What is stress? According to the dictionary, there are several definitions of stress, but our focus will be the following aspect: “ a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”
We have all experienced stress at some point in our lives. And not all stress is negative. Stress can motivate us, but it can also do damage to our bodies if we are continually living in a state of tension and strain. In fact, Yale-trained physician, midwife, and herbalist Aviva Romm, states that 60% of all illnesses are linked to a stress component-that’s right folks, 60%!
Each of us has our own symptoms related to stress. They may be the same or different from the symptoms experienced by your family, friends or coworkers. You likely already know yours. There is a list of 50 common signs/symptoms of stress listed on stress.org. A few most common ones I experience personally include racing heart, ringing of the ears, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, crying, feeling overwhelmed, feeling the need to “run away,” and communication problems.
Many symptoms, such as increased heart rate, muscle tension, head pounding, and increase breathing rate, are all components of the “fight-or-flight” response that is instinctive to the human body. Our body was made to react to stress. Small amounts of stress on a regular basis can be a good thing as it can help improve mental clarity, focus and immune response. However most of us are continually exposed to situations that require the body to react this way, and it is damaging over time.
Stress is a big deal. It is linked to heart attack, depression, suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, herpes outbreaks, autoimmune conditions, high blood pressure, stroke, infections, and even accidents such as car accidents and work-related incidents. Over time, stress decreases our body’s ability to handle exposure to even small amounts of chemicals released by stress such as adrenaline, epinephrine, and cortisol.
In order to combat the stress, we must first learn to recognize it in ourselves and admit it. Admitting it is most of the battle. Once you see it for what it is, you can make choices that reduce the stress and improve your ability to handle it.
Below are some ways to reduce stress, without the use of medications.
• Eat well-increase the amount of whole, plant-based foods in your diet to help boost the immune system
• Get enough rest-take a nap if you can, go to bed earlier, allow your body to wake up naturally without the use of an alarm clock
• Exercise-MOVE your body; go for a run, walk, swim, or bike ride.
• Laugh-find a way to make yourself laugh, it lowers cortisol (a stress chemical) and boosts endorphins (chemicals in the brain that make you happy)
• Listen to music-this simple thing can lower blood pressure, anxiety, and depression; create a playlist of your favorites and crank it up!
• Get a massage-relieve muscle tension and soreness related to chronic stress
• Connect with someone-this strengthens the relationship but also helps give you a new perspective
• Write/journal-this is an avenue I use CONSTANTLY to combat stress in my life; it gives me a way to put onto paper what I am feeling and deal with it in ways that are positive and uplifting, and is especially helpful when I use it in combination with prayer
• Breathing exercises-this will also help lower heart rate and blood pressure; sit up straight with one hand on the belly and the other on the head, breathe in deep through your nose and feel the breath starting in the belly and work up to the top of your head, exhale through your mouth while reversing the process. It is helpful for some people to imagine their favorite color filling up the lungs as they breathe in deeply.
• Meditate/pray-it has been suggested that this can alter the way the brain actually works.
• BE GRATEFUL!-start a gratitude journal to remind yourself of all the positives in your life; keep one in several places so it is accessible at all times
By: Rachel Clark, RN, BSN