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Tame Your Stress Response in 90 Seconds

People know that exercise can improve physical health. Exercise is regularly recommended by medical professionals to prevent and combat diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.

But exercise is also a great outlet for stress.  When you’re stressed, it’s important to remember that your body’s stress response originally developed during times when survival depended upon your ability to quickly and physically respond to dangers, such as attacking animals or warring tribes.

Because of this, when we become stressed, chemicals in our brains and bodies prepare us for action.

These days, we often experience stress when we’re locked in a traffic jam, sitting behind our desks or on the phone.  We often don’t have a natural physical outlet for all that extra energy that surges through our body when stress is activated.

The following are quick exercises you can do while at the office or in a somewhat confined area.

  • Sit up in your chair, back straight and abdominal muscles contracted. Lift your arms out to the sides until they’re parallel to the floor. Hold for 3 seconds. Lower arms. Lift your arms out to the front until they’re parallel to the floor. Hold for 3 seconds. Lower arms. Repeat eight to 10 times. (from Discovery Health “5 Quick Office Exercises”)
  • At your desk, you can easily straighten your knees and lift your legs out in front of you. You can also march with your feet in place. This will exercise the large muscles in your legs. For easy calf exercises, you can raise your feet up on the toes and lower them. Be sure to use your muscles when you do these exercises for maximum effect. (from Yahoo! Voices “5 Quick Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk”)
  • Grab a stationary chair. You can also use an exercise ball. I do both, but don’t advise you try the ball until you have done the chair exercises and worked your way through the inevitable muscle soreness. Sit tall in your chair with your feet planted firmly on the floor. Place your hands underneath your thighs. Slowly pull your knees up toward your chest. Contract or squeeze your abdominals as your hold this position for a count of 4. Slowly return to the starting position. Do 5 – 10 repetitions. As you progress and your abdominals get stronger, work up to 10 – 20 repetitions. (From Denise Griffitts “Fast and Easy Exercises For Work From Home Moms”)

According to a 2001 study, exercise enhances your ability to cope with stress and improves your recovery from stressful events (Salmon, 2001).  Responding to immediate stressors with physical activity can help to release pent up energy.  For longer term effects, regular exercise multiple times a week, is necessary.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

Young woman with chair photo available from Shutterstock.

Tame Your Stress Response in 90 Seconds

Christy Matta, MA

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APA Reference
Matta, C. (2012). Tame Your Stress Response in 90 Seconds. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2012
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