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,
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?

Awareness Month
takes place in April each year, running from the 1st
to the 30th.  The 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. 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

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.