After a long day at the office, you are racing to the grocery store to buy the fixings for Thanksgiving dinner. Aunt Margaret and Uncle Joe just called to say they will take you up on your invitation after all (with just two days’ notice). You’re already running late, you’ve caught every red light and now, someone who’s clearly in an even greater hurry than you, cuts you off. You fight every urge in your being to not start screaming. Oh the joys of holiday stress!
The human stress response is a complicated thing that has evolved over time. Long ago, we were much more physical – hunting and gathering, defending ourselves against real enemies, enduring harsh weather conditions, etc. Now, in comparison, we live relatively sedentary lives. Our problems are more emotional and mental than physical, but our response is still a physical one. When presented with a stressful situation, adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, our muscles get tense as we prepare to react, blood pressure increases, and our breathing becomes shallow and rapid.
The solution is simple – exercise. According to the American Psychological Association, exercise can improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. This conclusion is based on research into the effect of exercise on neurochemicals involved in the body’s stress response, which suggests that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. Here are some exercises you can do to reduce your stress this holiday season.
1. Go for a Walk
A quick walk in the park could actually shift your brain into a calmer state, according to recent research. A study from the UK found that walking through green spaces can put the brain into a meditative state. The act is found to trigger “involuntary attention” meaning that it holds attention while also allowing for reflection. Like any other cardiovascular exercise, brisk walking also boosts endorphins, which can reduce stress hormones and alleviate mild depression.
2. Try a Yoga Pose or Two
Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines stretching exercises, controlled breathing and relaxation. Yoga can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve heart function. And almost anyone can do it. A number of studies have shown that yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety. It can also enhance your mood and overall sense of wellbeing.
3. Team Sports
If you’re having a hard time motivating yourself to get some exercise, playing a team sport might be the trick. Round up your friends or family and organize a game of football, basketball, or soccer — just three of many choices. You get a double dose of stress relief from participating in team sports: Not only are you having fun with loved ones, but you’re also working up a sweat and releasing endorphins. Exercising with friends or co-workers can also motivate you to push yourself a little harder in order to stay competitive.