STRESS AWARENESS MONTH
Each April, since 1992, Stress Awareness Month has aimed to increase public awareness about the causes of stress, its impact on our health and wellbeing and, ultimately, what we can do to reduce it.
After a year like no other, it comes as no surprise that the nation’s stress levels have been exacerbated. According to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of UK adults have felt stressed at some point over the last year to the extent that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Stress can have a significant negative impact on both our mental and physical health and, as such, the importance of managing our stress levels should not be understated. The good news is, stress relief can come from simple, everyday movement and it is completely within your control.
Experiencing stress is undoubtedly a normal part of life and can even elicit positive effects under certain conditions. However, if you don’t effectively manage your stress, it can easily become a long-term problem and interfere with all aspects of your life – including your health. Whilst everyone has different stress triggers, external causes such as work stresses (eg. poor management or conditions; being unhappy in your job; having a heavy workload) and life stresses (eg. grief; divorce; a change in your financial situation; job loss) are the most common. But stress can also come from internal sources that are dependent on your own attitudes, perceptions, expectations, and uncertainty.
Thankfully stress is controllable, and there are a variety of practical steps you can take to reduce and manage your stress levels. In fact, the Mental Health Foundation has some useful resources that you can access here. Whilst there is an abundance of research supporting a multitude of techniques, and the most important thing is finding out which method works best for you, the well-established reciprocal relationship between physical activity and stress cannot be ignored.
Although the exact physiological mechanisms behind the role of physical activity in stress management remain debated, it is likely a result of the way in which engaging in activity affects neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, which in turn affect our mood and behaviour. Aerobic activities in particular have been found to stimulate the production of endorphins, your brains natural mood elevators. Alternatively, psychological explanations such as the time-out hypothesis also exist, instead proposing that when undertaking more structured activity you are taking time-out from the real world and its stress inducers, allowing the body to shut down the physical and mental manifestations of stress.
Crucially, this physical activity doesn’t need to be strenuous or sweaty to be effective. If you enjoy going for a run or high-intensity classes at your gym then that’s great! But, for many people, traditional exercise is daunting and off-putting and engaging in these forms of activity could even heighten stress levels instead. Thankfully, you can get similar benefits from simply undertaking everyday activities such as the gardening, housework or walking some of your daily commute. Simply getting your body moving can help get those feel-good endorphins flowing and relieve some of your stress, be that dancing in the kitchen to the radio or playing with your grandchildren in the park.
So, this Stress Awareness Month, consider what steps you can take to reduce and manage the stresses in your life. No matter what form physical activity takes for you, adding in some additional movement to your day will help you to live a happier, healthier and less stressful life!
The KiActiv® Team