Should You Run for Stress Relief?

I'm sure you've heard the good-intentioned advice at one time or another.

Exercise is good for stress relief.

Should You Run for Stress Relief?


I'm sure you've heard the good-intentioned advice at one time or another.

Exercise is good for stress relief.

But if you're like me and you've done intensive training, you know, it can be stressful in and of itself. So the question today is, "Should you run for stress relief?"

Welcome to the channel, if you haven't been with me here before, I'm Jesse Funk, this is a show I call Runner's High where we talk about everything running. So if you love running, you want to talk about the nitty-gritty of running and run training. Subscribe, hit that button. Stick around on the channel for future videos.

So we want to talk about is running actually stress relief? This is a little bit complicated situation because as most things I talk about, it depends, right? It depends on a lot of things. On the surface, yes, it is stress relief and that largely has to do with the namesake of this show, Runner's High.

Running itself releases these neurotransmitters in your brain like dopamine and enkephalins. These things that make you feel good and they are chemicals that help you reduce stress levels, right? So on the surface, you go, Yeah, of course. Of course, we should run for stress relief. I'm stressed about this, so I'm going to go do that and now I'm going to feel better. And generally speaking, that's pretty true. So if you are stressed about work and you can go do something that gives you a dopamine rush, then you're going to feel better.

Some people cope by, say, having sweets. Sugar also releases that dopamine and it makes you feel better, right? But sugar can be too much. It's not a good situation. You increase your weight, you have other health issues and running is the same. Too much of it can lead to problems, and that largely has to do with chemical called cortisol.

So cortisol is released inside of our bodies as a result of stress. Now we try to make the difference between types of stress by saying distress, and eustress, that's EU stress, eustress. So distress is like, I'm distraught. My boss is yelling at me. My car burst into flames on the highway, that's distress. Eustress is things that are good for us, like running regardless of the stress type, how we would categorize it. Our body still releases cortisol, and cortisol is actually good in some amounts and that it regulates energy metabolism, metabolism, immune function, those kind of things.

However, when our body's unable to clear cortisol because we have too much stress, then actually cortisol can break down muscles and we lose that high-end power. We need more recovery and host of other things. So you have to think about, how much running is good for you, and I can't tell you that answer, unfortunately.

And that's also why if you try to train to be the best you can possibly be running itself can become a stressor instead of stress relief because despite it being, eustress, supposedly good for you. And generally speaking, I would agree. When you're continuing to do it, you're continuing to have that cortisol inside your body, created or released, so to speak. And it is not able to come back down in levels. It can have those negative effects. On the other hand. You get the dopamine. So where that balance is depends a little bit on your history. And the other stressors in your life.

The other way to think about this is. Does running provide any long-term benefit or any shielding from stress? Of course we have the relationship where we know, Hey, I'm stressed about this thing. Thus, I'm going to go run now. I feel better because of dopamine, great. So we have this kind of cause and effect chain, right? And we use that as a way to cope. You see it in movies or people are like, I can't do it this dramatic situation, I'm going to go for a run. No, that happens in every movie. But where writing is involved, it happens. Maybe that's just the kind of movies that I watch.

Any case we have this cause and effect chain, but we want to know, does running have any extra benefit to protecting us from stress? And there's actually a research study that was done that would suggest that, yes, in fact, it does.

Now it isn't running in particular, but exercise itself. And since this is Runner's High, we're going to frame it as running. But this study basically said when we look at the effects of stress, it has to do with the negative effect or negative response in our relation to that stress. Now that's a lot of fancy words to say. Basically, how do we interpret the situation? How do we feel in relation to that stressful event?

For example, let's go back to that boss earlier. That's yelling at you. Maybe you did nothing wrong. Your boss is completely mistaken. They've screwed up, but they're still, you know, yelling at you. So, you know, you didn't do anything wrong. But if you're like me, you don't like people yelling at you. You feel bad. You don't, you know it kind of -- with that cortisol release, it initiates that fight or flight response. Or you're either going to like, you know, come back and start yelling or you want to shrink and run away. Somebody's yelling at you. So how do you respond? Well, this study I mentioned suggested that the people who exercise regularly had a diminished response and that they weren't as negatively affected by this similar or same stressful events as people who did not exercise regularly.

So in fact, running has this kind of, you know, causal effect where we go, "Oh, stressful thing going to go run, feel better, great". But long term, it also has this kind of shielding effect where we know because we're exercising regularly, we don't necessarily get as affected by that stressful thing. Like our boss yelling is we're able to take it a little easier. Let you know what's the analogy like like water off a duck's back just flows on by no big deal.

I'm sure there are other things you can do mindfulness, meditation, things like that that help you be present and realize the situation and allow things to flow. But if you don't have time for that kind of practice, just running itself seems to indicate that it can be good for stress prevention. Now it isn't stress relief, so to speak, because it's pre-ventive instead of, you know, post-ventive, that's not a word, instead of giving you relief after the fact.

But if you can prevent the issue in the first place, wouldn't you rather do that, then try to solve it after it's already happened? This last part is a little bit of speculation while and a little bit. A lot of speculation on my part as to why this happens. I think we can point to our ability to deal with stress easier when we exercise, in part because of training.

So let's take two different people. Two different examples, right? Say, I just hang out here on the couch all the time and just watch the world go by. I don't do much. And I'm not stressed very often. I'm pretty relaxed. I'm chill. Nothing bothers me. And there's something very stressful happens, and I'm not used to dealing with that. It's probably going to affect me pretty negatively versus now different me, be me. I don't have a different shirt today to change into, unfortunately, like I stop snapping my fingers.

But let's say now I'm a different person, person B and I run all the time, which is stressful. You have that cortisol release and then it's got to be cleared from your body. You're effectively training yourself to deal with a type of stress and then recover from it. So when you come upon a stressful event, your body is literally already used to dealing with that cortisol release. Because remember, as I mentioned at the beginning of this video, it doesn't really matter whether it's eustress or distress, our body still releases cortisol.

So my speculation here or my conjecture is that because we're training our body to deal with and be used to that release and function of cortisol through training, running like we normally do, then when it is released during a stressful event that distress our boss is yelling at us, our car blows up and you know, we've got to get out of it.

Whatever the situation is, then we're more used to dealing with it physiologically and psychologically because there's a psychological component too right where you've got to deal with things that are hard, things that you know, you have to overcome and know that, hey, it's difficult right now. I need to focus and figure out what I need to do to move forward, which is a skill we practice in running all the time, especially if you're running longer distances.

You're not going to feel great all the time. If you're going faster doing intervals, you're not going to feel great all the time. But you constantly have to ask yourself, How do I get past where I am now to the next thing, so I need to focus on what I can control and continue to move forward. I think between those skills, those psychological skills and then the physical training of dealing with cortisol, I would suggest that's probably the reason why that result shows up that we are more capable of dealing with stress and being less negatively affected by stress when it happens because we're training ourselves to deal with it all of the time.

So what questions do you have for me about running, triathlon, endurance? Anything you like to mention, leave them down the comments below. I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runner's High.

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