The stress situation isn’t getting any better for Americans. Between work and family obligations, school, politics, and too many activities, we’re more stressed than ever. In January 2017, 80% of Americans reported at least one symptom of stress in the past month. We’ve all heard about how bad stress is for our health and well-being—it can cause everything from depression and insomnia to high blood sugar and risk of heart attack. Students often bear a heavy stress burden as they juggle classes, tests, and other academic obligations. In fact, 40% of parents with teens in high school reported that their child had experienced high levels of stress in the last year, largely from the demands of academics. College students are also susceptible to the pressure and demands of their courses.
If you’re a stressed-out high school or college student (or their parent), then you’re probably wondering how you can find some relief. The answer may be exercise and balance. Let’s take a look at how this type of stress relief can help make life easier as a student and improve well-being.
The Benefits of Movement and Exercise
Exercise has many benefits, and one of the most important is that it has been shown to reduce stress in both teens and adults. It works by changing the chemicals in the brain, decreasing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increasing endorphins, which are natural painkillers that can produce the famous “runners’ high”. The chemical effects of exercise can help improve symptoms of mental illness like anxiety and depression, helping people who struggle with these disorders cope and lead more enjoyable lives.
Taking the time to exercise also provides a break from studying and test-taking. Some students even find it to be a meditative experience, which gives the brain a chance to clear and calm down from information overload. Students need regular breaks to stay productive and maintain their well-being, and exercise is a great way to build in natural breaks.
Creating a Healthy Balance
Stressed students might not be able to imagine taking the time to exercise, but the truth is that maintaining a healthy balance can actually enhance productivity and allow students to accomplish more in a shorter period of time. It’s common to struggle with creating a long-term plan for healthy and balance living—70% of Americans have trouble creating and sticking to these plans. Taking small steps to move more, eat more healthfully, and take enough breaks from studying is achievable and more realistic for busy students. Exercise in particular should be a top priority, as researchers have found that students who exercise vigorously for 20 or more minutes three times a week had lower stress and better moods overall. Creating a set study/exercise schedule is the best way to stay committed to exercise when classes become demanding.
It’s important to note that some types of exercise are better than others for relieving stress. For example, competitive sports are often just another source of stress for students. Even though the movement is helpful for stress relief, the pressure to do well can overshadow these benefits.
The forms of exercise that tend to be best for de-stressing are those that combine physical activity with mindfulness, outdoor activities, or fun, high-energy exercises like dance or kickboxing. Yoga and Tai Chi can be both relaxing and help to relieve stress, while hiking, biking, and gardening add on the mood-boosting benefits of the outdoors. Exercise to music is also a great way for students to get the benefits of exercise and have fun. It’s important to make the activity as enjoyable as possible—to stick with it and reduce stress, exercise shouldn’t be a chore.
Better Mood, Better Grades, and Better Life
It can be tough for students to take on new habits when they’re trying to keep up with schoolwork. However, the health consequences of stress can cause real problems and prevent students from feeling their best and absorbing the information they’re at school to learn. If you’re a student, it’s important to prioritize your health and well-being and find a balance between study, exercise, and other healthy habits. If you’re the parent of a teen or college student, do your best to educate your child on how to keep stress levels low and maintain a healthy lifestyle in school. It’s not easy, but the students who manage to create that balance enjoy a better mood, less stress, and often, better grades.