My previous blog Stress – Can It Be Good? described the stress response and how it is ideal for short-term, immediately stressful occurrences nowadays most stress is psychological and long-term rather than physical, and short-term. Think worrying about your child growing into a rebellious teenager versus escaping a lion.
In long-term stress, the stress response remains switched on for extended periods which is not good for your health.
The stress response increases heart rate and blood pressure which can cause damage to blood vessels, this, over time, increases the risk of blood vessel blockages, heart disease and stroke. The excess energy provided to the blood in response to stress needs to be burnt off or you risk developing type II diabetes.
Stress decreases digestion and immune function, leading to increased risk of stomach ulcers and digestion issues, plus more chance of become ill and succumbing to infection. Additionally, pain perception and inflammation is decreased. This last one may sound great at first- but consider the fact that pain is there as a warning that you may be damaging yourself, and if you do hurt yourself then inflammation is a necessary step in the repair process of your body – so you might actually want to hold on to both of those.
It is enough to make you stressed about getting stressed!
Thankfully, there is something you can do about it – and it isn’t just about removing what is causing you to be stressed – though that would be the most useful thing to do, so you may want to try that first. However, if you can’t remove or get rid of the stressor- after all no matter how stressful your kid may become you probably want to keep them – then Pilates can help.
Pilates can help with burning up the excess energy released which can be problematic if not used. It can also increase the production and circulation of immune system cells- helping to rectify the decrease it’s functioning due to stress.
Pilates gives you an opportunity to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous which is responsible for slowing the heart rate, dilating arteries and resuming normal digestion. This is activated when exhaling, therefore encouraging lateral breathing and a slow, long exhale will allow the parasympathetic nervous system a chance to return the body (at least for a short time) to normal functioning. However, proceed with caution- forced breathing patterns may cause more damage than good, especially when linked to existing medical conditions.
Having to focus on a Pilates class may be enough to distract from whatever is causing the stress, which should switch off, or at least decrease, the stress response. But be careful of suddenly incorporating an extremely challenging exercise, as this may be enough to activate the stress response again. It is a fine line – enough of a challenge to distract, but not enough to cause stress!
Despite the benefits of exercise in dealing with the symptoms of chronic stress symptoms, these are often short lived. Exercise will blunt the stress response for up to a day after class. If the stressor is still present the stress response is likely to return to the level it was before Pilates. Therefore, where appropriate, encourage your clients to repeat some exercises outside of class and encourage clients to engage in other exercise.