Stress: “a pressure or tension exerted on an object”, a simple, condensed definition. I think we can all agree the past year and a half has “exerted” a great deal of “pressure” on all of us. Lockdowns, face-coverings, job loss, school closures, lost time with loved ones, and variants have spared very few from this fear based stress.
Chronic (long-term) stress is literally toxic to the mind and body and can lead to illnesses like diabetes, cancer, ulcers, and raise susceptibility to viruses. Why does it do this? Because chronic stress lowers immune function and impacts the balance of our internal ecosystem. Combine that with poor nutrition and an unhealthy lifestyle, and your body’s ability to fight anything is questionable. Therefore, it is crucial that we be able to identify some of the physical signs of stress and take measures to reduce it.
How stress can manifest in the body
- Aches and Pains
- It is very common to feel some bodily discomfort while under long-term stress. Some studies associate chronic pain, including headaches, with higher levels of stress and increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
- Skin Problems
- Stress can wreak havoc on our skin. Several studies associate higher levels of stress with increased acne, dermatitis, and even aging.
- Gut Dysfunction
- Stress disrupts our digestive system, including changing our appetite. Research studies have connected long-term stress with digestive issues like constipation, bloating and diarrhea, especially in those with digestive disorders such as IBS.
- Sleep Disruptions
- Sleep is crucial for our health, but most of us have experienced difficulty sleeping after a stressful day or week. Stress can disrupt our sleep, leading to insomnia, fatigue, and lower daytime energy. One study found that higher levels of work-related stress increase sleepiness and restlessness.
- Changes in Mood
- Research shows that chronic stress may lead to the development of depression. One study of women found that both acute and chronic stress contributed to the onset of depression. These findings suggest the importance of assessing chronic stress as part of the treatment of mood disorders.
Tips for Lowering Stress
There are several simple things we can do to reduce stress. For the sake of your health, find what works for you.
- Deep Breathing
- This truly is one of the simplest, yet most powerful methods you can do right where you are now. Deep breathing exercises can help your nervous system switch into the parasympathetic mode, which activates the relaxation response. One of many techniques, the 4-7-8 breathing technique, also known as “relaxing breath,” works by having the person breathe in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. This breathing pattern aims to reduce anxiety and encourage higher quality relaxation and more restful sleep.
- Any exercise that helps you get moving is beneficial. Try walking, yoga or even a simple stretching routine before bed to reduce anxiety and stress, improve sleep and increase endorphins. The benefits are strongest when you exercise regularly. In fact, research has documented that people who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety than those who don’t.
- Essential Oils
- Using natural scents in aromatherapy via essential oils can help reduce stress. Try using relaxing oils such as lavender, bergamot, lemongrass, or orange oils. In one study, aromatherapy using a 3% lavender oil spray on clothing was effective in decreasing stress for up to four days. Oils can be very therapeutic, but use them judiciously, as they are powerful substances.
- Although some schools of thought advocate journaling to release any negativity, there is more promise in “flipping the switch” and writing what you are grateful for instead. Gratitude, especially written, is a powerful practice to help reduce both stress and anxiety and goes a long way in having a happier life!
- Spending time with loved ones and friends, enjoying life and laughing are some of the best moments. Did you know laughing relieves stress by boosting mood, relaxing your muscles and reducing your fight-or-flight response? In fact, it is nearly impossible to feel anxious or stressed while laughing. We have also linked laughter to boosting immunity. Try watching a funny movie or play with children or pets!
- Stress can make us feel burdened and/or trapped. Getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine has a tremendous impact on our physical and mental states. Sunshine may increase your serotonin levels. This mood-elevating neurotransmitter is key to battling stress and depression.
- Poor nutrition is a root cause of anxiety in most people. Quality nutritional supplements can provide the support necessary for good physical and mental health. In addition to our Foundation 5, here are some ideas to rid the anxiety and achieve optimal mental health:
Remember, you are not alone. Talk to someone, move and breathe when you are feeling overwhelmed.
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