I have another confession to make: that I have an addictive personality, and one of my addictions is exercise. This might seem like a good thing, and others might wish they had the same addiction, but it has its consequences. I used to train and compete in triathlons and would get so obsessed at times that my friends would joke that we had to do jumping jacks while hanging out just to keep my heart rate up.
When I quit doing triathlons in 2009, I then became addicted to advanced yoga classes and I would occasionally walk, bike, and swim all in one day because it just felt so good.
There is no question that exercise is a stress RELEASE. I usually feel better and more energized afterwards; however, I find that exercise (including yoga classes) is not a stress RELIEF.
I define stress RELEASE as activating the sympathetic nervous system to move stress into action, much like the flight and fight response. However, to RELIEVE our body’s perception of stress, we need to calm the sympathetic response and allow the parasympathetic response (rest and digest) to relax the body and mind.
Most everyone I have talked to has heard about this response but considers exercise as their stress RELIEF. I have found in my own experience and working with my clients that running, biking, hiking, and walking may contribute to a sustained sympathetic response and therefore a sustained high stress level.
I know I have experienced this firsthand when I was training for triathlons or going to two advanced yoga classes a week. I would find that I couldn’t sit still and I pressured myself to do more and push harder in my business. When asked by a friend to try only doing one advanced yoga class a week, I noticed a difference in my stress level. When I stopped doing advanced classes regularly I noticed the biggest difference. My overall stress level was lower and I was less demanding of myself and others around me.
I am not suggesting that we should stop exercising or attending advanced yoga classes; I am instead suggesting that we balance stress RELEASE activity, such as exercise, with stress RELIEF practice like meditation, breathing, and restorative/gentle yoga classes.
I consider my daily morning practice, which consists of two gentle forward folds and seated practice, to be my stress RELIEF, which calms my nervous system. I lift weights two or three times a week, walk, and attend two or three yoga classes for my stress RELEASE, which stimulates my nervous system. I find balancing my stress RELEASE and stress RELIEF has helped me feel more focused and calm.
What do you do to RELEASE stress?
What practices do you participate in for stress RELIEF?
Do you tend to focus more on RELEASING stress instead of RELIEVING stress?
Consider adding a stress RELIEF practice most days of the week and see if you notice a difference in your overall stress level.