Let’s admit it: We’ve all dealt with stress at some point in our lives. Perhaps it was a result of a situation at home or a conflict at work – everyone experiences stress in a different way and there are many common triggers associated with stress.
Having said that, it is important to understand that stress is a response initiated by your body to put up with difficult situations. Stress is typically marked by changes to your hormonal levels and cardiovascular and respiratory system changes.
Now before we go any further, there’s one word you need to remember: Cortisol. Your body is wired to handle complicated situations, and there are some tell tale signs when your body is in defense mode, like increased heartbeat, rapid breathing, and even excessive sweating.
Let’s say you lose an important file at work. As a reaction to this situation, your brain would send out an alarm signal to rest of your body. Responding to this signal, your adrenal glands (a triangular-shaped organ located above your kidney) would release hormones including cortisol.
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What Is Cortisol?</p>
Cortisol, in simple words, is your body’s most important stress hormone and plays a role in working with your brain to maintain your mood, levels of fear, and motivation.
Produced by your adrenal glands, cortisol is known to equip your body to tackle “fight-or-flight” situations. It also provides support to your body by:
* Helping to maintain your blood pressure
* Keeping inflammation to a minimum
* Increases your energy levels to cope up with stress
* Boosts levels of glucose in your body
* Regulates your sleep cycle
Cortisol is a part of your body’s stress-response system however, chronic stress, marked by situations where your body constantly feels trapped under the influence of stress can lead to excessive production of this hormone.This causes the natural fight-or-flight reaction to remain activated, disrupting the rest of your bodily functions making you prone to a number of health problems such as:
* Trouble maintaining a sleep schedule
* Excessive weight gain
* Headaches and loss of memory
* Cardiac diseases and digestive problems
* Severe anxiety and depression
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">How Chronic Stress is Impacting Your Health</p>
Sensing a feeling of uneasiness? Don’t enjoy spending time with your loved ones like you once used to? Are you unable to control your emotions? You could be one of hundreds of Americans that have fallen victim to chronic stress.
In a <a href="https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/state-nation.pdf"><b>report</b></a> released in 2017, the American Psychological Association (APA) notes 3 out of 4 Americans reported a stress symptom in a month Furthermore, the report highlights that while 71-percent of Americans experienced at least one symptom of stress per month back in 2016, the number grew to 75-percent in 2017.
How can you fight stress and maintain your overall wellbeing? To help you understand the effects of stress and ways to keep your stress levels under control, let’s look into what is meant by chronic stress and its impact on your body.
“Unlike everyday stressors, which can be managed with healthy stress management behaviors, untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system,” <a href="http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-chronic-stress.aspx"><b>notes APA</b></a>.
Whether a situation at work or your crumbling love life is the cause of stress in your life, it is important that you don’t let your deteriorating mental health go unnoticed.
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Natural Remedies to Reduce Stress</p>
Before we start looking at natural remedies to reduce stress, I have some advice for you. My advice is that starting today, you remove all the negative and toxic people in your life. Now this is easier said than done, but more times than not, it is the negative people around us that influence the way we think, feel, and behave, often without us even realizing it. Dragging you down, each time you plan on doing something good in life, these people are dangerous to your mental and emotional wellbeing. As hard as it may be I promise you it is one of the best decisions you can make. Believe me when I say this, your world is going to feel a whole a lot brighter and you will be better by just getting rid of people that bring nothing but negativity into your life.
Speaking of feeling better, here’s one more thing that you need to focus on: Getting proper sleep.
Your body cannot function properly without adequate sleep. Maintaining a proper sleep cycle is perhaps the most important step in your journey towards managing your mental health.
Sleep allows our mind to fully recharge, our bodies to rest, and helps promote memory consolidation and repair of muscles. While we have already established in the previous section that stress can often result in sleep deprivation, it is important that I emphasize the role of sleep when it comes to treating chronic depression. Sleep is a natural function of our body and is <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health"><b>proven</b></a> to be excellent at treating patients suffering from mental illnesses.
Although there is no “cookie cutter” approach when it comes to managing stress, there are certain recommendations that, when applied to your daily routine, can help reduce stress and keep your cortisol levels under control.
The following are top-three natural ways to reduce stress:
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Perform Physical Activity</p>
Many studies conducted in the past have found ties between reduced stress and exercise. These studies have concluded that exercise has a rather relaxing effect on the body and mind and can be an effective stress reliever.
A <a href="https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/43/14/1111.short"><b>study</b></a> funded by the British Heart Foundation and the National Institute for Health Research inquired the relationship between physical activity and stress. The results of the study revealed that “any form of daily physical activity was associated with a lower risk of psychological distress …” and that “different types of activities including domestic (housework and gardening), walking and sports were all independently associated with lower odds of psychological distress…”
So, how does physical exercise actually help reduce stress?
It does this by improving the blood flow throughout your body and boosting your body’s ability to use oxygen. These two effects, in turn, significantly enhance the production of endorphins – neurotransmitters that make you “feel good” – and helps promote calmness and reduce stress.
Ever noticed how your mood just lights up after a workout? That’s just the thing you need to help keep stress to the bare minimum.
Looking for where to start? There are dozens of different physical activities that can help improve your body’s ability to manage stress. However, I strongly recommend performing aerobic exercise on moderate intensity for up to 150 minutes a week or for 75 minutes a week if performed on high-intensity. It is also recommended to use exercise as a way to time-out from your routine. Physical activities such as indulging in a quick table tennis match or going out for a quick stroll during your lunch hours can help combat stress. Here are some other great things you can do.
**Walk for 30 minutes at least three times a week**
<br>Start with easier goals in the beginning and workout in breaks. Work out for 10-15 minutes a day and build your exercise routine over time and look for physical activities that interest you. Perhaps a yoga class would be more fun than spending half-hour on the treadmill.
Play your favorite music when exercising. The relaxing powers of music combined with the effects of physical activity on your body can make everything a lot more enjoyable.
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Look Into Breathing Exercises</p>
**Take a deep breathe in. Now breathe out. Didn’t that feel relaxing?**
<br>Breathing is a very simple action that can be very powerful at easing stress and making your body relaxed. Deep breathing is one of the most effective ways to lower stress. It does this by sending your brain a message to calm down and loosen up the production of cortisol in the body and managing the sympathetic (rest & digest system) and parasympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system in your body.
Before we go any further, it is important to understand that different breathing patterns have different effects on your body. When you exhale longer than you inhale, your brain receives a signal to pump up your sympathetic nervous system and turn down your parasympathetic nervous system. This is typically benefitting in situations where your body needs to be prepared for a fight or flight situation and can be very damaging to your body if experienced very frequently.
Slow breathing that involves drawing in air towards your abdomen for longer periods of time activates your parasympathetic nervous system. This is particularly effective in regulating your heart rate, relaxing your blood vessels, keeping your blood pressure lowered and helping your body and mind achieve a state of calmness.
While yogis have long recommended deep breathing exercises for stress relief and to cultivate peace and chi, I highly suggest that you practice at least one form of breathing exercise every morning.
**Here’s an easy belly breathing exercise to get your started:**
* Sit or lay on a flat surface
* Maintain a comfortable position
* Place one hand on your abdomen, right beneath your ribs
* Place your other hand on your chest
* Draw in a deep breath through your nose and let your abdomen to expand and push your hand against your abdomen
* Do this while ensuring that the hand on your chest doesn’t move from its position
* Breathe out the air through pursed lips (the form of lips that you obtain when whistling). Push all the air out of your body by feeling the hand on your abdomen move towards your body
* Repeat this breathing exercise five to ten times
####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Maintain Your Diet</p>
It’s almost natural for us to reach out for comfort foods such as our favorite pizza, a slice of chocolate cake, or better yet ice cream when going through a stressful phase in life. Unfortunately, by consuming foods loaded with fats, we simply slow down our body and promote a feeling of lethargy and fall even deeper into the pits of stress. Driving up your cholesterol level and increasing your blood pressure, a poor diet can take a serious toll on your mental health.
A <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/20/health/food-depression-stress/index.html"><b>study</b></a> conducted by Deakin University's Food and Mood Centre looked into the link between an unhealthy diet and poor mental health. Participants that maintained a healthy diet –– high in extra-virgin olive oil, seeds, eggs, fruits, and vegetables –– saw their score on the depression scale improve. Meanwhile, their counterparts put on diets high in processed meats, salty snacks, and sweets scored even lower than what they had towards the beginning of the study.
Wondering how you can manage stress by maintaining your diet? I recommend choosing whole and natural foods with high anti-inflammatory properties.
Here’s everything that you should be eating to reduce chronic stress:
* **Dark Chocolate (minimum of 70% cocoa solids):** Packed with antioxidants, dark chocolate can make you feel calmer and have strong anti-inflammatory effect on your body
* **Spinach:** Spinach is high in folic acid. It promotes a sense of relaxation and increases levels of happy hormones found in your body.
* **Avocado:** Rich in vitamin E, avocados have high anti-inflammatory properties and help in stabilizing your mood.
* **Eggs:** While egging your enemy’s house might be one way to let go of stress, consuming eggs provides you with the goodness of vitamin-D; the sunshine vitamin that can improve your mood and relax your mind.
* **Salmon:** High in omega-3s, salmon brings you the effects of a mood improving fatty acid, reduces inflammation and fights chronic stress.
* **Extra-Virgin Olive Oil:** Minimally processes extra virgin oil can provide you with a significant boost in the levels of happy hormone (serotonin), decrease your blood pressure and help your regain control of your body and mind
So, are you ready to work towards a newer, better you? Prepared to take control of your mental health?
Eating healthy by incorporating foods rich in anti-inflammatory properties can help ensure that your body has the fuel it needs to perform to the best of its abilities. Pairing your healthy diet with physical activities can help promote a sense of calmness and reduce chronic stress and its side effects. Breathing exercises are also excellent at putting your mind at ease, lowering the levels of cortisol in your body, and help in maintaining your overall mental health.
#####<p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Resources</p>