Stressed out and don't know just how to escape the pressure?
Then get moving. Wash your car. Garden. Stroll around the block.
Or start dancing.
As long as you're moving, you're relieving stress. And as long as you're relieving stress, you're decreasing your chances of heart disease, stroke, depression, insomnia, diabetes, colon cancer and other conditions that can lead to premature aging, frequent doctor visits and increased hospitalizations.
Movement is exercise, and exercise is a well-documented way to reduce stress-related nervousness, elevate mood and bring about a feeling of serenity. But do you draw a blank when trying to think up creative ways to move your body at a level that busts your stress? One often-overlooked avenue has both physical and emotional benefits: dancing.
Physically, dancing is a terrific exercise and can improve your physical functioning. Emotionally, it helps integrate the mind-body connection and can boost feelings and emotions, thinking processes and behavior patterns, according to the American Dance Therapy Assn.
Dancing also combines movement with personal expression and can help make a statement about who you are. With each new step or skill you learn, the more likely you are to increase your poise, self-confidence and self-esteem.
It doesn't matter which style you choose: swing, ballroom, salsa, hip hop, Brazilian, African, disco. They are all equal in their ability to reduce stress and enhance fitness.
(And no matter what activity you choose to move to, consider indulging yourself afterward. There are few things better than sipping on a fat-free smoothie (or a glass of fine cabernet) in your bathtub or favorite overstuffed chair, surrounded by quiet and candlelight.
Any discussion on dance would be incomplete without a few words on the power of music. After all, if not for music, there wouldn't be dance.
Studies repeatedly demonstrate the ability of music to decrease anxiety, promote relaxation and increase productivity. Most music stores and the music sections of large bookstores and department stores carry multiple selections geared to help melt away your stress.
If you prefer, there are other more sedate versions of creative expression that can lower your overall stress level. Carve out a little quiet time for reading, composing poetry, solving the Sunday crossword or engaging in your favorite hobby. These can take your mind off a stress-inducing event, thus decreasing the level of anxiety you may experience.
Just remember: The cumulative effect of movement and self-expression will provide a solid strategy for beating back the challenges that life inevitably will toss your way. Anything that heightens your mood, allows you to close your eyes and practice creative visualization or transports you to another time or place should help you decompress and allow your body to work through stress-caused tension.
* Tere Filer, a health and fitness educator-consultant for Health Net, has been teaching fitness and wellness programs for nearly 20 years.
* Next week: the importance of touch.