Stressed out? Chances are you’re nodding your head. Maybe you’re not right now (after all you’re enjoying my website), but maybe you were earlier today, or yesterday, or last week. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In a 2013 study performed by the American Psychological Association, researchers found anecdotal evidence that stress in America is increasing in adults and in teens. The report found that:
- 42% of adults and 31% of teens reported that their stress levels have increased
- 43% of adults and 35% of teens lost sleep in the past month due to stress
Stress has become an epidemic, not just for our sleep habits, but also for our eating habits.
- 38% of adults have overeaten or eaten unhealthy food in the past month because of stress with 49% of adults engaging in this behavior at least every week
- 67% of teens report skipping meals because of stress due to lack of appetite
For starters, everyone has a stress response. It’s what has kept us alive all these years! This type of short term stress response is a good thing. It’s necessary for our survival. Let’s go over the basics of what happens when our bodies experience stress.
- Short term, our body is equipped with a “fight or flight” response. The sympathetic nervous system takes over your body.
- Sugars in your body are mobilized to various parts of your body to increase energy.
- Our muscles tense up, our heart beats faster and blood flows away from any non-essential body systems including your digestive organs. In moments of acute stress, your body can’t always properly process the food.
This entire stress response shouldn’t last more than a few hours. It turns into a serious health problem (which is why I’m talking about it) when it becomes chronic. Chronic stress can lead to a range of problems including:
- Gastrointestinal related issues including constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, reflux or bloating.
- Storage of excess abdominal fat.
- Aggravated existing or new muscular conditions .
- High blood pressure, thicker heart muscles, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
- Sleeplessness due to an active sympathetic nervous system that doesn’t want to shut down.
- A suppressed immune system can become suppressed, leaving it susceptible to new viruses. S
- Inflammation which is known to cause an array of diseases including IBS and rheumatoid arthritis.
Learn to Manage Stress
So now that we know what stress is, what it does to our bodies, and how chronic stress can turn into a number of health problems, how can we manage it?
Before I share some tips on managing stress, I will let you in on a little secret. I recently experienced a massive amount of stress and experienced first hand how it completely shut down my body, which included muscle spasms, lack of appetite, and shortness of breath. How did I help myself? I deepened my breathing and got a massage. Luckily, my yoga and meditation practice helped me lower my stress levels and deal with them so that my stress didn’t become chronic. It’s about being prepared and luckily I was.
There are a number of things you can do right now, stressed or not, that will help you manage stress in the future.
- Practice deep breathing and meditation practices which strengthen your vigilant prefrontal cortex and help you avoid overreactions. Think of it your prefrontal cortex as your very wise grandparents.
- Eat nutritious foods such as nuts, fatty fish, and berries that will help maintain a healthy cortisol level. Enjoy a cup of green tea which will also help decrease cortisol and increase endorphins, relax muscles, and improve your mood.
- Get enough sleep so you won’t be as susceptible to daily stressors.
- Embrace imperfection. No one is perfect. Nothing is perfect. Actually, the beauty of our world is that it is perfectly imperfect. So if nature can’t be perfect, what makes you think you can be?
- Exercise! According to Harvard Health Publications, exercise has a number of neurochemical benefits that reduce the level of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, while stimulating endorphins that your body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
Most importantly – BREATHE! Nothing is worth stressing out over. Not the report that’s due, not your kid’s laundry, and certainly not your the driver going 20 mph under the speed limit in front of you. Check out my latest article on mindfulness. It’s a great read for those of you looking to help manage your stress in this crazy (and amazing) world!
If you’re interested in speaking with me more about how to lower your stress levels through nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org