Stress in Your Life

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Contributing Writer
Bill Burk

Recent research suggests that 80% of all disease and illness is related to stress. Think about it; the colds, flues, back aches, ulcers, fever blisters, migraines or hemorrhoids that make your life miserable might be caused by unresolved issues or feelings, and ultimately avoidable with the practice of stress management techniques. Stress management experts almost always prescribe some combination of relaxation, diet, exercise, and psychological skill development to combat anxiety and stress as it builds and manifests in your life. Of all these, physical exercise may be the easiest stress-reliever to initiate and manipulate for the average person.
Most regular exercisers will tell you that they feel better both physically and mentally after a good work-out. It has long been believed that the feelings of health and well-being that results from exercise are caused by the release of hormones into the body (usually in the form of endorphins) that act as opiates, and produce in the exerciser a sort of euphoria often referred to as the “runner’s high”. This has since been disputed, and it is now believed that the relationship between exercise and mood is much more complicated than physiological explanations allow. Rodney K. Dishman, a professor of exercise science at the University of Georgia, states, “There is not a single piece of credible research that can connect endorphins with mood”. So how does exercise relieve stress?
Scientists have a number of ideas about how exercise benefits mental health, but one gaining prominence in the field indicates that, along with raising body temperature and improving blood flow to the brain, exercise simply removes you from the environment that is causing you all that anxiety. Exercisers, who have a comfortable and reliable routine of physical fitness, have created an environment where they have control over effort and results. Their fitness program distances them from the stresses of work and/or home life like no other medium. In this way it’s a lot like meditation or other forms of quiet rest that distract and divert attention from every-day stress. Exercise, however, has been found to continue to provide feelings of stress relief for up to three hours, where meditation and effects from relaxation and meditation lasted only 20 to 30 minutes. It has also been discovered that aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, swimming, biking, etc.), performed at a moderate intensity, is better at reducing anxiety and stress than anaerobic exercise (weight training).
A few skills that can be used to reduce stress when you don’t have the time or ability to escape a stressful environment include meditation-like repetitive-action relaxation (tapping your pencil on a desk, or bouncing a ball repeatedly), muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises. Muscle-relaxation exercises involve the systematic and progressive flexing and relaxing of body parts in order, from the head to the toes. You start with the jaw muscles, flex them for a count of five, and then relax them as you exhale for another five seconds. Next, move to the neck muscles, then the shoulders, upper arms, and so on until you are clenching and relaxing you toes in successive five second intervals. There are several variations of these relaxing, stress-busting routines that can be developed to fit an individual time schedule. Most involve progressive relaxation of muscles, breathing control, use of calming imagery, and take time and effort to develop and implement into a daily routine. The value of stress-reducing exercises cannot be over-emphasized in light of the findings of research of its adverse affects on health.
Locally, WCA has a Wellness department that provides stress reduction information and training, and is available to the public at no cost. There are many venues for stress-reducing recreation and physical fitness in the area that include your local YMCA, Jamestown Community College Recreation, and private health clubs. Most cities in this area have Parks and Recreation Departments that offer sports leagues and maintain outdoor activity areas. Chautauqua County also has many scenic and navigable hiking paths, as well as cross country skiing trails. So find an activity that you enjoy in an environment that you can control, and start today to alleviate some of the stress in your life.

To read more of Bill Burk’s reflections, astute observations and a rant or two on the wide world of sports, visit www. jamestowngazette.com and click on Bill Burk’s page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.