Stress and anxiety, we all experience it. While short bursts of stress are not harmful, it is the continual, long-term chronic stress that’s damaging to overall health.
Long-term stress has been linked to everything from excess body fat to cancer. Ongoing stress and anxiety interfere with immune function, increasing risk of allergies, autoimmune diseases, hormone disruption, heart disease, digestive dysfunction and accelerated aging. When you’re stressed out, your body produces excess cortisol, the stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, which leads to premature aging, oxidation and excess belly fat. Overtime, too much cortisol prevents the immune system from functioning properly and leads to diseases of aging.
According to the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation, the more stress in a woman's life, the greater her weight. Another study in Molecular Psychiatry found that women are more sensitive to the stress hormone cortisol and are less able to adapt when levels are high. When cortisol is released in high amounts, production of sex hormones come to a halt and instead more stress hormones are produced. Therefore, it is especially important that women prioritize healthy functioning adrenals entering into menopause since the adrenal glands produce 40 percent of sex hormones before menopause and 90 percent after menopause.
Corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) which acts as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter is triggered during stress and attaches to receptors on cell membranes in the brain's alarm center leading to an aroused mental state. Compared with females, male brains need more CRF to become agitated. In males, the receptors retreat inside the cells eluding CRF to minimize stress. Even in the absence of any stress, the researchers found the female stress signaling system to be more sensitive from the start. It’s well known that women have higher incidences of anxiety and depression.
Sources of stress occur physically, emotionally, mentally, environmentally and spiritually.
* Physical stress – digestive distress, imbalanced hormones, food intolerances, chronic illness, excess body fat, toxic overload, consuming processed foods, chronic infections
* Mental stress – economy, jobs, finances, retirement
* Emotional stress – relationships, divorce, hormone imbalances, depression, anxiety, low self esteem, negative thoughts
* Environmental stress – environmental toxins, electromagnetic stress from computers, cell phones, microwave ovens, chemicals
* Spiritual stress – unhealthy beliefs
Although stress is life and life is stress, the key is to change the thought process and build resiliency when challenges arise. Stress management is identifying and recognizing the best way to respond to challenges that will inevitably occur in our lives.
Rest and relaxation are important, and may take the form of meditation, relaxing in a bubble bath with Epsom salts and lavender, restorative yoga, listening to classical music, walking your dog, spending time in nature or reading something spiritual or uplifting.
Some of my Favorite Stress-Less Solutions
Breathe Deep breathing releases endorphins that create feelings of happiness. The breath is the foundation to destressing and healing and is revitalizing and energizing every cell in your body. Allow yourself five minutes in the morning and evening to focus on deep, belly breathing versus chest breathing. Empty your mind of your day-to-day activities and focus on a 1-5 word phrase (mantra) that resonates with you and repeat it over and over again, or just surrender into the silence. Imagine yourself breathing in harmony and relaxation, and as you exhale let go of stress and negativity. Studies show this lowers blood pressure, releases healing hormones into your body, increases creativity and productivity, and enhances one’s ability to handle stressful situations.
Move Your Body Aside from strengthening your heart and lungs (two organs that can become physically affected from too much stress), exercise is highly beneficial for your mental health too. Exercising increases the levels of endorphins in your body, which stimulate your immune system and has a positive influence on mood.
Don’t overdo it though! Include daily exercise such as weight training or interval training paired with yin-type activities such as restorative or yin yoga, chi gong, and walking, preferably outdoors in nature. Exercise bouts of 30 minutes (but not longer than 60 minutes) appear to have the best stress-reducing benefits. Moderate to vigorous activity reduces stress better than low intensity activity. You must be healthy, nourished with wholesome foods and well-rested with balanced hormones to benefit and recover properly from more intense exercise. Working out too hard, too much and too often without addressing these other important variables compromise the immune system and endocrine/hormonal system.
Restful Sleep – the fountain of youth During sleep, the stress hormone cortisol is lowered, but when we’re sleep deprived, cortisol levels rise. Lights out by 10:00pm. According to the National Institutes of Health, the physical body repairs between the hours of 10:00pm and 2:00am. The mind/emotional/spiritual body repairs between the hours of 2:00am and 6:00am. Aim to get 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night. Helpful Tips for Insomnia
Turn off all communication devices at a set time each night This includes your cell phone, computer and fax machine. Remove electronic devices from your bedroom to eliminate electromagnetic stress.
Get rid of clutter Clutter will make your life feel more complicated than it needs to, while a clutter-free space is one where you can truly feel at peace. Commit to eliminating anything or anyone that is not improving the quality of your life. Manage your to-do list and set boundaries.
Wholesome nutrition and hydration Providing your body with the nutrients and water it needs is crucial to reducing stress. Stress actually depletes your body of nutrients. Make sure to include smaller, more frequent meals with plenty of protein, fruits, vegetables & leafy greens, seeds and nuts. These foods contain stress-reducing nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, vitamins C and E, folic acid and B-complex. Zinc and magnesium are the first minerals to be depleted under stress.
Consume adequate protein at every meal. The importance of dietary protein cannot be underestimated. Under any type of stress, your body requires more protein.
Avoid all sugar, white flour & wheat products, vegetable oils, processed, junk foods and any food item that your body is sensitive to, which cause more stress and damage to your body. Doing so helps regulate insulin levels and reduce digestive stress. When blood sugar drops, adrenaline is released to compensate which increases anxiety.
Drink a minimum of half your weight in ounces of water daily. Add a pinch of unprocessed sea salt to your water. Many people are chronically dehydrated which may reveal as dry skin, brittle bones, hunger which is actually thirst and even depleted brain chemistry (neurotransmitters function in water).
Hydrate sufficiently, eat mindfully, chew your food and enjoy your meals. Eliminate news, television, loud music, cell phones, computer and stressful conversations during meals.
Sex Hundreds of major medical studies have shown that an active sex life leads to a longer life, better heart health, a healthier immune response, reduction in chronic pain symptoms, lower rates of depression and even protection against some cancers. Men who engage in sex (just 2x/week) have half as many heart attacks as men who only have sex once per month. In fact, a healthy sex life has been shown to extend life by as much as ten years. People who enjoy a meaningful sex life are less anxious, fearful and inhibited.
Music Listening to slow, quiet classical music, is proven to have a calming effect. Countless studies have shown that music's relaxing effects can be seen on anyone, including newborns. Music can help you get into the zone when practicing yoga, self hypnosis or guided imagery, can help you feel energized when exercising and recover after exercising, help dissolve stress, and promote relaxation when you're soaking in the tub. Upbeat music can take your mind off what stresses you, and help you feel more optimistic and positive. This helps release stress and can even help you keep from getting stressed over life's little frustrations in the future. Researchers discovered that music can decrease the amount of the cortisol produced by the body in response to stress.
Nature Children and adults are spending more and more time indoors. As a result we are seeing more problems such as ADHD and obesity. Spending time in nature creates a positive effect on mental, emotional and physical well-being, induces a sense of connectedness, spirituality, meaning and purpose.
Environmental psychologists have demonstrated that contact with nature restores attention and mental focus and helps the mind to recover from mental fatigue. (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989)
Relax with Water Water has been used since the dawn of humankind for reduction of stress. Water is our connection to life itself. Spend time near the ocean. Schedule time to soak in a relaxing Epsom salt bath. The magnesium from the Epsom salts will be absorbed into the skin aiding in muscle relaxation. Add 10 drops of essential oils, such as lavender. Aromatherapy is very powerful for inducing relaxation. Light candles around the tub, a powerful way to relax and connect to your mind, body and soul.
Release attachment to control other people, events or circumstances. Direct your energy into things in which you can control such as your thoughts. Be aware of your emotional state and the fact that you have the choice to change it.
Man’s Best Friend Research shows that owning or just spending time around a dog is healing, lowers cortisol and reduces stress.
Build Strong Friendships and Relationships Connect with others emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Stress can lead to feelings of depression and isolation. Surround yourself with like-minded people who make you feel good. Decide who and what is most important to you and center your life around those people and items. Resign from negative influences and situations, energy vampires and commitments that are not fulfilling to you. It’s okay to say no to invitations and events you really don’t care to attend.
The Stress Institute’s founder, Dr. Kathleen Hall states: “Friendships are strong indicators of mental, physical and spiritual health. Friendship is not a luxury, but is essential to work-life balance and your health. Studies show that isolation decreases immune functioning and increases mortality risk.”
Balance Neurotransmitters & Replenish Nutrient Deficiencies Consider natural stress-relieving nutritional and/or adrenal support. Stress depletes hydrochloric acid (HCL) zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and other vital nutrients. Consult with your health practitioner for a protocol specific to you.
Listen to your heart Turn off your brain and get quiet with yourself. Meditate. Listen to the voice of your heart, your essence. Your true heart is not subject to chaos or limited by pain, fear and neuroses, but is joyful, creative and loving. Some believe the heart can be too uncertain and even misguided, but that’s the head talking! It is the core, the essence of your being, a reservoir of joy, powerful love and infinite compassion that lies within you.
The magnetic field of the heart is 5000 times more powerful than the magnetic field of the brain and reaches out several feet from out body. Connect with and nourish your spirit by listening to your heart.
Be charitable Charitable acts have been shown to decrease stress, improve quality of life, and increase lifespan for the giver, while a person who receives, but does not practice charity, doesn’t experience the same benefit. Dr. Kathleen Hall, a world renowned expert in stress and founder of The Stress Institute, says that “altruism creates a physiological responses or helpers high that makes people feel stronger, more energetic and counters harmful effects of stress.”
Attitude of Gratitude Being grateful for what you have allows you to focus on the positive elements in your life and value the gifts you’ve already been given. Every night I pull out my gratitude log and list 5-10 things, events or people I am grateful for. Studies tell us daily gratitude exercises result in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy.
♥ Love, Appreciation and Gratitude have a profound effect on your health.
Love, Gratitude and Appreciation increase vitality and vigor, boost your immune system and increase chemical production; reduce stress hormones; lower blood pressure and feelings of anxiety, guilt and burnout, and increase glucose metabolism in diabetics! ♥
Take the Stress Test I am not sure exactly how it works, but this is amazingly accurate. Read the instructions before looking at the picture. The picture below has 2 identical dolphins. It was used in a case study on stress levels at St. Mary's Hospital.
Look at both dolphins jumping out of the water. The dolphins are identical. A closely monitored scientific study of a group revealed that in spite of the fact that the dolphins are identical, a person under stress would find differences in the two dolphins. If you find any difference between the two dolphins, you may be experiencing a great amount of stress.
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Laugh It releases endorphins, your body’s natural pain killer. Laughter lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and boosts your immune function.
Have a Happy, Healthy Day!
Copyright © Paula Owens
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