What is it with us and stress these days? It feels like with our speed-of-light, have-to-have-everything-figured-out-and-checked-off culture today, there’s hardly time to breath, let alone regroup and be calm. Images flash across screens, projecting perfection, and we feel compelled to comply. We overschedule and impose impossible standards on ourselves, all while cruising social media to make sure we’re doing it just right.
And that doesn’t even begin to touch the deeper life questions of dating, marriage, family, schooling, jobs and job losses, deaths, and broken relationships. It all adds up to very real, sometimes debilitating, stress. I, for one, feel stressed just thinking about all the things that stress us out.
The real issue, then, becomes not just recognizing that we’re stressed but knowing what to do about it when it comes. If you’re like me, you probably don’t like to feel stressed out. Sure, some stress is good, if it motivates us to get moving and get things done. But too much stress isn’t good for us. Listen to this explanation of all the harm stress can do to a brain.
I’ve seen my share of stress over the years. Back when I was younger, I might have fooled myself into believing that a big bowl of ice cream solved the problem. But the older I’ve grown, the more I’ve come to depend on two specific types of exercise to battle stress.
Exercise Your Body
The first is any form of physical exercise. Not very specific? It doesn’t have to be. It’s less about what you’re doing and more about just doing it. You can do anything from taking a walk to joining a team to trying a class at the gym. You could even go it solo with a workout on a dvd or gaming console. The sky’s the limit, and I’ve tried them all. My current exercise of choice is a dance class. There’s nothing like an hour of hip hop, house, and Latin dancing to keep the stress at bay.
And if you think you’re too tired, too old, or just don’t have the time for exercise, think again. Physical exercise actually increases your energy level, impacts your body in ways that make you feel younger, and overall just makes you happy with the extra boost of endorphins you get. So even on your busiest days, it’s worth it to squeeze in a little physical exercise to let go of stress.
Exercise Your Faith
But physical exercise isn’t enough. If I really want to keep my stress in proper perspective, I have to exercise a good amount of faith as well. What does that mean, exactly? For me, it means I have trust that everything is going to work out. You can call it optimism or hope or belief in a higher power that is directing your path. But on the darkest days, when things feel really stressful, faith can be a guiding light that will see you through to calmer days. And it can be found through meditation, prayer, scripture study, or talking with other faith-minded friends.
Recently my daughter and I had a conversation about happy endings. Someone told her that the happy ending is misguided because it’s not real life. But we decided, as we talked, that believing in the happy ending is what keeps us going through all the stressful conflicts along the way. We are believers in the happy ending. That’s what it means to exercise faith. It’s a belief that even when we feel stressed out, if we exercise faith, we can achieve our happy ending. It’s what keeps us going.
Keeping the Two Together For me, the combination of the two has always been key. While I love a good workout and can’t go very long without one, physical exercise alone won’t keep my stress in check. But when I couple a good sweat with a healthy dose of faith, I know that everything will work out and I can take a deep breath and relax.
Tiffany Tolman is a graduate of BYU, a busy mom of four awesome kids, and a wife of one incredible husband. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.