If you are looking for ways to stop the vicious old hamster wheel of worries and what-ifs, experts claim physical exercise and meditation are the simplest techniques. To shake it off, simply sweat it out, they say. But, you’ve certainly learned by now that neither stress nor anxiety are that easy to relinquish.
Though exercise does provide some relief, and meditation does rewire your brain, there’s no such thing as a physical solution to an emotional problem. In the best case scenario, that post-workout feeling of sweet emptiness lasts long enough for us to forget about the demons chasing us from within.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t terminate them.
This is why you cannot exercise and meditate your way out of stress, at least not without introspection.
Using Temporary Dopamine Boosts Is a Short-Term Solution
Numerous studies have found that regular exercise “decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem”. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America adds that “even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects”.
All symptoms of mental disorders that can be linked to stress tend to reduce with meditation as well. Among many other conditions, this includes addictions, bipolar, binge eating and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, depression, agoraphobia, panic attacks, and generalized anxiety disorder.
If this is true, and it undoubtedly is, then how come that traces of stress are still there even after months of dedicated exercise and meditation?
Stress cannot be eliminated with physical exercise, but it can be managed. By making us feel accomplished and less tense, both of these techniques contribute to the general health and better quality of life. Every workout session boosts our dopamine levels and unleashes the so-called happy hormone.
It’s only temporary, though, in a sense that dopamine-induced happiness lasts only while we keep stimulating it through exercise and meditation. The moment we stop, everything goes back to black. Because of that, these activities are only stress management techniques, not long-term solutions.
Venting or Masking Your Frustrations Is Not the Answer
It’s all good while it lasts, but it means very little after it stops, right? Since anti-stress effects of physical activity are only temporary, it means that they don’t actually do much for your inner health. Exercise and meditation only mask your reoccurring problems, or worse, help you repress them.
Repressed emotional problems have physical consequences, regardless of how healthy your heart and muscles are. The longer you push them down, the more dangerous they will be once they are out in the open. When that finally happens, and it will, you’ll be completely unprepared to deal with them.
In the specific case of repressed stress, what you can expect is no different than with any other form of psychological repression. As it builds up, “it causes the misperception of threats and causes us to overreact”. Your masked worries will start pouring out through cracks, until you eventually cave in.
You Need to Learn to Deal with Issues as They Arise
An estimated 8.3 million American adults suffer from acute physiological distress, be that chronic stress, some form of anxiety, recurring panic attacks, or depression. In at least half of these cases, frequent headaches, nervousness, frustration, and mood swings – all marked as common symptoms of stress – actually point out to a more severe health condition, either psychological or a physical one.
By masking these symptoms with exercise and meditation, you’re only postponing the inevitable.
Problems of psychological nature are like a rotten tooth. Sure, there are potent painkillers that can help you eliminate a toothache, but they cannot stop the decay. And, the longer you avoid the dentist, the worse it will get. The same rule applies to both rotten teeth and mental issues – the only proper way to successfully deal with them is to act as soon as they start interfering with your everyday life.
Letting Go of Dark Thoughts Is a Skill to be Mastered
It’s easier said than done, of course, but no one ever said that personal growth was supposed to be easy. Facing your problems as they appear is not only an important investment in your overall wellbeing, but also a way to learn how to anticipate future problems and to handle them beforehand.
The first step of every anti-addiction program is to acknowledge that a problem does exist. Exactly because the awareness is crucial for healing, masking through exercise and meditation only prolongs the “disease”. Instead of avoiding the problem, try embracing your stressful thoughts and feelings.
Ask yourself this: Is the dark thought that’s been triggering your distress true? Does it come from fear and overthinking, or is it something that’s realistically possible? If it’s an irrational fear, figure out what you’re really afraid of. If the problem is truly there, put on your thinking cap and find the best solution.
Changing Your Habits and Environment Is a Full-Time Job
Warren Buffett said, “Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken”. That’s why frequent, but objective self-analysis is so important in the first place. When you’re feeling blue or agitated, you cannot expect something to change if you keep repeating the same patterns.
Be introspective and stay in tune with your thoughts and feelings. Learn to recognize the bad ones as they appear, and to understand what sets them off. Getting to know your triggers is the first step towards change, which needs to reflect in your mindset, your behaviour, and your environment alike.
Break the pattern, even if that implies making radical decisions. If your job makes you chronically stressed, try changing your attitude and adopting a different approach. In case that doesn’t help either, start pursuing another career. The same applies to all aspects of your life, from your friends and relationships to your habits and hobbies – as soon as you notice a rotten tooth, go on and fix it.
As for your CrossFit routines and yoga mantras, keep them a part of your life. The fact that they don’t solve a root problem doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy all the benefits they bring. As long as you don’t use it as a repression method, physical activity will keep you sane and healthy for years to come.