Exercising to Fight Stress

Besides eating right and getting enough sleep, try to include some exercise in your daily routine. Take part in individual sports, such as jogging, swimming, bike riding, or walking, or participate in team sports after school. Play basketball or baseball with friends in the neighborhood, or just throw around a Frisbee. Outdoor activities could also include mowing the lawn or gardening. You can do aerobics or yoga by yourself, with friends, or at your local park district or community center.

“My friends couldn’t believe it when I went out for track, but it was the best thing I ever did,” says Gina, seventeen. “I’m getting a lot of pressure from my teachers and my parents. I’d get so stressed, I couldn’t sleep at night, and I would get headaches all the time.

To fit in time for practice, I had to adjust my schedule, and that wasn’t easy. Still, when I get out on the track and I’m running or jumping, I forget all about the work and the pressures and my parents, too. Even though I have less time for studying, I can work more efficiently and get more done. I feel better about it, too. I can really cope with the pressure now.

When you are under stress, your body reacts with a fight-or-flight response, which involves increasing your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Physical exercise helps to use some of that energy and reduce the symptoms. Exercise is good for you mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. It can increase your self-confidence and self-esteem, help you feel in control, and improve your outlook on life. It can help you to relax and temporarily get your mind off other stressors in your life.

Start your exercise program slowly and build from there, especially if you have never exercised regularly before. In the beginning, plan non-competitive activities that you can do by yourself or with friends, such as running or bike riding. This way you can work at your own pace, increasing your activity each day. Talk to your doctor about possible limitations and also suggestions for the best type of exercise for you. Plan your exercise time into your daily schedule, so fitting it in won’t cause more stress.

Doing household chores, or any task or activity that you are committed to doing well and completing, can help reduce stress. These activities can keep you from getting bored (which can be stressful); they can take your mind off other stressful problems temporarily; and they can boost your self-esteem by giving you a sense of accomplishment.