Diet and Exercise on Severe Stress

My whole life, I have been observing the difference between people who manage their stress in healthful, positive ways and people who manage stress in negative ways. Managing intense emotions, such as stress, take many instances of trial and error in order to figure out which method works best for an individual. In both high school and college, students are put up against extreme amounts of stress. From learning to handle social expectations and achieve personal obstacles to meeting deadlines, there is always something that can cause a stressful reaction. Undoubtably, some handle stress better than others. Through these observations as well as personal experience, I have learned what it takes to manage stress in an effective, positive and healthful ways. Through learning how to cope with stress, I have started to wonder about ho\w others handle stress and the most effective and long-term solutions to managing stress as well as why it is that so many students turn to medication to manage stress rather than their body and minds natural ability to cope with stress. In today’s society, where instant results are preferred, it is much easier to turn to easy, unhealthy methods of stress management. While for some this includes extensive sleep and mindless eating, another commonly seen stress management technique is prescription medication. While over-eating, over-sleeping and prescription medication are taxing on the body’s natural balance, the illusion of prescription medication cure to health problems is also expensive to maintain. Conventional doctors tend to prescribe medicine to reduce severe stress, but there is evidence that diet and exercise can be just as effective in managing stress without the expensive and side effects of medication. However, studies show that healthy diet and exercise strongly correlate with reduced severe stress. College is a very stressful environment and many college students report dealing with stress on a daily basis and resort to medication to alleviate their chronic stress. Instead of prescribing medication, doctors should promote daily exercise and a healthful, balanced diet to alleviate severe stress in young adults. Why, you might ask, should we turn to exercise and diet to heal the effects of severe stress and prevent stress in the future when we can just get a prescription to fix it? Not only is diet and exercise phenomenal for physical health, it is essential for emotional health. With extended healthful diet and exercise, long term results begin to form. As the body changes, so does the mind. Therefore, exercise and diet are followed with emotional resilience to stress.
It’s of no argument that the pharmaceutical industry is making it easier than ever for people to get prescriptions to manage severe stress. It is much harder to turn around and face the stressors head on. From popular radio stations to TV commercials, medication is continuously being marketed as a fast and easy fix to severe stress. Yes, medication is undoubtably a quicker solution than are lifestyle changes and yes, it is easier than learning how to mange stress through your own will power. However, the benefits of managing stress through natural, healthy practices are largely overlooked and are not fully encouraged. Since many people report that depression and anxiety are huge sources of stress, it clear that exercise will help reduce severe stress in the daily lives of many young students. When people take control over their lives, they simultaneously take accountability for their health. As a person begins to recognize the responsibility they have for their mental and physical health, it is likely they begin to see the correlation between mental and physical health. Without mental health, physical activity is an overwhelmingly daunting task just as without physical health, mental health and clarity is nearly impossible. If a person does not love and respect their body, it is very unlikely they cherish and respect their mind. The more a person treats themselves as they deserve to be treated, the more they realize their worth. Realizing this worth transforms negativity within the mind and body into positivity in every aspect of the person’s life. In turn, they loose their attachments with depression and anxiety therefore seeing stress as an unnecessary crutch for failure or an unnecessary necessity for success. Physical activity is associated with a large range of health benefits, including reduced severe stress, and it’s absence can have extremely harmful effects on health and well being. Some of these negative effects include heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, obesity, hyper-tension and all cause mortality (Strong). Not only does a lack of physical activity cause physical illness, physical inactivity is also associated with development of mental disorders. Clinical and epidemiological studies have shown associations between physical activity and lessened symptoms of depression and anxiety. In addition, cross sectional studies have consistently associated high levels of habitual exercise with better mental health and, of course, habitual exercise with low depression (Childs).
Just like healthy, vibrant people have colorful lives filled positive people and activities, severely stressed and overwhelmed people usually have lives filled with things and people that don’t really benefit them or make them happy. As you have probably observed, many health problems are caused from compound behaviors. For example, smoking, not exercising and overeating (Bandura) are all negative habits that lead to unhealthy results. It is rare that I see a happy, stress-free person who also smokes cigarettes, doesn’t exercise and eats an unbalanced diet. On the contrary, people that do get regular exercise, take care of their body and eat a healthful, balanced diet are generally able to handle daily stress without it piling up and becoming debilitating to the persons life. Severe stress is usually accompanied with a person whom feels as if they cannot control their life’s events. I’d be stressed too if I felt as if my life wasn’t up to me. There is something very unsettling about being out of control of your life. Considering security is a need essential for a human to function calmly, it is common for the fear of lack of control to lead people to the point of severe stress. People who feel that they control their lives also feel as if they control their health. Because of the responsibility of maintaining their health, these people are more likely to practice healthy behaviors. In an effort to practice healthy behaviors, these people generally avoid behaviors that increase the risk of disease; some of which being smoking, lack of exercise and overeating (Bandura). Avoiding these behaviors allows people to manage their stress in natural, healthy ways. As you can see, quality of health is very much influenced by lifestyle habits and a healthy lifestyle directly relates to reduced overall stress in individuals. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to manage their health. Self-management is good medicine. If the huge health benefits of these few habits were put into a pill, it would be declared a scientific milestone in the field of medicine (Childs). Vibrant health and the habits that follow are all within a persons control. People react to this control in a numerous ways, some people step up to the challenge and others do immediately feel defeated.
There are many reasons as to why those who do not habitually exercise choose not to exercise and nourish their bodies with balanced meals. However, researchers have identified quite a number of reasons why people are motivated to exercise including, health, appearance, weight loss, social support, mood change, recognition and most relevantly, stress reduction (Strong). While there are many motivators pushing people to live healthy lifestyles, there is one huge reason why people who do not already exercise don’t exercise- fear of disapproval and the need for others respect. Esteem needs are essential for a comfortable, calm and stress-free life. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, esteem needs are necessary in order to address self-actualization needs. Self-actualization needs include realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment and personal growth. Ironically, in order to realize ones full potential and fulfill this potential, one has to have addressed all of their esteem needs. These needs include achievement, independence and respect from others. Social physique anxiety has received some experimental attention as a possible factor in predicting exercise behavior. These experimental findings have shown that people with higher levels of social physique anxiety were less likely to exercise (Nelson). In my opinion, it is a crying shame that this is the only reason people who are currently living severely stressful, unhealthy lives are not making a positive change in their lives. However, having once been in their shoes, I understand how hard it is to take the first step towards a balanced and manageable life. In order to take the first step, you have to first realize that you are fully capable of creating a better life for yourself. Once you take this step, you naturally hold yourself accountable to your new realized personal potential. After this step, there is no excuse to live drowning in stress.
On a positive note, the issue of physique anxiety is an easy fix. As a person surrounds themselves with healthy, confident people, they will begin to see those qualities in themselves. Human health is a social matter, not just an individual one (Bandura). The problem lies in creating an environment where it is easier to be healthy through exercise and diet than it is to not be. A comprehensive approach to health promotion requires changing the practices of social systems (Bandura). If this environment exists, it will be less of a social anxiety to exercise for those who feel uncomfortable doing so with their own courage. The more a person is surrounded by health and positivity, the more they will naturally conform to these social and environmental norms. These social systems have an undeniable widespread effect on human health and can either generate feelings of encouragement and normalcy or feelings of anxiety and stress. Authors have found that although social physique anxiety alone was not related to frequency or duration of exercise, social physique anxiety was worse after viewing exercise videos that emphasized the importance of physical appearance (Nelson). This stresses the importance of a positive, healthful environment that makes people feel more comfortable about exercising. This comfort will allow them to become confident in their bodies and their bodies ability to perform. As people begin to make exercise a regular activity, they will begin to see and feel the difference in lifestyles. When they experience the effects of diet and exercise, they will not likely want to return back to their lives which were filled with severe stress and anxiety and possibly even depression.
It would be of great benefit to young adults to be able to let go of the daily stress involving academics and life as they exercise in a comfortable, understanding and enthusiastic environment, as well as have nutrient dense options as daily meals. The more young adults habitually exercise and nourish their bodies, the more they can reduce and manage severe stress. When this stress is reduced, so are the chances of chronic diseases forming that will put students at disadvantage in being successful students and individuals amongst society. With prolonged stress, the immune system is not able to do its job as the protector of the body. When the body is not protected from disease, it is left extremely vulnerable to other short term illnesses such as flu and cold. Though healthy lifestyle changes take longer than simply being treated by prescription medication, the rewards are too good to be ignored. Not only can patients of healthy lifestyle changes improve their body’s ability to manage severe stress, they can learn skills to manage emotional problems as well. These changes can last a lifetime and can be passed down to generations to come, eventually creating a happier, healthier society.

Works Cited

Bandura, Albert. “Health Promotion by Social Cognitive Means.” Sage Journals. 31; 143. 2004. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

Childs, Emma. “Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults.” Frontiers In Psychology. 2014. Web. 8 Nov. 2014.

Strong, Kathryn A. “Weight Gain Prevention: Identifying Theory-Based Targets for Health Behavior Change In Young Adults.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 108;10. 2008. 1708-1715.e3. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

Nelson, Melissa. “Understanding the Perceived Determinants of Weight Related Behaviors in Late Adolescence; A Qualitative Analysis among College Youth.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 41;4. 2009. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.