The next time you’re nervously prepping for an exam or a crucial job interview, consider this: taking a break to exercise may help you stay calm and focused as you complete your big task.
Exercise is an effective short-term treatment for anxiety, said Jonathan Abramowitz, Ph.D., director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Clinic at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In fact, research suggests that — at least for temporary anxiety — exercise can be just as effective a coping tool as medication or psychotherapy, he said.
Although we often think of it negatively, anxiety is a normal emotion, Abramowitz said. It evolved in our ancestors as a response to danger, such as a nearby predator. When you perceive a threat, you begin sweating, your heart rate increases and your breathing accelerates — the “fight or flight” response.
Of course, many modern dangers – such as a bad grade or an unsatisfactory job interview – can’t be thwarted by fighting or fleeing. In those cases, you may be left with only the unpleasant effects of anxiety, such as sweaty palms and a pounding heart.
Exercise can help you manage anxiety by distracting you from your worries and giving you a feeling of accomplishment, Abramowitz said. It also causes your body to release endorphins, pain-relieving chemicals that suffuse you with feelings of well-being.
Among the tips he offers for helping to relieve anxiety:
Abramowitz also recommends that people shouldn’t hesitate to seek out professional advice when these tips fail to help. A therapist can help you learn additional techniques for managing your anxiety without medicine.
“People should try cognitive-behavior therapy with a well-trained mental health professional before they take medicine for anxiety,” he said, “because these problems are very treatable.”