- Did you know that one in three people report feeling extreme stress? Are you surprised?
- And about three in four people experience stress that affects their physical and/or mental health.
- Also, almost half of all people have trouble sleeping because of stress.
How stressed are you? And how do you know it? How do you feel it?
The impact of stress
Stress is a natural part of the human experience; we all feel it. It is our reaction to the various experiences and events of daily living. Stress can include anything from everyday school, family, and work obligations to serious life events such as conflict on the job, the death of a family member, or one’s own significant illness. Some stress can be positive and healthful, providing one with the bolster they need to cope with potentially challenging situations. Ultimately, stress's long-term consequences are contingent upon one’s perception of and reaction to events. Stress, therefore, is in the eye of the beholder.
When one perceives a situation or event as being outside their coping abilities, frustration, overwhelm, and demotivation can set in (Matthews, 2019). When one is in this state of distress, stress hormones keep firing. Your nervous system releases a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which activate the body for emergency action. When stress levels remain elevated, your body is significantly impacted. Chronic stress affects your immune system, sleep, and ability to heal. Some other common symptoms include:
- Tension headaches
- Increased depression
- Rapid breathing
- Risk of heart attack
- High blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- Tense muscles, which can lead to neck and back pain
Walking away stress
Hippocrates encouraged us, “If you are in a bad mood, go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood, go for another walk.” Walking can help to decrease our stress and boost our mood. Research and neuroscience provide strong reasoning for us to lace up and hit the sidewalks or trails. Whether you trot a quick urban pace passing your fellow city dwellers, stroll on the sidewalk of your suburbs offering greetings to neighbors and petting dogs, or meander along a wooded path, stopping to smell a flower here and there, walking has potential benefits for you.
Walking it off works. It can help to relieve stress--even a short, ten-minute jaunt can improve mood. Research showed these short walks as effective as a similar brief meditation session. In fact, walking is sometimes considered “meditation in motion” as one shifts to concentrating only on their body’s movements rather than ruminating on daily worries. Research indicates that shedding tensions through walking can result in energy and optimism; the resulting sense of calm and focus is carried forward in other endeavors. Of course, one can also engage in purposeful mindful meditation while walking. This might include listening to guided meditations, such as those provided on the Calm app, supporting one to establish new mental patterns and avenues for growth and change.
Change your brain. Walking can build brain health by improving memory, learning, and concentration. It creates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which Dr. Mark Hyman calls “miracle grow” for the brain. When you walk, your brain becomes more elastic. Like other physical activities, walking helps increase the production of endorphins, your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. You improve your mood, boost your energy and reduce overall stress in your body and mind (Mayo Clinic, 2022).
Gain control. Walking has both psychological and physiological benefits. Done routinely, it can increase self-confidence, improve mood, support relaxation, and lower symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. It can also improve sleep. Lower your stress levels by walking and increase your command over your body and life.
Give it a try! Get more walking into your daily routine with one or more of the following suggestions. While one may begin experiencing benefits with 10-minute walks, 150 minutes of moderate weekly exercise is suggested (OASH, 2021). You could start building toward five 30-minute walks per week.:
- Nature Walk: Get outside to walk, whether around your neighborhood or in a park. Being out in nature has added health benefits. For example, it boosts short-term and working memory, lowers cortisol levels, lowers blood pressure, and increases self-esteem (Loria, 2018).
- Walk and Talk: Walk with a friend. Catch up on your news. Share your successes and celebrate your accomplishments. People with robust social support networks tend to manage stress and maintain mental well-being more effectively than their socially disconnected peers.
- Walking Meeting: Take your work meetings “on the road” or on a path or sidewalk. Plan to take some of your work calls “multi-tasking.” Pop on a pair of headphones and walk while you talk with colleagues.
- Dog Walk: Get in some steps while you walk your dog. Research indicates that dog walkers are more likely to build their social support networks than their sedentary peers. They acknowledge and greet others, exchange favors with neighbors, and meet others in the neighborhood (Betterhealth, 2015).
- Brainstorm Walk: Walking is a fantastic time to get creative, whether alone or with a friend or colleague. Whether walking inside or outside, research shows that walking boosts creativity during and after. In fact, a Stanford study found a person’s creative output increased by an average of 60% (Opezzo & Schwartz, 2014).
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