How Does Participating in a Sport Relieve Stress?
Participating in a sport can be a helpful way of reducing stress levels and increasing feelings of physical and mental well-being. You might feel like you're simply too busy or too stressed to join an organized activity, but engaging in a solitary sport can also provide stress-relieving benefits. Regular exercise should be a part of everyone's regular stress-management routine due to its numerous physical and mental rewards.
Whether you choose to engage in a group sport like soccer or baseball or a solitary sport such as swimming or jogging, physical activity of any type stimulates your body's production of neurotransmitters -- or brain chemicals -- known as endorphins. Endorphins are the chemicals responsible for the feeling known as "runner's high." A study published in 2008 in the journal "Cerebral Cortex" found that elevated levels of endogenous opioids -- or endorphins -- account for the runner's-high feeling due to increased binding with opioid receptors in the limbic and prefrontal areas of your brain -- the parts responsible for positive changes in mood. Increased levels of endorphins cause a "feel-good" response, decrease pain and help release symptoms of stress and tension.
Sports and regular exercise provide physical and mental stress relief, which can help certain mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Anxiety and depression are often triggered or exacerbated by excessive levels of stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can decrease mild symptoms of depression and anxiety and promote improved quality of sleep -- a problem for many people suffering from mental health disorders. Quality sleep can decrease levels of stress caused by depression and anxiety and can lead to an improved sense of well-being.
For most people, socialization is a necessary part of any stress-management routine. According to an article on the Volunteer Behavioral Health website, socialization helps stress relief by promoting the release of the hormone oxytocin, which increases feelings of relaxation and reduces anxiety. Participating in a group or team sport can provide a powerful medium for acquiring the stress-relieving benefits of social contact. By joining a team sport, you may feel more motivated to exercise regularly. You'll also have the opportunity to make new friends and develop a feeling of camaraderie by working toward a mutual goal.
Engaging in a sport can help increase feelings of self-esteem and self-efficacy, which can significantly reduce your overall level of stress. If you've ever remained inactive for an extended period of time, you're familiar with that sluggish, apathetic feeling that can quickly turn to feelings of self-loathing or even depression, which can further exacerbate your stress levels. According to the American Council on Exercise, regular exercise can help increase your feeling of self-worth, which can be a powerful mechanism for alleviating stress.
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.