Between backbreaking workloads, hectic schedules, social commitments, and difficult family relationship, most people deal with stress on a near constant basis. But, is that stress, or your response to it breaking down your body? And if so, what can you do about it?
The Impact of Stress
Stress impacts nearly every function and part of the body. Every body responds to stress differently, but the most common issues include difficulty sleeping, decreased immune response, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, tight muscles, clenched jaws and pain in the back, neck and shoulders. Heart Math provides a detailed infographic that looks that the various affects stress has on the body.
Unfortunately, stress has become such a large part of daily life that it can be hard to recognize. Start by taking the Stress and Anxiety Quiz from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley.
Feed your mood
The phrase “you are what you eat” isn’t just a cliché. What you put into your body impacts not only your health but your mood and stress levels as well. Food rich in B vitamins, such as turkey and almonds, promote serotonin production in the brain, which can result in a happier state of mind and a more positive outlook. Likewise, foods such as avocadoes and bananas are good sources of potassium and can help keep anger at bay while the magnesium in chickpeas and oatmeal relax muscles and promote sleep. Whether you are trying to enhance your mood, get much needed rest, up your immunity, or keep anger at bay, Self.com has a shopping list of stress busting foods that will have you snacking your way to less stress.
Avoiding the wrong foods is just as important as eating the right foods. During times of high stress, people often seek out sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Unfortunately, all of these common comfort foods can increase the bodies stress response and make the situation worse. Fat, sugar and alcohol all increase the amount of the stress hormone, cortisol in the body. Caffeine may actually be the worst culprit because it an make an already stressed person feel a sense of panic. Huffington Post provides a slideshow of the eight worst foods to eat when feeling stressed and explains the effects of each.
Take a mental break
Stress often builds up when the brain is processing too many things at once. Think about your typical day. Most likely, while you are fighting your way through rush-hour traffic you are thinking about your first meeting of the day. And then, during that meeting, you are both listening to your boss and also mentally composing an email. Your brain needs time to reset itself occasionally. The stress hormone, cortisol, can cause confusion and a lack of productivity. Taking as few as three minutes between activities can allow the level of cortisol to drop. The iPhone app, Take A Break, can be helpful in restoring peace and reducing stress as a calm voice provides guided meditation to a backdrop of soothing sounds. The Rest & Relax app provides similar guided meditation for android users.
Exercise does double duty in the fight against stress. First, it helps to heal the damage stress does to the body. But, perhaps even more importantly, exercise releases endorphins, which are instant mood boosters and can help reduce the stress response. Though any type of exercise in helpful in the fight against stress, yoga is particularly helpful because it combines the endorphin release of movement with the calming affect of meditation. The Mayo Clinic offers a video demonstration of yoga poses specifically designed for stress management.
While eliminating and dealing with stress is ideal, most people will experience a certain amount of occasional and ongoing stress. The next best thing to getting rid of stress is embracing it. In a recent Ted Talk, Health Psychologist, Kelly McGonigal suggests that the negative impact of stress in amplified by the belief that stress is bad for you. It is possible that, by viewing stress as the body’s way of preparing to dealing with situations, and using stress to connect with others, the negative impacts of stress can be turned into a positive.
Sadly, stress happens. It’s how we face it that matters most. By recognizing the signs and symptoms and responding appropriately we can limit the negative impact stress has on the body. What are your best tips for dealing with stress?Do you have any advice to give? Maybe an interesting story about relieving your stress or about what happened because you didn’t relieve it? Share with us in the comments below!