When real or imagined stresses exceed our perceived ability to cope, we experience stress. This is not always a bad thing. Short term, manageable stress can help motivate us and facilitates learning and change. But what happens when stress becomes chronic or long-lasting? This type of toxic stress can have major health implications…
Stress may feel like it is part and parcel of modern life, but experiencing long-term low levels of stress, or short-term excessive stress can increase our risk of developing serious medical conditions. High cholesterol, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension and autoimmune disease have all been linked to stress.
There are many factors which influence the health and happiness of our brain. The world around us, our biology, our thoughts, feelings and overall mindset. This can be influenced by biological or physiological determinants of brain health such as our hormones, genetics, immune system, nutritional status and lifestyle choices.
Social and environmental factors, life events, education, current circumstances, family background, thoughts, emotions, mindset, and belief systems also impact how we experience stress.
Find daily peace of mind using the following three practical strategies:
1. Change your biology
Getting a good night’s sleep and indulging in a nap is one of the best ways to regulate your emotions
Sleep is the cornerstone of good brain health.During sleep, the brain consolidates our memories and goes through a “cleaning” process. It appears this may protect us from developing conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s.We can better manage stress through a good night’s rest, which helps with regulation of our emotions and management of cortisol levels (our stress hormone).
We recommend 8 to 9 hours sleep each night. This can be boosted by napping, which can also help reduce daily stress and increase clarity. Researchers have determined that the optimum nap time for adults appears to be between 10 to 20 minutes. Longer naps can cause a period of grogginess or reduced performance as a result of waking in the middle of deep sleep. Don’t forget to set your alarm!
Work out those stressors with a good old workout! Stress levels can easily be reduced through exercise- whether that’s in the gym, some intensive housework, or just going for a long walk. Not only that, but burning off some energy will make you tired, leading to a better night’s sleep.
Some people find exercise is like “meditation in motion“. It can boost your endorphin levels (our feel-good hormones). This leads to increased feelings of happiness and, you guessed it, lower stress levels. Not only that, it can reduce muscle tension, increase our oxygen levels, and use up excess adrenaline and cortisol.
Tight shoulders, shallow breathing, tension headaches and feelings of overwhelm are common signs of stress. Chiropractic care is also a great way to help improve your posture. Spending long periods of the day in a slouched posture with rounded shoulders can increase your feelings of tension by winding up your “fight or flight response”.
2. Change your environment
Time in nature
Fresh air. Sunshine. Daylight. These are nature’s gifts to us that help us to relax and gain perspective. Consider a long walk in the great outdoors as a key part of your stress-reduction programme. Not only will it improve your mood, but it can reduce blood pressure and increase our ability to concentrate. This makes it vital for us to get up and away from our desk at lunchtime.
Exposure to natural daylight can also help us sleep better, as exposure to light helps regulate our circadian rhythm (our natural wake and sleep cycle). A dose of daylight can improve our mood by increasing our levels of vitamin D and serotonin, both known to increase with sun exposure.
If feelings of worry start to creep in, head outside.
Connecting with others
Human beings are hardwired to connect with us. We are social creatures with an innate need to connect with others, especially when tense or anxious.
A simple 20 second hug can reduce our cortisol levels, and flood our bodies with the bonding hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is a mood-boosting hormone which helps to lower our stress levels.
3. Change your mindset
Mindfulness and meditation
Fixating on a problem does little to solve it. Not only that, but worry and anxiety can mount and lead to worsened feels of stress.
Practicing a daily dose of mindfulness can help us avoid ruminating on past mistakes or future concerns.
Proben to be effective in reducing anxiety and overwhelm, mindfulness-based stress reduction can help keep us present. These techniques can help us mentally “check in” with our own bodies throughout the day, and teach us how to slow our heart rate and breathing to calm our stress response.
Try: Take a deep breath in for four seconds. Hold your breath for four seconds. Exhale for four seconds. Pause for four seconds. Repeat.
These slow breathing exercise can help minimise our stress response.
Re-think your response
Not all stress is harmful, but thinking it is can have a negative impact on our bodies. A certain amount of stress helps prepare our bodies for the challenge ahead. Think about the symptoms you experience when anxious- racing heartrate, increased breathing rate, sweaty palms. If we viewed these as signs of excitement or anticipation, we could change the way we perceive being stressed. Instead of something to fear or worry about, it becomes a trigger for something positive. It is thought that a negative perception of stress may cause the body to change in ways that have been linked to disease or reduced life expectancy. Seeing stress as a positive, rather than a negative, can help modulate these responses.
We cannot avoid stress. It is part of modern life. Instead of avoiding it, we should learn to understand and influence how we experience it. In doing so, we can influence our brain health, reduce our stress response and invoke feelings of calm and relaxation during our busy lives.
At Acorn Health, we offer life coaching which is an effective and insightful way to change your mindset and structure your day to reduce stress. Find out more by following the link below.