Do it for your head: de-stress

Stress is rough. Between home and work, there are countless things to be responsible for doing, knowing and staying on top of. Outside of that are demands from family, friends and other relationships. All those stresses are enough to make one’s head spin. Sometimes stress is a symptom, and it’s important to learn to deal with it effectively. When stresses and anxieties build up, they can potentially make a huge impact on the life of the stressed person and everyone around them.

On The University of Iowa campus, students are suffering from high stress levels. In the past 12 months, 22.5 percent of students felt that stress affected their academic performance, according to a survey administered by Health Iowa to University of Iowa students. Stress impacted more students than alcohol use, illness or sleeping difficulties. Anxiety also affected 15 percent of students’ academics. With so much of Iowa City intimately tied to the UI, certainly we can all get caught up in a looming cloud of stress.

Physical activity is an effective way to cope with stress because it is stress. Physical activity and exercise stress the body in a positive way. They put the body into “fight or flight” mode, which exhibits the stress responses: increase in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. Blood flow is also directed more toward the muscles and brain. These are the same type of responses the body undergoes when dealing with stress in a non-exercise environment. However in that situation, it isn’t a good stress.

Exercise challenges the body to deal well with the positive exercise-induced stress, so when one is confronted with negative stressor at home or work, his or her body has adapted to the stress response and can better deal with the situation at a lower stress level. Unfortunately, the benefits of exercise are short term. To help the body deal with stress of everyday life, exercise needs to become a regular component of one’s lifestyle.

Exercise is a manageable fix for coping with stress. If not dealt with appropriately, stress can compound into more severe things like depression or other mental illnesses. The leading cause of disability in the United States is mental illness. One in four adults will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in any given year, according to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Twenty-seven percent of Iowans reported that they had poor mental health at least once in the 30 days prior to a survey, distributed in 2007 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the majority of cases deal with mild conditions, a few deal with more severe illnesses. Almost half of the people suffering from a mental illness are dealing with more than one. In the Health Iowa survey, 44.2 percent of students felt overwhelmed with anxiety sometime in the last 12 months. Eight percent of students who responded said depression affected their academic performance within the last 12 months. Twenty-six percent of respondents claimed to feel so depressed they found it difficult to function.

Recent research has been looking at using exercise and physical activity to treat moderate to severe depression. Studies are finding that exercise is comparable to other more standard treatments for depression like medication and therapy, according to a review published in the Journal of Neural Transmission in 2008. Some promising findings even indicate that when treated with an exercise regimen, patients with depression showed considerably lower rates of relapse than patients using other treatment methods.

Mental health is an issue that needs more attention. In the early 1960s, the Community Mental Health Centers Act was passed providing federal funding to establish and support local mental health centers across the country and help meet each of their community’s mental health needs. Iowa City has one such center that serves 2,500 people and groups annually.  Eighty-five percent of the people it serves are adults in Johnson County.

October 10 is World Mental Health Day. Since mental illnesses are so prevalent in our society, it is a good idea to take some time and do something to combat these illnesses. Go for a walk, take a bike ride through a park or listen to some inspiring music while running. Take an active approach to health.

Physical activity is a powerful tool that can be used to improve psychological health in addition to physical health to enhance the quality of life for the individual. Exercise has brain boosting power for everyone. Current recommendations are 30 minutes daily of moderate activities like walking, swimming or biking. A little physical activity every day can do wonders for both the body and the mind.

Kelly Ostrem prefers to fight stress with swimming and yoga, but when she can’t get to a pool, she runs for peace of mind.

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