Is your Stress Relief causing you more Stress?

Jan 15, 2016

ProActive Physical Therapy

by ProActive Physical Therapy

By: Jaimie Perkunas (ProActive Health Network Member)

Happy New Year~ Tis the season of new ideas and adventures for the New Year. What goals and ambitions do you have for 2016? I would guess most of us would like to be more active, lose weight, and be less stressed. I couldn’t agree more, especially regarding more active. I have to admit that I am recovering exercise addict. I use to train for triathlons and make sure I exercised every day if not twice a day. My workouts would be no less than 60-90 minutes a day and taking a day off from exercise felt like punishment.  My energy was high, my appetite was fierce, and my stress level was moderate to high.  I told myself I was exercising to keep from gaining weight, to help me with stress relief, and to keep me healthy.

It wasn’t until I met my husband who isn’t really into exercise that I stopped. I fell in love and chose develop a meaningful relationship over training for triathlons. I continued with a 3x/week yoga practice but only did “normal” aerobic exercise for like 2 years and to my surprise I lost weight, was able to control my appetite, and looked and felt healthy than I ever have. I have the opportunity to work with healthy, motivated clients who I find have a similar exercise addiction to me. I work with marathon runners, elite cyclist, and cross fitters and find they have a difficult time calming or slowing down their nervous system.


Just a quick review of the nervous, there are two aspects, the sympathetic (active, stimulating, stress  inducing) and the parasympathetic (calm, relaxing, stress relieving). When the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated it cause our body to want to “fight, flight, or freeze” which can happen with a deadline at work or almost getting hit by a car. This reaction causing the psoas muscle to contract (even if we are just sitting in front of the computer) to help us mobilize if needed. However, when we are doing what we considered “stress relieving activities” such as running, biking, and hiking we engage the psoas muscles. In order to relieve stress, we want to increase the parasympathetic and decrease sympathetic aspect of the nervous system, one of the best ways to increase parasympathetic activation is with diaphragmatic breathing and lengthening your exhale 2x as long as your inhale. Although many use aerobic exercise as a stress relief, I have seen the opposite effects in my clients. Most of my very active clients also report high stress level. Don’t get me wrong I am all in favor of aerobic exercise for heart health and overall wellbeing; however I believe we need to also take time to consciously calm the nervous system.  I also believe it is important to remember the American Heart Association Guidelines.

At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150


At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity

I know they mention the words “at least” which does not mean 2-3x’s more than what is recommended. I would like to encourage you to find a balance between active stress relief and calming stress relief. If you have no problem relaxing all day, consider finding an active way to relief stress like walking or swimming. However, if you are an active person consider finding a calming stress relief, like breathing or yoga. If you are interested in starting a yoga practice consider joining an upcoming class at Yoga is Therapy. If you have an injury and would like to know how to modify or work with your yoga practice please contact Jaimie for a first appointment.

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