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March 2017
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STRESS, SPORT AND RELAXATION



When the brain assesses that a situation could be dangerous for our psycho-physical safety, it sets some specific defence mechanisms into action and the result of these mechanisms is stress. Sometimes, therefore, stress can be a positive response. When tension from stress lasts too long though, our organs undergo slow and gradual attrition which, over time, has important repercussions on our health: defensive reactions put in place by the body puts are actually aimed at strengthening our attack and flight abilities, which we have inherited from our ancestors, who, in order to survive, had to count of their physical strength.

Today, though, it is no longer like that: our attacks are more on a mental and psychological level rather than a physical one. However, the muscular tension which occurs in these situations still exists, causing damage to our health if it is not adequately released. Various strategies can be adopted to relieve our bodies of tensions caused by stress, such as taking up a physical activity. Be careful though because, if you are not properly prepared to do sport, it can cause even more stress! In fact, muscular tension, which can be felt in the form of stiffness or contracture in some areas of the body, must be released through gentle and gradual physical exercise in order to avoid damaging our body, which is already suffering from a build-up of tension. Our mind also needs to gradually be relieved of stressful commitments and worries of everyday life. Ultimately, we need to find time to rest and listen to our bodies. However, what often happens is that, when we are tense and stressed, we try to release this tension quickly through physical effort, which is usually intense or violent, and it gives us an illusionary feeling of relief which is usually only temporary. In practice, it is like beating up our bodies in order to relieve tension, therefore it is best to take up a physical activity when we are stressed, but still following a series of precautions.


The yes and no’s of stress relief

NO

to sports that are too tiring, especially at the beginning.

NO

to goals that are too difficult to achieve: do not ask too much of yourself as this just means we have to put in unnecessary effort and may face failure and disappointment, which can also be stressful.

NO

to training which is done as if it were a race: this type of sport must not be competitive at all, especially since there is nothing to prove to anyone. A bit of competition is ok if it is calm.

NO

to mentally challenging ourselves: remember that the basic way to beat stress is mainly on a mental level therefore we must be able to reconcile with our bodies, listening to them and trying to perceive their feelings and emotions. This is where our real strength lies.

YES

to choosing to do physical activity outdoors, possibly in the countryside or in a park, but not in urban areas or places which are highly polluted.

YES

to trying to alternate training by yourself and training with others.

YES

to changing the route and types of exercises every now and then: both our body and mind need to change; monotony is often boring and stressful.

YES

to choosing to a sport which we like and which satisfies us: when we like a sport we do it readily.

YES

to following expert advice: making all the decisions yourself can be risky.

YES

to doing a post-exercise programme to relax physically and mentally.

Less stress and more relaxation in 10 steps

The following is a simple anti-stress exercise which can be done at home, for example when you get back from work, or during a break in the day. First and foremost though, here are some precautions:

  • Follow each step carefully but without straining yourself;
  • Remember that each one of us will take our own time according to our personal rhythms, which must be respected;
  • Follow expert advice so that your relaxation programme is individual.

Below you can find ten points on which you can base your exercise:

  1. Choose comfortable clothing and a comfortable place. Unplug the phone if you like. Lye down on the floor or on a rug in a position that is comfortable for your arms and legs. Place your feet on the floor so your knees are slightly bent.
  2. Starting from your feet, get in contact with your entire body.
  3. Think about your left heel, how it is touching the floor, the weight it is supporting, then move up to your calf and then the thigh.
  4. Continue to listen to the contact you have with the floor/carpet right up until your left buttock, then move onto the arm, which will appear to get increasingly heavier.
  5. Now concentrate on your breathing: breathe in through your nose and fill your abdomen first, and then your chest. Breathe out slowly through your nose.
  6. Repeat everything for the right side of your body.
  7. Think about your back: focus on the sacral area above the buttocks, feel where most of the weight is placed. Move up along the spine: you must be able to feel the contact of each vertebra with the floor. Help yourself by breathing deeply, but without upsetting the rhythm or depth of your breathing.
  8. Now you can also think about the head: relax your face muscles by thinking about the tensions you feel in your forehead, eyes, jaw, and so on.
  9. Concentrate on your breathing again: this time open your mouth to breathe and sing a simple aaaaaaaaa, to help it to relax all the muscles.
  10. Now that your body will begin to relax, do not be too demanding: if you feel some tension coming on, do not push yourself otherwise you will not be able to get through a relaxation exercise.

Now that your body is benefiting from relaxation, allow your mind to relax and think about something pleasant: imagine a happy moment in your life, or think about a nice place. Do not try to zone out or go to sleep. Finally, start to stretch out your body, as slowly as you would if you had just woken up.

Over time, and if you repeat this exercise daily for some weeks, you can become more able and will enjoy many benefits.

STRESS, SPORT AND RELAXATION

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