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Exercise and Coping with Anxiety

Running Shoes on Track

Starting college is an exciting step in one’s life; however, it can be stressful at times, especially during midterms and finals.

As a matter of fact, according to a study conducted by MentalHelp in 2016, “89 percent of college students were stressed at least two to four times per semester, and 30 percent said they were stressed for almost the entire semester. Thirty-one percent of students surveyed said that finals were the biggest source of their stress”1.

Many students enter college to take the next step in achieving their future goals. Yet, not dealing with anxiety can lead to short-term and long-term health effects. Chronic stress experienced over a long period can lead to long-term problems with the heart. High levels of cortisol from long-term stress can lead to an increase in cholesterol, sugar levels, and blood pressure. All of these are very common risk factors for the leading cause of death around the world: heart disease. These detrimental effects can be prevented right now.

Many people deal with anxiety and stress but don’t know how to immediately cope with it because of the stigma around stress. One way to de-stress as university students would be through exercise. Research shows that a half-hour of aerobic exercise every day would make people feel calmer. In addition, when a person exercises, endorphins (painkiller chemicals in the brain) are produced and can result in better sleep for individuals, which leads to reduced stress.

This quarter has been very strenuous for me and based on my experience exercise has made it way better than it was. Every time I exercise in the fresh air outside, I return to my studies with a clear mind, free from the stress of the difficult class materials. Research shows that there are many benefits to exercise. Quality of sleep, the release of stress, mood improvement, high academic performance, appetite control, reduction of health risk, and weight management are a few of the many benefits of exercise2. Performing this exercise on a gradual basis can lead to gradual change.

The simplest exercise can be a quick 30-minute run around campus. Many might have mood swings or just cannot take in all that course content at one time, especially with classes being mainly online over the last two years. When you run, you get more blood circulation to the brain. There is a particular part of your brain (amygdala) that responds to stress and allows you to have an improved mood. Now the pandemic has been a major obstacle to this issue many college students are facing, and it will be very
difficult to break this obstacle and start taking action. To break this obstacle, one must follow the transtheoretical model, a model which assesses a person’s readiness to act on a new behavior.

Many psychologists believe these five steps are crucial for consistency. It begins with pre-contemplation: when the person does not even believe in the issue. The second stage would be contemplation: when one is eager to start exercising. The following stage is preparation, where they would set up a plan to commit to this action. Then an individual would take the fourth stage, which is executing the action: running/jogging. Finally, the last and most crucial stage is maintenance, staying committed and not falling behind with the plan, which is very difficult, especially with the nature of the human body. Following this transtheoretical model will indirectly and directly display the results of reduced stress with time. It will take effort and small steps; however, in the end, it is your willpower that will decide the effects of your action.

Some running tips to not fall back to your norms and improve your mental health is the following2:

  • Move for at least 30 minutes: Consistency is more important than being perfect – Find an exercise buddy: This will help keep you both accountable to your set schedule
  • Give yourself some time: It takes time to be consistent and this should not discourage you. Be lenient with yourself and your body.

Written By: Emeen Al-Delaimy 


Citations:

  1. Borman, Jackson. “Studies show students stress more during finals week.” The Butler Collegian, 05 Dec. 2017,
    https://thebutlercollegian.com/2017/12/studies-show-students-stress-more-during-finals week/
  2. Brennan, Dan. “Mental Health Benefits of Running.” JumpStart, 25 Oct. 2021, https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/how-running-affects-mental-health

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