Stress Awareness Month: How Cycling Can Help Reduce Stress & Anxiety

Stress is a condition that affects people from all walks of life. It isn’t a genetic condition passed down from parents to children, and it isn’t like a cold that can appear and last for a few days before disappearing again. Instead, stress is a condition that develops over a period of time. It may be a period of a few weeks – it may even be as long as a few months or years with things building up and eventually coming to a head.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, around 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point in the last twelve months that they have felt either completely overwhelmed or unable to cope with the various factors mounting up and affecting how they feel.

Stress plays a crucial role in our mental health, often resulting in issues with anxiety and depression, as well as physical health problems such as heart disease and digestive problems brought about because – in simple terms – we stop looking after ourselves.

In order to try and combat the effects of stress, Stress.org have dedicated a whole month of the year to increasing awareness of stress and how it can be managed, helping us to not only help ourselves but to also help others who may be overwhelmed, unable to cope or struggling with the same issues without realising.

When is stress awareness month?

Stress Awareness Month takes place in April each year, running from the 1st to the 30th.  The Stress.org campaign started back in 1992 making this the 27th year of raising awareness of the causes and effects of stress as well as how it can be managed.

How does stress affect people?

Stress affects different people in different ways. With some it is instantly obvious by their demeanour and actions that they’re being affected, while others might go the opposite way and bottle things up until they reach the stage of being overwhelmed. One of the main purposes of Stress Awareness Month is to not only identify signs of stress in ourselves, but in others, too.

Stress.org outline the ways in which people are affected in different ways – namely emotionally, physically or in terms of their behaviour (sometimes a combination of the three).  

From a behavioural perspective, the signs to look out for are around a lack of motivation and humour, sleeping either too little or too much, and increasing consumption of alcohol and/or cigarettes as a way of ‘coping.’

Some of the emotional indicators include irritability, frustration and moodiness, cynicism, anxiety and depression with an obvious change in the overall mood of the person. If a genuinely happy-go-lucky person suddenly becomes irritable and down it may be a sign that they’re experiencing some kind of stress.

Finally, the physical signs of stress. We’ve already mentioned how feeling stressed can lead to people letting their health and fitness slide, failing to eat right, get enough sleep and exercise; meaning they can experience frequent colds due to a deterioration in the immune system, high blood pressure, aches and pains and even chest pains.

Can cycling help to reduce stress and anxiety?

Cycling has a number of benefits from a health and fitness perspective, helping to improve cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and flexibility; but it can also be a great help when it comes to reducing stress and anxiety.

For instance, the repetitive action of pedalling can help you de-stress. By focussing on your pedal stroke it can help to take your mind off anything else on your mind allowing you to ‘get away from it all’ for the duration of your ride; taking in the view, developing a natural pedal stroke pattern and setting a new personal best time for the route, too.

Improving your best time for a route – whether it’s a point-to-point ride or a mountain bike ride through the woods – can give you a feeling of achievement and improved self-confidence. For many, stress comes about as a result of work-related factors where their performance goes unrewarded or they are left isolated; but the feeling of success and knowing you’ve reached a goal or target can feel like a huge weight is lifted. You may not be able to control the actions of your boss, but you can control the bike and your performance on it.

Similarly, where you ride can make a big difference to your stress levels. Cycling out in the countryside where you’re away from the noise, hustle and bustle of the towns and cities can give you the peace and headspace needed to get away from things like work, bills, social media and anything else going on in your life. It’s just you, the bike and nature.

The adrenaline rush you get from a rapid descent can also help to take your mind away from things for a while, forcing you to focus on your line and braking or to focus on obstacles in the trail ahead.

Cycling with others, or as part of a team, can also make a big difference meaning you’re not out there on your own – you’re surrounded by friends and teammates all there with a shared passion for cycling with plenty of communication along the way. You may even meet new friends and start sharing stories that can really help.

Finally, learning a new skill, such as maintaining or upgrading your bike or learning how to be a better rider – with the help of other cyclists you ride with – can boost confidence and self-esteem by giving you a goal to focus on

What else can I do to reduce stress and help others?

Other ways in which you can help to reduce the effects of stress for yourself and others include:

  • Talking. A problem shared is a problem halved and all that. Sometimes just talking about your feelings can take the weight of the world off your shoulders.
  • Share what’s worked for you. If you’ve experienced stress and found a way to get through it that really worked (or works) for you, share that tip with others as it might really help them, too.
  • Take time for you. Look after yourself! Take time out to relax, to do something you enjoy and to ensure that you eat and exercise well. You’re not helping yourself if you start missing meals and skipping the gym.
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