There is no doubt that stress and worrying about stress, takes up a large amount of our time. Just this week, the headlines suggested; Work stress ‘raises heart risk’ (BBC), Genes may play a key role in stress (CNN), Exercise may prevent stress and anxiety (KTTC). Researchers are constantly trying to evaluate the impact of stress on our physical health, our mental health and what we can do to not only relieve stress in our lives but how to better cope with it when it appears.
There are some things you can do to ease the stress in your life. First decide whether the stress you experience is good-stress or bad-stress. Some stress is necessary in life and actually has benefits when it is dealt with properly.
When you experience a stressful situation, the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands all pump stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, into the bloodstream. It causes our heartbeat and breathing rates to speed up, and our muscles to tense up. You’ve heard people say they feel “pumped up”, which indicates they are experiencing “adaptive” or good stress. The blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow to help the brain, muscles and limbs face the stress, similar to the feeling during aerobic exercise.
Take a peek at how the adrenal glands are involved in the ‘fight or flight’ response.
But if the situation is perceived by the body to be harmful or threatening, blood vessels constrict, and Christopher Edwards, from the Duke University Medical Center, says “you may feel a little dizzy as your blood pressure rises.” Symptoms are similar to those you experience during a fit of anger (flight or fight response). Edwards says, you may speak louder or experience lapses in judgment or logic, your hands and feet may grow cold as blood rushes to the body’s core. When that happens, the heart beats erratically and studies have shown that it increases the risk of chronic disease and early death.
The effects of high stress can include; asthma, insomnia, chronic fatigue, erectile dysfunction and male infertility, fibromyalgia, headaches, heart disease, high blood pressure, immune system dysfunction, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcers, pregnancy complications, rheumatoid arthritis, skin diseases. It can slow down the body’s process to heal wounds, as well as causing mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, alcohol and drug abuse and poor performance at work. more.
Studies have also shown that a combination of insomnia and stress can lead to overeating and weight gain.
Here’s a video where I discuss the warning signs of stress, on the Marilyn Denis show. I find the emWave device that I discuss live on the show to be very helpful in managing stress for my patients and myself.
A “Stress First-Aid Kit” to help you cope
I’ve been speaking about the need for a ‘stress triage kit’ for some time. It needs to be widely available – not just on Bay street or Wall street, but in many offices and homes. When it comes to supplements, B-complex is the best way to give your nervous system support especially at work. B vitamins are essential to support mood-boosting neurotransmitters, like serotonin. Several B-vitamins also help your heart by lowering homocysteine levels, a risk factor for heart disease. The B vitamins are found in meat, tuna, whole grains, leafy greens (like collards, kale, and Swiss chard), lentils, beans, broccoli, potatoes, tempeh, miso, bananas, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and oranges. Also try to avoid B-depleting things like birth control pills, caffeine, processed foods, and excessive alcohol. And be checked for other health causes that can cause a deficiency in some or all of the B vitamins, like; H. pylori bacteria (responsible for stomach ulcers), kidney disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other malabsorption syndromes. But always talk with your doctor or primary health care giver, before starting to take any new supplement. B vitamins, in particular, may interact with certain medications.
Some other natural support to consider: L-Theanine, an amino acid that helps to increase natural stores of Dopamine (the feel good, relaxing chemical), Rhodiola an herbal “adaptagen” which helps you ‘adapt’ to stress better by supporting adrenal gland function (which control the fight/flight response) and Sedatil homeopathic therapy also helps ease the symptoms of nervousness, hypersensitivity and irritability due to stress. Also 170mg of Rhodiola a day during stressful periods can improve feelings of well-being.
Another great way to fight stress is to exercise. Something as simple as a 30-minute brisk walk each day can help to boost your mood and lower your blood pressure. A new study from researchers at the University of Maryland, School of Public Health found that moderate exercise can also help people manage future stress and anxiety, suggesting the mental health benefits of exercise last a long time after the workout is over.
J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the University of Maryland’s department of kinesiology, says, “We found that exercise helps to buffer the effects of emotional exposure. If you exercise, you’ll not only reduce your anxiety, but you’ll be better able to maintain that reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events.”
Mind-body medicine focuses on the role our thoughts and emotions play on our physical health. Many of the techniques are useful to teach us how to better cope with stress; biofeedback, relaxation training, tai chi, yoga, and meditation. One controlled study found 15 minutes of meditation twice a day reduced stress levels in teenagers during two experiences designed to produce stress. Other controlled studies have found similar results after a program of meditation.
Other stress reduction programs involving group counseling and training in problem-solving and coping skills, also has been shown to be effective for reducing stress.
Even something as changing the way we breathe can affect our body’s response to stress. Breathe in through the diaphragm for a count of five, hold it for 7 seconds and then breathe out through pursed lips for 8 seconds. If a situation is particularly stressful, and you feel the signs of an anxiety attack, do the breathing exercise but also count backwards by increments of 7 from 1000. It forces you to engage both sides of the brain and allows you to ground yourself and reduced the perceived threat.
Stress is a very subjective response. For some it is as ‘little’ an issue as spilt milk while others may not blink an eye while in the middle of a war torn battlefield. If you really want to know how stress is impacting you, take a quiz and also test your chemistry here at MyStatus.