exercise - to help motivation and increase companionship
  • Complementary exercise - exercise should match your stage of fitness and you mood
  • Consider life coaching if a lack of confidence is barrier to you exercising
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