Feeling Stressed and Exhausted? >> Sports and Stress Management

All of a sudden you feel it: you just want to curl up in a ball. It comes over us like a wave, we feel helpless and alone. Exhaustion is setting in, and – worst case scenario – it can turn into burnout.

We’ve all been in situations like this, where we wonder: could I have noticed earlier before it got this bad? What could I have done to address this exhaustion before it overwhelmed me? How can I cope with especially stressful days?

Experts agree that exercise is the key to success.

Those who work out regularly reduce their stress, improve their mood, and enhance their mental health.

Where does stress come from?

Strain at work, in the family, or in your free time – there are plenty of reasons why the body and mind react to stress. Since every person is different, stressors (things that cause strain or tension) are perceived differently. That’s why some situations might be a threat for some people, while others consider them eustress (positive stress) that pushes them to a higher performance level.

In the prefrontal cortex…

…information that we take in is sorted, evaluated, and processed. When the brain is confronted with too much information, it is unable to process it. This leads to a sense of being overwhelmed and stress symptoms, which has a negative effect on our health. (1)

When stress occurs frequently or constantly but the body is unable to manage it, it is felt as something negative; stress hormones are released (adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol), which make the body more efficient for a short time. It is preparing for fight or flight (just like our predecessors had to flee from wild animals). We want to survive, and this means running away in dangerous situations.

Relieve Stress with Exercise

The age-old physical reaction – running – still helps our bodies and minds regain balance in today’s world. (2, 3)

Physical exertion and sports…

…are controlled by the motor cortex in our brains. So, when we move, this area is hard at work and requires much of the resources available to the entire brain. The result is that the prefrontal cortex, which controls our emotional response to stress, lacks resources – it simply cannot maintain the state of being stressed. Its activity level decreases, and the stress level is reduced. 

What should you keep in mind when you exercise to relieve stress?

Exercise is a great way to reduce stress, because when you move, your body produces endorphins, which elevate your mood. 

It’s important…

to avoid pushing yourself too hard or trying to reach a new level of performance when you’re stressed out. This can be harmful to your health and even increase your stress.

Keep your workouts shorter and stick with recovery runs or swimming. Look for a sport that’s fun for you and makes you feel good. Remember: make sure to take it down a notch on days where your schedule is packed.

What is the best sport to reduce stress?

This is where opinions diverge:

  • Many experts recommend running, because it is one of the first skills that we learn. The important thing here is to stay in the aerobic range (your breathing speeds up, but you aren’t out of breath), in order to avoid putting too much strain on your body.
  • In addition to endurance sports, regular, short walks can help reduce stress hormones.
  • Yoga is another effective way to clear your head. By concentrating on your breathing, you enter a meditative state.
  • Team sports: If you spend a lot of time alone, either at work or in your free time, team sports like soccer are a great way to relieve stress. Don’t underestimate the support a social network can provide. In a team you work together, which builds self confidence and can reduce stress. 
  • Self defense: This gives you a heightened awareness of your body, which helps your balance, and improves coordination. You’ll also be more self confident – low self esteem can contribute to your stress level.
  • Climbing: Sports you do outside in the fresh air give you a greater sense of freedom. You learn to focus on the essentials and not get distracted. 

Health tip:

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week.(4)

Summary: 

If you want to reduce stress through sports, it’s important that you have a positive association with the sport you choose. In other words, you should enjoy the sport and not overdo it. A short workout that’s not too exhausting helps relieve stress. 

There are no advantages to choosing a sport or training plan that just creates more stress, because you are too competitive or push yourself too hard. The key is to find out how much exercise you need to relax. Your friend might run 10 km to relax – but that doesn’t mean this is what your body needs.

You’re ready to do a workout, but you don’t know where to start? Join the “Don’t Stop Me Now” Challenge and be active for 50 minutes in two weeks. 

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Tina Sturm-Ornezeder Tina loves the written word, avocados & yoga and is very curious. She likes to discover new trends and report on them. View all posts by Tina Sturm-Ornezeder »