From a marketing perspective, I think that exercise has been criminally mismanaged. If there were a drug that could do for human health everything that exercise can, it would likely be the most valuable pharmaceutical ever developed. The problem comes from the idea that exercise must be really taxing and time-consuming to be effective. While I’m not suggesting that you’ll be an Olympian by doing 30 minutes of exercise every other day, I think most people would be surprised by just how beneficial a few movements can be, not just physically but mentally.
Below I’m going to list a few of my favorite ways to destress, starting off easy and getting progressively more difficult. The idea of using physical stress to relieve mental stress might be counterintuitive but bear with me. Long-term gym-goers can attest to just how much weight this habit can lift off your shoulders. And, if these exercises don’t ‘do it’ for you, that’s alright! But I’d encourage everyone to search for their own healthy ways to combat stressors.
Believe it or not, deep breathing is totally considered a legitimate exercise to reduce stress. To do this, breathe in slowly for about four seconds while pushing your stomach out. Hold your breath for a second, and then exhale for seven seconds. Try to keep your mind focused on simple things: the feeling of the air or the surface you’re on. It’s easy to learn and can be done anywhere, so make use of it!
Stretching and yoga are two great ways to address stress and its symptoms, like muscular tension. Some good starter movements can include a standing hamstring stretch, a piriformis stretch and a lunge stretch. Try to hold each of these for a minute and make sure to do so on a soft surface.
My personal favorite, running, is one of the best stress relievers I’ve had access to. But I also know that a ton of people really hate it. Before writing it off, let me explain a simple way to ease into this exercise. First, start off by walking for five minutes to get yourself warmed up. Then, run for a minute and a half without stopping. Next, give yourself a break by walking for another two minutes. Repeat these short bursts of running and walking every other day to build up your endurance. As you get comfortable, lengthen your running and shorten your walking. You can thank me when you get your first runner’s high.
I’m guessing this is where I’m going to lose most of you, but resistance exercises not only relieve stress but provide immense long-term benefits. And, yes, while this generally refers to the scarier workouts you’ll see at Southwest Rec, it also includes tubing and calisthenics, which don’t require much equipment and can be done at home. Some of these include bodyweight squats, pushups, pull-ups, lunges, extended-arm planks and dips. Do as many as you feel comfortable with! And, if you aren’t able to do a single one, try doing negatives — that is, do the exercises backward and slowly.
This semester, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a few minutes and put some of these to practice! You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Matthew Diaz is the Vice President of the Volunteers for International Student Affairs.