Recover Your Balance has been fortunate in attracting a range of guest authors who can bring additional support and ideas to help you get back on track. So I am delighted to introduce this week’s guest, Robert Jones, who is a Content & Online PR Executive at Search Laboratory. He has written this article on behalf of SACO Apartments, the serviced apartments provider.
Here, Robert discusses the benefits of running for stress reduction, and introduces the work of sleep therapist Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, whose work I admire too.
A view on stress
It can be useful to think of stress as just negative emotional energy. It manifests in two forms, anger and anxiety. This can be expressed on a continuum with anger on one end and anxiety on the other. Indifference can be found in the middle, whereby you’re not feeling pulled to make a decision to get out of a stressed state of wellbeing (Dr. Paul Dobransky, 1999). When stressed, the negative energy that you’re experiencing at any one time can be pin-pointed somewhere along this spectrum. So you may be more angry about a particular stressor, than anxious or vice-versa. Below are some examples of negative thoughts that you are likely say to yourself about work and where they might lie on this scale for you. The level will vary from person to person.
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These negative emotions are a signal for us to take action. We’re more capable to find solutions to these work concerns in a state where we’re not likely to be impulsive and make careless decisions on high emotion. Running is an effective way for us to reduce both anger and anxiety, moving us towards to middle of the spectrum shown above. In this state we typically feel greater balance, control and have clearer thinking.
Mental Benefits of Running
As well as the well-known physical benefits of exercise, physically active people show significantly lower symptoms of depression than sedentary or inactive people. A study done by doctors at Texas Medical Centre, USA, found that people who exercise 30 minutes a day were almost half as likely to be depressed as those who don’t. Mild to moderate exercise releases natural feel-good endorphins that help counter stress and actually make you feel happy. It’s this happy hormone, endorphin, which leads people to experience a “runners high”, feeling relaxed and in a state of peace after exercise.
Running can also help you reach creative breakthroughs. The increased flow of oxygen to the grey matter in your brain sparks the brains neurons more rapidly during exercise. Alpha wave activity to the brain is also increased. This is the kind of brain wave which helps you clear your mind and focus. Running provides a space for thinking and reflection. You can clarify your concerns during the duration of your run or even clear your mind completely. Not surprisingly, what usually needs your attention the most is what has your attention. Writing the worries down that you’ve juggled with during your run can help you objectify them. Being specific about what exactly is causing you anger or anxiety makes it much more likely that you can resolve these emotions.
Running is a completely free activity and can be done almost anywhere at any moment. Even if your stress is working away from home in a busy city, the benefits of running are just as achievable. What better way to explore a new city and establish your orientation than lacing up for a run!
Cultivating discipline is also a huge part of running. The benefits may be immediate, but maintaining this activity on a consistent basis is down to you alone. Discipline also brings patience however. New perspectives on your work concerns may conclude that you might not get the outcome that you’re after in the short-term. Slow and patient progression towards your desired outcomes is a decision nonetheless, which you have control over.
Sound sleep and stress
While neuroscientists still haven’t reached a consensus on why we sleep, you can be certain that sleep is a vital activity and not simple an indulgence as it is often thought of as. Important for restoration, brain function and memory consolidation, it’s essential that you get enough sleep. Fortunately, running lends a hand in both reducing the time that it takes to fall asleep and increasing the length of sleep.
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Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep therapist and author of “Tired but Wired”, has kindly offered her advice on how to let go of the day’s worries and enjoy a better quality of sleep:
Create an “Electronic Sundown” of at least 1 hour before getting into bed
“Switch off and get away from technology. It’s fine to watch TV, but avoid playing on other screens such as tablets, laptops or smartphones, to minimise the input of information into the working memory which can keep you up”.
Practice Pre-sleep Yoga
“Practice deep belly breathing to bring yourself back into your body. Focus on the outbreath; gently prolong the exhalation to engage the relaxation response”. The full pre-sleep yoga routine can be found in Nerina’s book, “Tired But Wired”. There Dr Ramlakhan shares her insights into how to create optimal sleep.
Count your blessings
“Allow your mind to drift through your day in reverse and note every positive thing that happened, no matter how small. Give thanks. Gratitude is the most powerful antidote to stress and anxiety”.
Dr. Paul Dobransky, M. (1999). The Operating System of the Human Mind – The Ultimate Blueprint for Business and Personal Life.