Feel Stressed? Learn to Kick and Punch! (This photo is from the August Profile in the 2008 Aetna Insurance Company African-American History Calendar)
Stress was designed for survival. Under stress, our bodies put out hormones that increase blood sugar and breathing, heart rate and blood pressure so our muscles can get the fuel they need to fight or flee. Once the stress passes, these hormone levels are supposed to return to normal, so our bodies can rest and regenerate. Financial pressures, job and family conflicts, and other stressors never resolve. Instead, the body is basically pickled in stress hormones, and we suffer physical illness due to chronic stress.
Most brain systems dislike this jazzed up state. Poor sleep leads to poor concentration and an increase risk of accidents. Continually high stress hormone levels also interfere with the sophisticated brain systems that allow us to interact with our environment to keep ourselves safe: anticipate needs, make plans, collect resources, and use them in time. These systems also let us manage money and drive well. The only limbic system thrives under stress. Scientists believe this part of the brain controls irritability and anger, anxiety, and pleasure-seeking (possibly, overeating, and drug addiction.)
Exercise can decrease the levels of stress hormones, increasing others that decrease the perception of pain, and increase a sense of well-being. Scientists found that this happens once you’re used to regular exercise, but I find comfort even during exercise episodes. I like to walk park district trails because the woods are beautiful, but also because most are circular. You can’t give up, saying, “I’ll won’t do that last lap today;” you have to finish, or you won’t get back to your car. Also, you don’t have to concentrate on where you’re going. Knowing I’ll end up where I started, I can really space out. When I’m done, I’m sweaty and tired, but I usually feel more relaxed.
In martial arts competitions, I have “woken up” at the end of an 81-move form without remembering any of it (even if I didn’t win the competition, I usually placed at least third (-: ) My body knew the form, and my mind just let go. Once, when her students were distracted in an adult class, my Taekwondo teacher, Chief Master Patti Barnum, devised an impossible drill: varying dizzying numbers and sequences of kicks and punches. At the end of the exercise, we were all laughing about how hard we had to try to keep up. Chief Master Barnum asked, “What were you worried about?” None of us remembered.
Regular exercise is one of those New Years’ Resolutions that don’t usually last until Valentine’s Day. People give up because they do too much, too fast and get hurt; they are disappointed by slow progress, or they get bored. Certified personal trainers are the answer. They design challenging, varied programs that get results without boredom. They also make sure you’re doing each exercise properly, focusing on your fitness level (in the beginning and as it changes,) so you don’t get hurt.
Exercise can also make social connections that decrease the stress of loneliness and create a support group that keep us going. My cousin Ann, had a weight-lifting group with three friends who encouraged each other AND shared the cost of their trainer.
So, decrease your stress by accessing GRACE. Be grateful and congratulate yourself when something goes well; set goals that you can and WANT TO achieve. Realizing that you deserve to be appreciated, advocate for, accept, and appreciate yourself. Also make better choices about how seriously to take each situation and don’t impose yourself in directing the lives of other adults. Finally, make time for a dance class, bowling, swimming, walking, or working out with friends. Work with a trainer to get results safely. Start slow and keep at it. You’ll see your stress and your weight melt away.
Check in for Woodsonian Informational Thoughts on Thursday Making Sure the Money Isn’t Funny as You Age
And Next Week’s Woodsonian Inspirational Musings on Monday: Hurt feelings? Paint on the Teflon.