That is one word that everyone understands and dreads at the same time. But for some masochistic reason, we are obsessed with stress. Some of us regard stress like it's a badge of honor as if stress equates to a "successful" life. We've adapted stress to be the norm and as an inevitable part of life. And while we understand stress can wreak havoc on our health, we ignore it. Depression, Anxiety, Cardiovascular Disease, Obesity, Adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism are some of the most common diseases that are directly connected to chronic stress and yet; we neglect to manage stress adequately.
But the truth is, even though we suffer from stress, we can't live without it. If we didn't have stress hormones, our body can't function properly, physically and psychologically. Stress hormones cause us to run away from danger or be motivated to get the job done in time. We get up in the morning and be productive thanks to those hormones. Thus, in small amounts when needed, stress hormones save our lives and help us live happily.
Then, if we need stress, how could it be harmful to our health? What are the most common signs and symptoms? And most importantly, how do we reduce or manage stress so we don't succumb to its detrimental effects?
Here are some insights on causes, signs, symptoms and management.
What is Stress?
If you ask ten people why they are stressed, you're likely going to get answers such as work, family, economy, lack of sleep or time or money made them stressed. These are just a few common stress factors that many people can relate to. But notice that these are not stresses themselves but are causes that make you stressed when they don't meet your expectations. Interestingly, not everyone experience stress the same way when they are exposed to these factors.
There are two manifestations of stress: psychological and physiological. Physiological reaction consists of chemical reaction and a psychological reaction happens after recognition of the chemical presence. But the sequence can alter depending on the situation.
Psychological Reaction - Recognition
There are millions of small bursts of constant chemical reactions that happen in your body. Normally, you don't notice most of them. But when certain chemical reactions happen that flood our emotion centers in your brain and cause us to recognize it, you react negatively to it as stress. And being in the higher hierarchy, humans recognize these chemical reactions as stress and it's what sets us apart from other animals. Also, even when we compare amongst ourselves, how you recognize and react to stressful agents differ based on your environment and our upbringing. That's why, given the same situation, some people react with certain stressed emotions while others don't.
Physiological Reaction - Chemical
A chemical reaction is your body's response to the demands that you place on it. The demand may be physical, mental, or emotional in nature and when you place these expectations on your body, chemicals and hormones are released into your body.
Hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and adrenaline flood your body to react in emergency situations and your heart beats faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physiological changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and causes you to focus. This is known as the “fight or flight” response and is your body’s way of protecting you from harm. For instance, if a wild animal comes after you, you would run as fast as you can because of stress hormones flooding your body. And then, when the situation resolves - you've escaped to a safe zone - your glands stop producing the hormone, and you can relax.
However, if you are constantly exposed to 'stressful' situations, such as difficulties at work, or home, these hormones flood your body continuously. Then, stress becomes 'chronic'. So what's the big deal if the hormones are constantly in your system? Simply, your body will break down and you will get sick.
Epinephrine is used to reduce inflammation quickly, as in reducing anaphylactic shock fast. But if it's always in your body, it can cause the body to lose its natural ability to regulate the inflammatory response. Let's take colds, for example. When you are chronically stressed, the immune cells are unable to respond to hormonal signals that normally regulate inflammation. In turn, you are more likely to develop colds when exposed to the virus because your immune cells are dysfunctional to protect you from the virus.
A similar mechanism happens, and these various health problems arise due to stress.
Diseases Related to Stress
- Depression and Anxiety
- Sugar and Fat Cravings
- Weight problems
- High Blood Pressure
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Skin Conditions, such as Psoriasis, Eczema, Hives, Rashes
- Reproductive problems
- Heart Disease
- Digestive Problems
- Sleep Problems
- Cognitive or Memory Issues
- Thinning hair or alopecia
- Leaky Gut
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Hypothyroidism (Hashimoto's Disease)
Now that you know stress is an emotion reacting to an event, you have to change the way you view those events if you want to reduce stress.
Face it. You can't avoid stress provoking events in life. And whether you like it or not, stress is a normal part of life so you'll never be able to escape it. What matters is how you deal with stress.
One of the most important things to remember when dealing with stress is to recognize and accept you are stressed. Without that acceptance, you can't know what to do. It's like the 12 Step program for any addiction. You have to admit you are stressed and are willing to take action to manage it.
The next step is to embrace stress. As mentioned above, you can't live without stress and stress in it of itself is not bad. If you accept and understand that, then, you can come to terms with a stress level you can manage.
Studies have found that people who viewed stress as being not bad were less likely to die prematurely whereas those individuals who saw stress as being detrimental, had a risk of early death by 43%. Also, people who viewed stress as being "beneficial" had a lower level of cortisol. Similarly, individuals who had a moderate amount of stress experience more life satisfaction than extreme or little stress in their lives.
So there are positive aspects to stress!
As mentioned before, everyone feels stress differently based on their environment and upbringing and same with how we manage stress. Obviously, there are many more ways to manage stress, depending on each person's preference, but here are some of the most common proven ways you can manage stress.
10 Natural Stress Management Tips
1) Practice yoga and meditation. Yoga and meditation are ancient arts that have been proven to work. You can practice separately or together. When you connect the mind, body, and spirit in a healthy, peaceful fashion, you feel more relaxed and rejuvenated.
2) Exercise or go for a walk. Physical activity produces endorphins, 'feel good' hormone that makes you happy. Exercise doesn't have to be strenuous. In fact, over-exertion can cause more stress, so choose a physical activity you enjoy, like walking, biking, hiking, or swimming. Staying even moderately active increases oxygen levels in your brain, which also improves your mental state. Plus, a mere 20-minute walk gives your mind a chance to reflect and rejuvenate.
3) Keep a diary. Writing a journal can help you unload your thoughts in a private manner. You have the benefits of knowing that your secrets are safe and you can still vent in the process. Venting on paper just might prove to be a great stress reliever.
4) Try aromatherapy. Many herbs can be used in aromatherapy to calm you in a natural way. Try lavender, rosemary, or peppermint for some popular choices.
5) Get a massage. A massage therapy is an excellent way to relax your muscles, which helps to get the blood flowing properly and distribute oxygen throughout the body. Releasing tension from muscles naturally relaxes mind and body.
6) Listen to music. You may want to try some traditional relaxing music such as classical or world music. However, everyone is different, so experiment with different types of music that you might find relaxing.
7) Take a warm Epsom Salt bath. Taking a hot bath with Epsom Salt (Amazon Affiliate Link) and adding relaxing lavender essential oil (Amazon Affiliate) will relax your tense muscles and the mind. Also, taking the time for self-care will help you achieve a balanced mindset.
8) Use stress-reducing herbs, vitamins and minerals. Herbs are affordable, natural, and a great way to relieve your stress. There are many herbs that have been known to promote calmness and overall feelings of well-being. Some of them include chamomile and St. John's Wort. As far as vitamins and minerals are concerned, Vitamin B6 is helpful for stress and Magnesium helps with calming the mind. Drinking Natural Calm (Amazon Affiliate Link) at night also helps you to unwind and sleep better.
9) Enjoy the benefit of green tea. Green tea is a natural herb that you can drink or take in capsule form. It's loaded with beneficial antioxidants to help you achieve a healthy lifestyle. It's a natural stress reliever and helps boost metabolism to energize you. It may even help with weight loss.
10) Do something funny. The saying "laughter is the best medicine" is no joke! Laughing can help you in to relax and therefore reduce stress. Do something you find funny, like going to a comedy show or hanging out with a good friend.
Finally, replace negative thoughts with positive TRUTHS. We often get into the habit of negative thinking where we can somehow convince ourselves of things that are untrue. For example, have you ever convinced yourself that you aren't good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough to do something? This negative self-talk creates stress within our minds. Unfortunately, these thoughts are going on unbeknownst to us because we have come to accept our negative thoughts as truth, even when it's far from it. This is precisely why we need to begin to tame our negative thoughts and replace them with positive facts.
And get a restful night sleep. The connection between sleep and disease is indisputable. Your body heals your body, repair cells and resets hormones while you sleep. It's very important you turn off electronics at least an hour before going to sleep to get a restful sleep. Turn off the T.V. and your phone. Read a real book, not the news on your iPad or your Kindle.
You'll soon find that there are endless possibilities for natural ways of reducing your stress. Your job will be to find out what works best for you personally. As long as you take time out of each day to take a break and unwind, you'll be well on your way to reducing your stress.
EMBRACE YOUR STRESS 7-DAY CHALLENGE
I am thinking of starting a 7 Day Embrace Your Stress Challenge. Would you like to participate in the challenge where I'll be sending your emails every day for seven days with goals, tips, and worksheets? If you are interested, please let me know via email. I'm still working out the logistics, but when it's finished, I will contact you.
The Immune System Recovery Plan (Amazon Link)
A Mind of Your Own (Amazon Link)
The Paleo Approach (Amazon Link)
Could stress be good for you