Stress... we have all felt it before, whether it’s before undertaking a job interview, saying an important speech or when you’re stuck in traffic and running late! Stress within your comfort zone can help you perform under pressure, motivate you to do your best, even keep you safe when danger arises. But when one experiences a major stressor in life or experiences stress too often, it can greatly damage your health, mood, relationships, and quality of life.
Stress is the body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus. This response is known as the “fight or flight” stress response and is your body’s way of protecting you from danger. However, beyond your comfort zone, stress stops being helpful and can start causing serious consequences for your health and in many ways that may surprise you!
Stress may effect:
Digestive Health – When stress activates the "flight or fight" response, digestion significantly slows down because your central nervous system shuts down blood flow, affects the contractions of your digestive muscles, and decreases necessary secretions, which wreaks havoc on your digestion. Stress can also cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal system, and make you more susceptible to infection.
Energy Levels– prolonged stress can interfere with sleeping and cause insomnia, which can in turn lead to difficulty concentrating, irritability and a lack of motivation.
Cardiovascular Health - The American Psychological Association explains. “The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body.” Ultimately, it can lead to hypertension, heart palpitations, heart attack, or stroke.
Hormonal Balances – chronic stress can fundamentally alter the body's hormone balance, due to the overproduction or underproduction of cortisol and adrenalin. This can lead to decreased fertility, skin breakouts, conditions such as adrenal fatigue and decreased immune function.
Weight Gain - Excess cortisol production has been linked to sugar and fat cravings, so feel free to blame cortisol for all those sneaky muffins you grab on coffee runs when under the pump at work.
And of course all of these detrimental health outcomes have disadvantageous effects on Mood and Mental Health including a higher chance of experiencing anxiety and depression.
What can you do to manage stress?
Identify what's causing your stress: monitor your state of mind and stress levels throughout the day, write down the cause, your thoughts and your mood. Once you know what's bothering you, develop a plan for addressing it. Setting reasonable expectations can go a long way, as we often lose track of this when we are stressed.
1. Eat a healthy diet: Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress. Start your day with a healthy breakfast, reduce your caffeine and sugar intake, add plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and cut back on alcohol and nicotine.
2. Exercise: Exercising regularly (for 30 minutes or more on most days) can lift your mood and help relieve stress, anxiety, anger, and frustration. It can also serve as a distraction to your worries, allowing you to find some quiet time and break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress and anxiety. Working up a sweat will help burn off excess energy and leave you well rested at night.
3. Get plenty of Sleep: Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. Keep your cool in stressful situations by getting a good night’s sleep.
4. Take time out for yourself: whether it be having a soak in a warm bath, taking a moment in the day to meditate, practice yoga, read a good book or get a massage.
5. Just Breathe: No matter how terrible things feel, you’ve always got your breath. Try this 4 7 8 technique:
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
6. Consider seeking help from a professional: If you feel like more serious issues are at play, consider talking to a professional. This can be in the form of a psychologist or a holistic health professional here at Nu-Leaf. We undertake non-invasive saliva tests which monitor the levels of the stress hormones Cortisol and DHEA-S, and determine your adrenal function in patients presenting with symptoms..