Quick quiz: You're ready to scream after the end of a hectic workday, but a
long list of must-do holiday tasks still looms ahead. You fight traffic to get
to the mall -- where someone cuts you off to grab the last parking space. You
need stress relief and you need it NOW. What's your best option?
A. Scarf down the box of chocolates you've been saving for just
such an emergency.
B. Go home and melt into a hot bath.
C. Head to the day spa for a pampering massage.
D. Hit the gym and crank out 20 minutes on the treadmill.
The answer: D. We don't recommend such intensive chocolate therapy. And
while massages and long soaks in the tub may feel great, exercise is the best
de-stressor over the long term, experts say.
Stress affects us all. You may notice symptoms of stress when disciplining your kids, during busy times at work, when managing your finances, or when coping with a challenging relationship. Stress is everywhere. And while a little stress is OK -- some stress is actually beneficial -- too much stress can wear you down and make you sick, both mentally and physically.
The first step to controlling stress is to know the symptoms of stress. But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think...
Along with the well-known physical benefits, exercise has been shown to
"increase one's sense of well-being, mood state, self-esteem, stress
responsivity, (and) body image, as well as decreased depression and
anxiety," says Jesse Pittsley, PhD, a spokesperson for the American Society
for Exercise Physiologists.
Just what is it about exercise that makes a person feel good (other than
those toned abs)? And what are the best moves to do when you're feeling
stressed, especially when time is at a premium? Three experts gave WebMD some
The Stress Response
"The human body has evolved over the centuries. While we were designed
to use our large muscles in difficult environments -- hunting, defending
ourselves against enemies, enduring the harshness of weather, the problem is we
don't live that way any more," says C. Eugene Walker, a professor of
psychology at the University of Oklahoma. "We are very sedentary, and our
problems are more mental and social rather than physical."
So when we encounter stressful situations, the result is pent-up physical
reactions, says Walker, author of Learn to Relax: Proven Techniques for
Reducing Stress, Tension, and Anxiety -- and Promoting Peak
"It's like driving a Ferrari in a 20 mph speed limit," says Walker.
"When (we are) presented with a stressful situation, adrenaline is released
into the bloodstream, our muscles get tense as we prepare to react, blood
pressure is increased, and breathing becomes shallow and rapid."
"Essentially, we are stressed mentally, which doesn't require a physical
response. We are stepping on the gas and the brake at the same time, producing
fatigue, tension, stress, and over time, chronic diseases like heart
The solution: Regular exercise.
"Basically, when we exercise, we get back to what our bodies were
designed to do," says Walker. "We increase our heart rate, take in more
oxygen, our blood circulates better and faster."
Chill Out With Cardio
Exercise can mean anything from vacuuming to running marathons, but which
kind is best for reducing stress?