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Exercise: Stress Buster for the Toughest Times

by Sarah on October 17, 2010

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As parents, we know stress.


Well, there’s an old saying:  When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  I think there’s a hidden meaning to this:  When stress hits, get moving – exercise.


We experienced the powerful stress-antidote in exercise when hit by one frustration after the other as winter was winding up to wind down . . .




The power was out, the basement flooding – no internet, no phone.  A windstorm that brought rain, sleet, hail and snow (all of them!) had done some serious damage to the lines around our house.


Fortunately we were unharmed and the house was intact. All we had to do was get the generator going and shuffle things about a bit. But nonetheless, sorting through extension cords, pushing the water to the sump pump, managing meals and trying to meet a few writing deadlines, tempers were short.


Both kids were on the receiving end of lectures and my husband and I exchanged a few choice words as well.


But soon enough, we’d gotten things set up, everyone had taken up their marching orders (okay, a little lollying behind from George, age 10) and we were actually able to relax a bit.


So what did we do after a good breakfast? 


Suit up and go for a family bike ride.


We put on our parkas and snowboarding/ski helmets, mittened up and hit the road.  About 10 minutes into our ride, it even started snowing again!


Now this may seem like a crazy thing to do.  When you’re under this much duress, why go out in the cold on a bike?  Wouldn’t a nice cup of hot chocolate do better?


Absolutely not.  If there is one thing that shifts the mood and brings renewed energy and some good attitude it’s exercise.


Exercise does a number of things.  First of all it’s a natural stress buster.  All that pent-up frustration can go right into a few hard pushes on the pedals.


Exercise also lifts your mood.  A recent study in Scotland found that even just 20 minutes of exercise a week can make you feel better.  But don’t take the researcher’s word on this, try it.


Exercise gives you energy.  It revs your metabolism and gets the blood pumping.  Your body starts tapping into your fuel reserves (yes, some of that fat and extra calories) and putting it to use.  Plus, later that day when you hit the pillow, you’ll get the kind of restorative sleep that really helps you get up the next morning refreshed.


Finally, it can give you a sense of control and accomplishment.  When things seem to be spinning out of control by doing something good for your health – something that requires a little focus and discipline – you take back the reins.  And when you take control in one area, it’s easier to take control in other areas as well.


As parents, we hit these stress points all the time.  When our internal pot of water boils over and we are no longer the cool cucumber we try to be.


At times like this, often you do need to get the troops lined up with some stern commands and get things done.  


But once you’ve got the essential tasks done, rather than letting that dark sky take over, shift the mood with some physical activity.


  • You can grab your bikes and churn over a few hills. 
  • Launch into a wild tickle fight or wrestling match (a favorite around here) 
  • Sprint around outside in a game of tag. 
  • Put on some good dance music and break out the moves! 
  • Even do just a few sets of jumping jacks or pushups together.  (Kids love jumping jacks – it can be hard to stop them!)




Despite the face-stinging snow, and red noses, our grumpiness surely enough turned into good vibes.  In fact it was contagious.  We stopped in to check on a few neighbors and after a few minutes, even their looks of distress had started to melt away as we shared our restored good humor.  I think even just seeing our act of defiance gave people some good cheer.  One vowed he was going to jump on his bike as well.


By the time we turned in the driveway, we had big grins on our faces.  We all had expelled the demons of stress somewhere along the way.  With this dose of exercise, stress was nowhere to be found. And in exchange we all experienced a sense of accomplishment and togetherness brought by this shared adventure.


And when we got inside, we really enjoyed the deferred cup of hot chocolate – together.


So when things get tough . . .get moving.  And see how this can change your perspective, energy and family life.

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