While a little stress can keep you motivated and spark creativity, too much can wear you down, affect your healthspan and can even make you ill. Who you gonna call? Stressbusters!
Stress is everywhere; from deadlines to pandemics, disagreements to missing keys, sometimes it can seem like stress is unavoidable.
And while a little stress can be beneficial, acute stress, or chronic stress can impact your body in negative ways, overloading your body’s systems and taking a mental and physical toll. It’s time to de-stress!
What is stress?
Stress is built-in to the way our bodies work and helps us respond to any threat, real or imaginary, large or small.
A feeling of emotional or physical tension, stress can originate from feeling frustrated, worried, angry, threatened or nervous.
This stress response – sometimes called “flight or fight” – is the body’s way of protecting you and preparing you to respond to danger.
When trigged by stress, the body’s nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, which include adrenaline and cortisol; these prepare the body for emergency action by increasing heart rate, tensing muscles, rising blood pressure, quickening breathing rate and heightening senses.
As well as increasing your strength and stamina, these reactions enhance your focus and quicken your reaction time, leaving you primed to face the danger.
While stress response is natural, overloads of stress hormones have been linked to several health problems, including heart disease, stomach issues, high blood pressure and weakened immune function, as well as anxiety, mental health issues and depression.
The older we get, the more stress hormones can affect us; too much cortisol over time can damage the hippocampus, affecting memory storage and retrieval.
A recent five-year study even highlighted that stress might increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A different survey demonstrated that the immune cells of highly-stressed women aged by an extra 10 years – if you weren’t stressed before, you will be now!
Changing the way you think
Of course, it’s not always possible to change the events in your life that cause stress; instead, there are strategies that can be employed to change your response to it, and ensure that brain-calming endorphins are released.
There are also day-to-day measures that can be taken to help you stay calm in an increasingly-stressful world.
From focusing on something else to taking a step back, or from ringfencing time to think about something to asking someone else to share the load, offloading stress is easier if you have go-to options ready to help you.
If you feel the stress levels rise, try stepping away from the screen, switching your phone to silent, speaking to a friend, having a laugh, listening to music, looking out of the window for five minutes, or even just having a good stretch.
Take a deep breath
Breathing is an excellent technique for stress, anxiety and panic; taking in slow, deep breaths through the nose and gently exhaling can help control feelings of stress, leaving you feeling grounded and ready for what life throws at you next.
Keeping active – and getting rest
As well as being great for health and fitness, exercise triggers the release of endorphins, the ‘happy hormones’ that can lift your mood, calm anxiety and make you feel fab. Exercise also regulates the stress hormone cortisol, so regular activity is a win-win.
Sleep problems and mental health go hand-in-hand; worrying can delay sleep, but a proper night’s rest can leave you feeling refreshed and energised.
Exercise and natural light can increase production of serotonin, which the body can convert into melatonin, a chemical which is key in the regulation of sleep.
Supplement your mood
Magnesium is important for regulating metabolism, tiredness and fatigue, as well as ensuring a functioning nervous system.
St John’s Wort is recommended to help alleviate anxiety and depression and may have a positive effect on stress.
Melatonin and Rhodiola rosea have also been found to help stress, but as with all supplements, what works for one person, won’t work for another, so persistence, or indeed seeking the advice of an expert, could help find a de-stress regimen that works for you.
From A to Zen
Time and again, studies have shown that meditation is an effective stress-management tool; scientifically proven to help alleviate stress, meditation builds this mental resilience, helping the brain reset itself and put the stressors in perspective.
With numerous YouTube videos and online meditation lessons available, it’s easy to build meditation into your daily habits.
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