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Is Exercise Always a Stress Reliever?

Individuals with busy schedules including work, school, family obligations and social plans, may not have the time to engage in movement throughout the week. It can be difficult to fit in other forms of self-care, including exercise. In the past, exercise has been a stress reliever for me, but it can also become an issue if it is the only stress reliever. I spent a lot of time redefining my relationship with exercise, to make sure I am smiling and including movement in my life because I want to.

         In today’s society, many people struggle with not exercising enough. Getting into the routine of exercise is challenging. There is another side to exercise that no one really discusses and that is over exercising. Over exercising, is a dangerous unhealthy behavior that can cause negative stress on the body physically and mentally.  As a professional, it is important to identify not only the importance of frequent exercise, but the over exercising aspect. The American Institute of Stress states, “we operate within a culture that loves to praise rigid routines and prioritizing exercise”(Mensch, 2020). It will be beneficial to empathize and normalize with clients and help to facilitate change in any unhealthy behaviors. Some people may be thinking, “but I love going to the gym!” and that is great, but is important to make sure to not use exercise as a way to “burn off food” or because of something that was “bad” that the individual had eaten or a way to manipulate their body. Exercise isn’t just going to a gym or an exercise class to get sweaty. Exercise is any form of movement that is enjoyable and that makes a person feel good. This can be walking the dog, doing housework, taking a bike ride, playing with your kids, etc.

       There are many health benefits in gentle yoga, walking, or even taking mindful rest days. Some may argue walking can be just as beneficial as a cardiovascular exercise. According to The American Institute of Stress, “if an individual searches stress relief online, you’ll often find exercise”. Even if you enjoy going to a gym or an exercise class, it is imperative to practice other forms of stress relief, such as journaling, taking a bath, or socializing with friends. Self-care is important and would be a good idea to not cause more stress than relief. The body needs rest days in order to repair muscle and avoid injury, resting is just as important as the exercise itself.

       Exercise provides numerous benefits, which can include better weight management, reduced risk of heart disease, improved sleep quality, reduced feelings of anxiety, and increased overall mood. Moderation is key in order to get the benefits of movement, without the obsessive behaviors that can easily become addictive for some people. Harvard Medical School notes, “Working out does reduce certain stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in the body. It also increases the production of endorphins, which are the body’s mood elevators”(Mensch, 2020). Sometimes there may be solutions to busy schedules in order to make time for movement, like waking up an hour earlier, working on a weekend, etc. On other days, that may not be realistic and that is acceptable.

         If you have found yourself struggling with your relationship with exercise and would like to talk to a licensed therapist, we offer a range of counseling services to support you. Contact Symmetry Counseling online, or call us at (312)-578-9990 to arrange an appointment with a skilled and compassionate therapist today!

Mensch, L. (2020, January 27). Opinion: When exercise isn’t stress reliefLe. The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/opinion-when-exercise-isnt-stress-relief.

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