Running Away from Stress
Many people experience extensive stress today. A constant flow of new possibilities that insist on our attention, hard-to-solve day-to-day puzzles, and demands from ourselves and others. Sometimes you just want to run away from it all. Maybe that’s exactly what we should do!
There is a clear connection between stress and lifestyle-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Various hormones affect the release of insulin after a meal. The stress hormone adrenaline has a key role. When we meet a predator, we need high blood sugar to be able to flee. Then insulin release must be stopped. That is exactly what adrenaline does.
Today we don’t flee from predators on an everyday basis. Instead our adrenaline rises from constant media noise, lack of time for recovery, an accelerating tempo with demands to “keep up,” ever-increasing opportunities but also ever-increasing pressure.
In the past there was a natural context of security and trust that created meaning despite a hard existence. Today’s individualistic society places new demands. This may lead to shortsightedness and a lack of meaning and greater context. And chronic stress for which we are not adapted.1,6
Some People Are More Sensitive to Stress Hormones
Blood sugar control is affected negatively by this chronic stress because adrenaline slows down insulin release. Moreover, certain people are affected even more strongly.
In 2010 at Lund University we found that 40% of persons with type 2 diabetes have a gene variant that makes the insulin-producing cells particularly sensitive to adrenaline.2 The insulin release is then subdued too much. It’s like driving a car with the handbrake on. And the risk of diabetes increases.
What Can We Do to Handle Stress?
It’s often said that we can’t run away from today’s stress. But is that really true?
In recent years, a number of research reports have shown that exercise is surprisingly effective in reducing stress.
Exercise makes new blood vessels form in the areas of the brain that control reaction to stress3. Exercise also means that we concentrate better and react in a more nuanced way to various impressions.
It is easier for us to understand other people’s perspectives and we don’t flare up as easily.
A large American study found that the perceived quality of life was higher in those who exercise regularly. Exercise also reduced the risk of depression by 15%.4
In addition, exercise increases substances such as dopamine and endorphins, which make us feel good and experience less pain.3 This may be important to know for someone who has a hard time getting started with exercise because of pain. Exercise can actually reduce pain in the long term.
Multiple Benefits with Exercise
Often we think we don’t have time to exercise. But studies have shown that if we substitute one hour of work for exercise we will get more done in the other hours, because exercise helps us concentrate better.
In many cases, a combination of medication and lifestyle changes is required to treat lifestyle diseases. It has been shown, however, that exercise increases our self-confidence compared with medicine, because we perceive that we ourselves have done something about the situation. This in turn can facilitate handling stress.3,5
Exercise as a Path to Meaningful Stress Handling
Mindfulness and yoga are popular — and often effective — ways to reduce stress. But simple exercise in the form of running, hiking, gardening, dancing or whatever suits you, can in many cases give the same deep feeling of meaning and wholeness.5
Which form of exercise could help you better manage stress?
1. Taylor C. Sources of the self - making of the modern identity
2. Rosengren AH et al. Science 2010. 8;327(5962):217-20
3. Hansen A. [In Swedish: Hjärnstark.] 2016
4. Rubin RR et al. Diabetes Care 2014;37:1544–1553
5. Hasmen P et al. Prev. Med. 2000. 30(1):17-25
6. American Psychological Association. Stress in America. Paying with our health. 2015