Friday, October 15, 2010

Managing stress through exercise

Following a routine for exercise and physical fitness is often difficult. There are numerous factors that can affect one’s ability to adhere to the routine and once you stop, it can be difficult to get back into the routine. In my past life as a Marine, it was easy to maintain an exercise routine since routine was built into nearly every aspect of my daily life. In my current life as a father, full-time employee, and part-time student, maintaining a routine of any kind is nearly impossible. However, given the stress currently going on in my life an exercise routine can offer me numerous benefits both physically and mentally.

To implement a behavior plan for myself, I need to: clarify the problem, formulate goals for the consultation, design target behaviors, identify the maintaining conditions of the target behavior, design a treatment plan, implement the plan, and evaluate the success of the plan (Gill & Williams, 2008, p.101-102).

The main problem for me at the moment is overwhelming stress. The physical and mental fatigue of the stress makes it incredibly difficult to focus on the things that I need to accomplish. One of my target goals, then, is to decrease the negative effects of the stress by getting back into a daily running routine. It will take time to reach that goal, so the initial target behavior is to find at least 15 minutes every day to run. The ultimate target behavior will be to find at least 30-45 minutes a day to run, so as I am able to find more time I will increase my target behaviors.

To not only determine my maintaining conditions but also to facilitate continued adherence to the routine, I opted to do some self-monitoring as Polaha, Allen, & Studley  (2004, as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008) found it to be a simple and effective way of changing behavior. Over the past few weeks, when I have found time to go running I have felt the physical benefits almost immediately. I am able to calm my mind and focus only on running. The endorphins I felt after running gave me a respite from all of the tension and mental stress. There haven’t really been any punishments associated with running, with the possible exception of leaving less time to accomplish the other things that I need to accomplish. I often feel like there isn’t time to run because there is so much else that needs to be done.

Running does provide its own negative reinforcement as the physical and mental effects of stress are lessened after I run. However, I feel that some additional positive reinforcement would help me to get back into the routine. I decided to enlist the assistance of my friends as positive reinforcement. I will talk with at least one friend each day about how my routine is going and what I have accomplished. They’ll provide positive encouragement and praise to encourage me to keep up with the routine. I’m also going to incorporate some self-talk and progressive relaxation techniques into my day as ways of combating the thoughts that dissuade me from exercising.

I implemented this plan in the past week and so far the results have been satisfactory. I managed to go running for at least 15 minutes on three days and as much as 30 minutes on one of those days. I think in the coming weeks, I need to focus more on stress coping skills outside of exercise. Taking a break from the stressors in my life is beneficial, but I also need to incorporate more coping skills into my day to avoid falling right back into the overwhelming stress and tension that I took a break from.


Gill, D. L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise
     (3rd Ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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