Exercise is an even more important part of an effective stress management program—there's no getting around it. The reason—the stress response basically prepares your body for fight or flight. If you're suffering from chronic stress you are literally walking around with your body all prepared for physical action. And unless you take some strenuous physical action the arousal is going to stay around indefinitely and eventually do all kinds of mischief to your innards.
When you exercise you burn up that excess energy and tension. You use up the arousal, so to speak. You allow the body to do what it was prepared to do, and when you've done it your body can return to its physiological baseline condition. In other words, it goes into a recovery or relaxation phase. Boy, does that feel good if you’ve been under a lot of stress and tension.
That's the reason why people who exercise regularly keep at it. It feels so good. And that's why I suggest you exercise five or six days a week—every day that you’re going to be under stress.
You come back from a hard day at the office, with your stress level quite high, literally prepared for some extreme physical actions. Don’t kick the dog. Don’t beat your kids. Go out and jog or swim or whatever, and use up that biological preparedness. You just burn it off. By the time you've taken your shower you're really calm. At that point you're probably more relaxed than many people ever get from one month's end to the next. And your family’s really going to like it.
Thirty or forty minutes of working out, sweating, breathing hard, and getting all tired out is just wonderful for the body. You'll find that your blood pressure is at its lowest for an hour or so after exercise. In fact it's a good idea to have some time right after you exercise just to sit and feel great. Enjoy it. Learn from it. The way to become relaxed more and more of the time is to experience the relaxation that's available to you right now, after a good physical workout.
When you're getting regular exercise, and eating well, you know it. Deep down inside, you can feel that you're taking care of yourself, and that means you are loving yourself. And just knowing that can really feel good. You'd be amazed how much less anxious you can feel when you know you're taking good care of yourself. Because if you're not going to care for yourself, who is?
So take the time to exercise and don't feel selfish about it. There's nothing selfish about taking good care of you—it's something we all need to do.
Author: Cleaves M. Bennett MD FACP
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