Thursday, May 2, 2013

Stress Week: What You Don't Want To Hear

Sorry about Wednesday's Stress Week post being so late. I was having trouble jumping the great Chinese firewall.
I hope that this weeks look into stress has been beneficial. If you have missed days 1 and 2 you can find them here and here.

I want to tell you a little story. You most likely know that I am an American living in Beijing. It hasn't always been easy. At times it has been rather stressful! I usually don't handle transitions well physically. For example, I gained most of my "baby weight", not while I was pregnant, but after E was born. I weighed more at her first birthday than the day she was born. 

So when I moved to China in the summer of 2011 I was proactive about what to expect. I tried to embrace the experience, while still being cognizant about what I was eating. I figured that all the walking around the city was more than enough exercise. 

Around October I started to really miss home. By the time Thanksgiving hit I was pretty much unhappy and definitely counting down the days until we were going home for Christmas. The China honeymoon had warn off and the only thing keeping me going were my great Beijing friends and looking forward to my visit home.

During that trip home I indulged. I justified it by telling myself that I deserved it for all the sacrifices I was making. I rationalized by telling myself that I wasn't going to get ___________ until my next visit, which wasn't until summer. Exercise was the farthest thing from my mind.  

After that trip I hit rock bottom. Those first few weeks of 2012 were pretty dark for me. Then we joined the Marriott Beijing City Wall health club. At the time I thought I was making that choice to lose a few pounds. But what I gained was so much more! It was a week or so later that I started to recognize some things that I liked about Beijing. Then I actually began to notice beauty around the city. I wasn't having anxiety attacks about talking to taxi drivers anymore. There was a spring in my step. I felt like my emotions were more balanced. 

Coincidence? No way! Some may say that it was a natural acclimation process I was going through. Sure, I know that had some to do with it. But I also know that adding exercise into my daily routine was crucial to my turn around. 

I had heard over and over, just like you probably have, that exercise raises your endorphins (your "happy" neurotransmitters). But I never really believed it until I experienced it first hand. Don't believe me? There are hundreds of studies that prove it. I liked this article. Check this out, "..research has shown that when people who regularly exercise are exposed to stressful situations their heart rate does not rise as much as when people who do not exercise, are exposed to stressors". Wow!

If you're still not convinced, check out this from Harvard Medical School. Part of it reads, "The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.  Behavioral factors contribute to the emotional benefits of exercise. As your waistline shrinks and your strength and stamina increase, your self-image will improve. You’ll earn a sense of pride and self-confidence. Your renewed vigor will help you succeed in many tasks, and the discipline will help you achieve other lifestyle goals. Exercise and sports also provide opportunities to enjoy some solitude or to make friends and build networks."

We already knew that exercise was good for our physical health. Now we understand why it is so important for our emotional health too. So the next time you are too stressed to lace up those shoes...think again. 
Do you have first hand experience how exercise changed your perspective? As always, we want to hear all about it!

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