The Fit Student—Tussle Stress with Fitness

When you wriggle into your office chair, does your brain swell like tortellini?  Noodles bursting out your ears?  Well, that’s workplace anxiety.  And I’ve laid bare the cure.

Ten years ago, I braved my first on-the-job anxiety attack.  And then workplace anxiety smacked me daily.  But I learned to curb it through self-talk and journaling.  That is, until I’d walk the dog.  I felt so feeble that short walks shocked me.  Then I got bitten by nausea and weariness.  Despite all this, I went gung-ho on job search.  Who was I kidding?

Luckily, my doctor urged me to work out.  After seven months of gym-bustle, the sick spells died out.  Now, after a year, I tread miles, stress-free.  No pickle if I miss a bus; I saunter the distance.   So, how did I get fit and firm?  For the first month, I weathered daily walks.  After that month, I did athletics.  Now a year later, I go to the gym daily, wrapped up in high intensity interval training, cycling, and weights.  On rest days, I work out with yoga.

Proudly, I grew fit for career victory.

But fears wrapped up in workplace anxiety loomed.  So, I booked a psychologist.  She shared words of wisdom: eat every three hours, meditate, exercise, journal, use mantras, do muscle relaxation, listen to calming music.  Nothing new.  But she dealt a tip-off that stirred me: exercise before work.

So, before work, I’ll awaken during wee hours to slide under barbells.

And some offices offer Tai Chi or stretch-sessions.  So, master stretches; rope your workmates to follow along.  After all, fitness helps staff unwind.

But fitness does more than squelch workplace stress.  Jen Ator, Fitness Director of Women’s Health, writes about workplace gains from fitness in her book Women’s Health Fitness Fix: Quick HIIT Workouts, Easy Recipes, and Stress-Free Strategies for Managing a Healthy Life.

  • To perform your peak at work, carve out gym time: “Don’t sacrifice gym time for late nights at work. Researchers found that women who exercise at least twice a week feel more in control of their jobs and find them less demanding than those who don’t work out” (p.  299).
  • Gym time whips up workplace focus: “According to a study published in Clinical Neurophysiology, 20 minutes of moderate exercise immediately increases attention and cognitive ability …. This amplified focus can last up to an hour, so schedule a quick workout during a time of day when you tend to be most distracted or before a time when you’ll really need to be on point” (p.  299).
  • Gym time stomps on anxiety: “A study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that not only did people score lower on anxiety tests right after working out, but they also kept their cool 30 minutes later …. But consistency is key” (p.  9).
  • A mere ten minutes exercise curbs workplace anxiety: “Ten minutes of exercise is all it takes to reduce anxiety before a nerve-wracking social gathering or work meeting” (p. 9).
  • And exercise makes you munch less after madhouse workdays: “Exercising for 15 minutes after a stressful workday may help you eat 125 calories less than if you were to veg out” (p. 9).
  • Eat healthy daily; that way, you won’t pig out on Oreos during zoo-like workdays: “People who regularly ate unhealthy foods went for more junk when under the gun, but A+ eaters kept up their healthy eating patterns, even during frenzied times” (p. 10).
  • Forget the four-wheel drive. Take the bus: “Commuters racked up an additional 14.6 minutes of physical activity each day that they took public transit, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health” (p.  119).  For even greater fitness, stand instead of sit on public transit.
  • Brave up! Start a workplace weight-loss program: “On average, people lost 2.8 pounds in 6 months when their workplace hosted a weight-loss program—which they weren’t part of” (p. 306).

My personal tip, when you stretch-out your workmates, wear a weighted vest.  Once or twice a week, I wear a 14-pound vest.  Nothing keeps colleagues in line like a woman wearing armor.

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