How does stress affect the body?
You are probably familiar with the overpowering feeling of helplessness, the desire to run and hide and a sense of terror that inhibits your ability to think and act rationally? It is your body’s natural reaction when exposed to a potent stressor. The associated physiological mechanisms, such as accelerated pulse and high respiration rate, profuse sweating and increased heart rate, are triggered by the release of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. It affects the sympathetic system and the HPA axis, which consists of the pituitary gland, hypothalamus and the adrenal glands.
While short-term stress is not harmful, long-term exposure, also referred to as chronic stress, causes anxiety, sleep disturbances and eating disorders, and in the long run, it significantly increases the risk of developing a range of psychosomatic diseases.
Co z nami robi stres?
Znasz to obezwładniające uczucie bezradności, chęci ucieczki i przerażenia, które bierze górę nad racjonalnym myśleniem i działaniem? Jest to naturalna odpowiedź organizmu w sytuacji kontaktu z silnym stresorem, a fizjologiczne reakcje organizmu, takie jak: przyśpieszone tętno, oddech, wzmożona potliwość i akcja serca to konsekwencje w odpowiedzi na kortyzol, tzw. hormon stresu, który oddziałuje na układ współczulny i oś HPA, obejmującą przysadkę mózgową, podwzgórze i nadnercza.
[Translate to English:]
O ile krótkotrwały stres nie jest dla nas groźny, o tyle długotrwały, tzw. chroniczny stres, prowadzi do uczucia lęku, zaburzeń snu i odżywiania, a w dalszej konsekwencji znacząco zwiększa ryzyko wystąpienia szeregu chorób psychosomatycznych.
Stress and sports
As it turns out, sport has for centuries been an unparalleled way for our minds and bodies (which can also experience emotions) to vent anxiety. Long-term suppression and denial of difficult emotions is a road to nowhere, which is why finding a way to release them is so essential.
From a biochemical perspective, sport is the best remedy, due to the beta-endorphins released during physical activity. They improve your mood and relieve the body of tension (also known as psychogenic tension), help you to stay focused and develop greater resistance to stressors. Physical activity improves oxygen supply to the brain, stimulates blood flow and rewards the body with a sense of accomplishment and relief.
How are sports helpful in relieving anxiety?
Research has shown that what matters most in building resistance to stress and alleviating anxiety is, first and foremost, regular activity, which is why it is important to choose a type of exercise which you will be able to engage in several times a week for ca. 30 minutes.
“People who exercise regularly develop permanent resistance which allows them to stay calm and focused, both physiologically and mentally, in stressful situations. This is why people who are physically active suffer from fewer stress-related health conditions than those who prefer a sedentary lifestyle and are physically passive,” claims the National Centre for Nutrition Education**.
What’s more, when seeking to minimize stress levels, try avoiding rivalry-based disciplines, which automatically raise cortisol levels in the body.
Rather than that, go for moderate-intensity aerobic workouts which will not leave you out of breath, such as running, swimming, dancing, fitness classes and cycling, as well as any type of relaxation workouts, including yoga or mindfulness training.
Why choose yoga or mindfulness? Both types of activity emphasize relaxation, which involves relieving the body of excessive tension. They also help to develop the skills necessary to notice and cope with emotions, as well as to distance yourself from the stressor. Dr Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and founder of the Mind Body Medical Institute at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, has completed a number of clinical studies aimed to pinpoint the physiological changes occurring in the body during relaxation states. He termed them the “relaxation response” and says that yoga is an effective form of therapy for stress-related disorders.
Active leisure close to nature vs. stress
What can you do if you have an injury and cannot exercise regularly? It’s easy – take walks to remain in close contact with nature! Walking is a form of moderate-intensity exercise which will keep you healthy, while spending time close to nature should be something we never grow out of over the years. Why is that? Research by scholars from the University of Michigan published in Frontiers of Psychology suggests that as little as 20 minutes spent close to nature significantly lowers stress levels.***