Life is full of surprises…not all of them good. Life’s little events can often cause stress, anxiety and a bad case of the blues. Some of these we expect. Then there are the unexpected surprises—losing a job, moving to a new city, contracting an illness, fender benders and other events, big and small, that test our mental strength.

Unfortunately, we can’t predict the future, but we can find ways to relieve stress in healthy ways. One of the best ways to work out the stress and pull yourself out of the dumps is to move your body.

Soothe Yourself With Exercise

When we feel down or depressed, we look for things that make us feel good. Often, we reach for the wrong things—food, alcohol, sleep or drugs, most of which make us feel worse instead of better. It’s important to take care of yourself when you’re feeling blue, and there’s nothing wrong with a little indulgence, as long as it’s healthy and something that will genuinely make you feel better.

Rather than reach for the chocolate when you’re stressed, think of something you enjoy doing, something that feels good to you. It might be working in the garden, taking a slow bike ride or taking a walk with a friend. Think of activities you like but rarely allow yourself time to do, then commit to doing them as often as you can. Rhythmic activities like walking, raking leaves or even cleaning can be healing exercises—as your body gets into its own rhythms, you can let your mind go and work out problems, find solutions or just daydream for awhile.

Try these ideas for a little stress relief:

·   Take baby steps. Thinking about 30 minutes of an activity may feel overwhelming when your energy is low. Decide you’ll just do a few minutes of something. Chances are, you’ll start to feel more energetic and will keep going.

·   Keep it simple. Sometimes the thought of changing into workout clothes can seem like climbing a mountain. Choose activities that require very little preparation like walking, gardening, cleaning the house or some gentle stretching.

·   Ask for support. It helps to have a workout buddy to keep you honest. Try to get a friend or family member to meet you once a week for a walk in the park or a local fitness class. Knowing someone’s waiting for you makes it easier to get going.·      Make the transition easier. If you tend to stay more sedentary when you feel blue, going from sitting to something active can seem like a big jump. Give yourself five or 10 minutes to get your body moving a bit before exercise. Do a little cleaning or take out the trash. Take some time to stretch or simply walk around the house a bit.

·   Give yourself extra time to warm up. If you’re doing a high-intensity activity (like running or aerobics), give yourself more warm-up time than usual. If you usually start out jogging, start with a slow walk. Allow your body all the time it needs to get warm and allow your heart rate to climb gently.

·   Give yourself extra time to cool down. It’s always a good idea to end your workout feeling good. Give yourself a good 10 minutes to wind down and then spend a few minutes stretching.

Soothe Your Mind

Getting some strength training and cardio into your day can help perk you up, but you’re not finished yet. There are other ways to soothe you and give your mind time to relax and slow down a bit.

·   Yoga. This is a great way to quiet your mind and relax your body. There are different ways to practice yoga—some vigorous and others relaxing.

·   Pilates. While more vigorous than some types of yoga, Pilates forces you to concentrate on what your body is doing while helping you work on core strength, stability and flexibility.

·   Meditation. The time and patience to relax can be tough. But meditation doesn’t have to be complicated—simply stopping to breathe for a few minutes can be your own meditation.

·   Laugh. Experts have long known the benefits of laughing—it helps your body in a multitude of ways, but mostly it just feels good.

·   Massage. Schedule a massage in the near future so you have something to look forward to. If that isn’t an option, indulge at home with a hot bath or lounging around and reading your favorite book or magazine.

When you get down in the dumps, you may be tempted to reach for things that offer instant gratification but long-term guilt. Learning healthy ways to increase your energy and lift your mood can open your eyes to new ideas for taking care of yourself.

Ken Hunt, AFI Certified Personal Trainer and fitness consultant, is the owner of Steel Gym with locations in New York City, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. He frequently travels the U.S. and Europe giving lectures and seminars on health and personal wellness. Steel Gym has been ranked one of the top five gyms in the U.S. by Muscle and Fitness magazine.