Many of us have difficult days where we are pulled in too many directions, trying to balance our work, home, family and social lives. We have come to accept the fact that stress is a normal part of everyday living. Short term acute stressors, such as meeting deadlines, sitting in traffic, tending to an unhappy child, taking final exams or dealing with an unpredictable event, are all generally manageable situations. The body responds by instantly releasing stress hormones designed to help both the mind and body rise to meet whatever challenges you are facing in that particular moment. And that’s actually a good thing. Naturally occurring performance enhancing chemicals heighten our abilities in the short term.
In response to acute stress, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system is activated. Cortisol, adrenalin and neurotransmitters are released as heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, breathing becomes more rapid, and our primitive “fight or flight” response to threat is switched on. Once the threat has passed or the traffic eases or the baby stops crying, the body’s system returns to normal homeostasis. It’s the repeated exposure to prolonged and continuous stressors that results in the chronic over-release of stress hormones and the subsequent breakdown or deregulation of many bodily systems and degenerating health.
The reality is that we live in stressful times. We worry about the economy, climate change, job performance, our health or whether our favorite team will win the World Cup. One-third of Americans feel they are under constant extreme stress that negatively impacts their lives. In reality, 43% of adults suffer from the adverse health effects of chronic stress, and 75% of doctor visits are for stress-related ailments. Chronic stress is linked to heart disease, hypertension, high blood sugar, diabetes and decreased immune response. If you are genetically predisposed to any of these chronic illnesses or you have unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as poor food choices, smoking or high alcohol consumption, chronic stress can accelerate the onset of disease.
Some of us have become so used to dealing with chronic stress that it begins to feel “normal,” and we don’t realize what a huge impact it has on our physical and mental health. Finding ways to eliminate the stressors that we can control, and a way to deal with stressors that are out of our control, can go a long way towards improved mental health and physical wellbeing. For example, if commuter traffic is heavy every day, leaving home or work a bit earlier or later removes that one stressor from your life. When you’re not grumbling about the traffic, you can listen to soothing music, which is calming and immune supportive.
As some of the more simple problems are solved, stress becomes less overwhelming, leaving us better able to deal with more complex difficulties. Stress affects everyone differently and there is no simple fix to solve all stress inducing experiences. Taking a broad based approach to dealing with stress involves coming up with different strategies for stress management, which can include reducing pressures or increasing coping skills or a combination of the two.
- Be physically active. You don’t need to run marathons to get the stress-reducing benefits of exercise. Exercise not only keeps our cardiovascular systems healthy, it helps to deplete stress hormones and releases mood enhancing endorphins, which modulate appetite, enhance the immune response and help us cope with stress. Keep your motivation levels high by selecting any form of physical activity that you enjoy.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is a powerful antidote to stress. When you are sleeping, the body’s stress hormones return to normal levels. Plus a good night’s sleep gives you the energy to deal with the stressors you may encounter the following day.
- Engage in a hobby. It can be anything you love doing that allows you to disengage from your thoughts of to-do lists and other stressors. Repetitive activity keeps your attention focused in the present. Read, create, paint, build something, learn to cook or knit.
- Spend time in nature. Being outdoors is a natural stress reducer. Take the dog for a walk, go hiking, biking or fishing. Create a flower or vegetable garden or sit and enjoy the warm sunshine.
- Be social. Stay connected to loved ones, friends and those around you. Socializing releases oxytocin, a body chemical that helps combat stress hormones and lower blood pressure. Whenever possible, avoid stressful people or situations.
- Give yourself 10 minutes of peace and quiet every day. Sitting quietly can trigger natural relaxation responses. Try yoga or meditation or take a warm, relaxing bath. Turn off electronics and dedicate this time just for yourself.
- Revise your calendar to the extent possible. Finish current obligations and then cut back on some things if you are overscheduled. Learn to say no to taking on new tasks if fitting them into your schedule is going to cause additional stress.
- Find time for fun. A good laugh can help reduce stress hormone levels and help relieve built up pressures. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which promote a general sense of wellbeing. If life is all work and no play, make changes that support your physical and emotional good health.
Products for stress relief include:Stress-B-Plus (7452) by Douglas Laboratories provides a complete array of B vitamins and related nutrients for support of blood cells, hormones, energy production, the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters, and nervous system function. GABA 750 mg by PhysioLogics provides an amino acid naturally produced in the central nervous system that has an inhibitory effect, calming overexcited nerve impulses, aiding relaxation and reducing anxiety. GABA promotes natural sleep and balanced mood. MyoCalm by Metagenics supplies a specialized blend of calcium, magnesium and herbs for relaxation support and support of healthy muscle function. De-Stress by Biotics Research supplies a patented, all natural, clinically effective bio-active peptide derived from milk and formulated for natural stress and anxiety relief.