For a long time we have been referring to stress as the “number one silent killer”, but, until recently, we didn’t have many scientific proves to back up that description. A new study was exploring the connection between stress and sickness, and according to mentioned study, stress can be a major risk factor for the onset of various diseases, ranging from heart conditions to cell-associated illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Unfortunately, in the time we’re living in, it is almost impossible to avoid stressors and have quite a peaceful life. However, while stress can’t be completely eliminated, it is possible to learn how to manage it better and prevent your health from deteriorating.
Before that, it is vital to understand what stress can do to you and how it can affect your health. For that, we’ll have to go through various factors, from hormones to the immune system, and only then, we’ll talk about different ways to manage stress better.
What’s the fight-or-flight response?
During stressful situations, the body’s sympathetic nervous system activates which results in the fight-or-flight response. This means that it will either defend your organism from a threat or run away from it.
Some of the psychological reactions you can notice in these kind of moments are nausea, dizziness, and accelerated heart rate, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, headache, and muscle tension.
Cortisol signals your body to release glucose - a type of sugar that provides energy to your muscles. Glucose helps your muscles fight off or run from a stressor.
Once the threat is gone, cortisol levels usually return to normal, and the body quickly recuperates from its effects.
However, this is not the case when the stress is chronic. In constant worriers, cortisol levels remain elevated for a long time. In the long run, this can cause or contribute to many problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic gastrointestinal problems.
Other chemicals that which are on the rise within your brain when fight-or-flight response is operating are epinephrine and norepinephrine, which also have their fair share in the development of certain medical conditions.
The impact of stress on your physical health
Chronic stress is a huge risk factor for the onset of illnesses such as heart attack and cancer. One of the main reasons for that is the fact that reactions to stress can accumulate in your body without you or your physician even noticing it because your organism is in a state of continuous adaptation to ongoing stress.
Even if it might seem to you that you are building a tolerance to this state, your nervous system is left to struggle with an overload threatening to your wellbeing.
Since it causes muscle tension, stress can trigger headaches, but it is also hard on your digestive system.
The impact of stress on your mental health
Too often we see stress taking a toll on our psyche as something ordinary and normal, but it is not, or at least it shouldn’t be.
The irritability and frustration linked to worrying can affect your relationships, both private and work-related. Consequently, this can add even more stress to the pile and make things worse than they were.
Prolonged stress can lead to a number of emotional and mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. These psychological effects are bad enough on their own and they can interfere with your daily activities, but they can also contribute to the onset of physical conditions.
The art of managing stress
While there is nothing worse than when you are upset and someone comes to you and says “calm down”, this is exactly what you need to do.
However, effective coping with stress is not at all simple, and it requires a change in diet, lifestyle, and behavior. For an extra hand, you can try with teas, herbs, and supplements, but we’ll get to that part later.
- Deep breathing and meditation encourage you to take a step back, relax, and examine your body and mind while letting go of tension, stress, and anxiety. Committing to a regular 15 minutes meditation session a day can be a game changer. And in the cases of immediate stress, you can just try to take a few deep breaths before your body gives its response to the threat.
- Yoga has proven stress-relief benefits, but if this is too passive for you, you can also try cardio exercises, because they both release endorphins and lower the symptoms related to tension.
- Eating a rich whole foods diet sets the foundation for your overall health and feeds your body with the vitamins it needs to treat stress. On the other side, you should avoid sugary and processed food.
- Try supplementation which may help decrease cortisol to within a healthy range. These products usually contain a set of stress-relieving natural ingredients such as holy basil, golden root, banana leaf, and magnolia bark.
- Some of the herbal teas that can contribute to normalizing the levels of stress hormone are peppermint, chamomile, lemon balm, passion flower, and green tea.
- Getting the right amount of sleep is imperative for effective stress coping. Both stress and lack of sleep drain your energy, and you will feel their effects much more if they happen at the same time. Adequate sleep will help you cope better with tense situations.
- Finally, you can change the way of thinking. Practice mindfulness, try to feel grateful for what you have, think positively about your life, and don’t let minor disturbances upset you.
As you see stress can be quite an avalanche threatening to put you in harm’s way. The physical and emotional effects are too severe to be ignored, and it is vital to learn and apply stress management techniques so that you can preserve your health and peace of mind.