In my last column, I described how Release works as a line of defense against stress. All Release techniques get rid of stress-related energy and muscle tension in healthy ways by using physical activity. Although all Release techniques use physical activity to do this, they vary in their intensity from mild to cathartic levels exertion.
Let me explain…
There are several ways to characterize the intensity level of any physical activity. For simplicity’s sake, I use the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans put out by the US Department of Health and Human Services. The guidelines were developed for the average American adult and emphasize activities for developing cardiovascular (heart-lung) and muscular fitness.
They use a measure of intensity called the rate of perceived exertion. (RPE). This measures your perception of how hard you are working when performing various physical activities. It is the subjective interpretation of your intensity level and based on a scale of 1-10:
Mild. Extremely easy. You can easily carry on a conversation.
Very easy. You can converse with almost no effort.
Moderately easy. You can converse with a little bit of effort.
Starting to get challenging. Conversation requires more effort
Vigorous. Difficult. Conversation requires a lot of effort.
Very difficult. Conversation requires maximum effort
Cathartic. Full-out effort. No conversation is possible.
You can use these guidelines to turn any physical activity into a stress-management tool that is tailored to your level of health and wellness. I’ll use walking and running as an example.
Walking and Running for Stress Management
If you just want to manage your stress and are not interested in also getting an aerobic workout, walk at levels 1-4. This is a mild to moderate level of intensity that does not raise your heart rate into an aerobic training zone (60-85% of your maximum heart rate). At this intensity, you can pay attention to what is going on in your body and mind and be aware of the sights, sounds, and sensations of your environment.
If this is not intense enough and you still feel stressed, you can increase the intensity to vigorous levels 5-8 and also get an aerobic workout if you keep your heart rate in your aerobic training zone for at least 20-30 minutes.
Sometimes even vigorous activity isn’t enough and you need an all-out, cathartic effort to get rid of the pent-up tension and energy you feel from stress. When that happens, nothing less than a full sprint will work. Sprinting up a hill or series of stairs will add even more resistance to your run, further increasing the intensity.
The nice thing about this approach to releasing your stress-related muscular tension and nervous energy is that you can use the same activity and tailor it to your stress management needs on any given day. You don’t need fancy equipment, a personal guru, or expensive gym membership. You can do it outdoors or inside on your own treadmill.
A Word on Mindset When Walking/Running for Stress Management
If you want to use your physical activity to manage your stress you need to shift your focus off of your troubling thoughts and painful emotions when walking or running. I know a lot of walkers and runners who use their workouts to plan their days, sort through conflicting thoughts and feelings, and problem-solve.
This is fine under normal circumstances, but it won’t work if you’re using the workout to manage your stress. In order to transform your workout into a stress-management tool, you need to shift your focus off of your troubling thoughts and painful emotions and onto your breathing and movement.
Whenever your mind drifts back to problem–solving, planning, etc., tell yourself, “There goes my runaway mind again taking me out of the present moment”, and shift your focus back to what is going on with your breathing and movement. This means paying attention to the depth, pace, and regularity of your breathing and the sensations in the skeletal muscles of your feet, legs, arms, shoulders, and chest as you walk or run.
This will take a while to master. When you are first starting out, your mind will constantly shift into its problem-solving mode. This is normal. Give yourself 3 months to begin to gain any sort of comfort in shifting your focus when this happens. This is also why I recommend that you walk or run for stress management alone. It is almost impossible to focus on your breathing and movement if you are with another person. You will invariably start talking and get distracted. By all means, go for a walk or run with your friends but realize that it might not be enough to get you out of your stressed state.
In my next column, we’ll continue our discussion of Release techniques.
Until then remember to Stress Less and Live More,