Physical and emotional stress is a fact of modern life. We all experience it one way or another and sometimes it can help when motivating us to perform well, but mostly it just makes us feel bad and can cause health problems.
What exactly happens is the hormone epinephrine or adrenaline is released by the sympathetic nervous system stimulating the fight or flight response which comes in really handy in a dangerous situation.
After the initial response, cortisol is released from the adrenal glands to keep the body on high alert. When the threat passes the parasympathetic nervous system puts on the brakes and cortisol declines. In chronic stress experienced over long periods of time this system is kept active and the body continues to pump these hormones which cause inflammation and can lead to serious health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, digestive disorders, insomnia, lack of concentration, lowering of the immune system which sets us up for more sickness, and the list goes on. Cancer has even been linked to the chronic release of stress hormones in the body.
Some people thrive on that constant energy rush that keeps them going on overdrive. They feel like they have accomplished more in a day. The other problem with persistent elevated cortisol levels is that it adds to the buildup of fat tissue and to weight gain, increases appetite and increases the storage of unused nutrients as fat.
It seems stress is not going to go away any time soon, so we need to learn techniques to manage it. There are many choices out there that we can luckily use and some we can do ourselves.
1. Relaxation response
One way is to invoke the relaxation response, through a technique first developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson. The relaxation response is a state of profound rest that can be elicited in many ways, including breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation .
Breathing into the abdomen physically calms the heart and the nervous system, sends more oxygen to the cells and removes the carbon dioxide. Deep breaths use all of the lungs and encourages full oxygen exchange. This expansion of the abdomen stimulates the vagus nerve, which elicits a relaxation response from the para-sympathetic nervous system. It physically calms the body down. Chest breathing can cause more nervousness and anxiety. The more nervous we are though, the more we tend to breath into only the chest. Therefore, it’s important to have a practice of abdominal breathing so that when we need it we have that routine.
2. Meditation and prayer
Meditation and prayer have been used for thousands of years to help people deal with stress and finding peace of mind. Meditation doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment but can be done for just be a few minutes at a time throughout the day. It is good to make it a routine and also use it in times of high stress.
There are many ways to meditate including using a mantra, visualization, mindfulness, and total body relaxation have been proven to lower the stress response, help with anxiety, depression, sleep, eating problems, lowering blood pressure etc.
3. Acupuncture, Chinese medicine and Qigong
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine has been used for at least 3000 years, and has been now proven to be highly effective in managing stress. A 2001 UCLA study showed that acupuncture can block sympathetic nerve activity. Acupuncture can alleviate stress symptoms by releasing endorphins – the body’s own natural painkillers, and improve the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids, which brings fresh oxygen to body tissues.
Chinese medicine says that the free flow of energy or Qi is blocked by stress, diet, injury, pathogens etc. The liver is the organ that deals with stress in Chinese medicine. When liver Qi is obstructed, we get muscle pain and tension, digestive problems and anxiety. By restoring the flow of Qi and calming the liver Qi balance to all the systems of the body are attained.
One way to treat oneself with Chinese medicine is to practice qigong, the ancient practice of circulating ones qi throughout the body with meditation. Qigong can be done by everyone from children to adults and has been proven to relieve stress, reverse illness and help people to find calmness and centering in their life.
Exercise and yoga are one of the best choices for everyday stress relief. We produce endorphins, which are natural pain relievers and mood enhancers. Regular Exercise helps people regulate mood, improve their insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels, as well as help people to sleep better.
Get 8 hours of sleep regularly for the body to recover and restore all of its systems. Lack of sleep promotes more stress, foggy brain, and a lowered immune system.
6. Healthy diet
We truly are what we eat and it effects how we can respond to everyday stress in our lives. Avoid processed foods with added sugar and refined carbohydrates, which can create a weakened system that cant stand up to the stress, increase anxiety, cravings and fatigue. Caffeine and alcohol can increase anxiety, make you dehydrated and cause disturbed sleep.
We need a complete diet high in B vitamins- organic dairy products, cage free eggs, wild fish, grass fed beef and leafy greens, high in calcium and magnesium food like cruciferous vegetables, avocados, nuts, leafy greens, salmon, beans and healthy fats like salmon or sardines for their omega 3s.
Donna Bunte Whole Health. Licensed acupuncturist, Chinese medical practitioner, Qigong teacher, Herbalist, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach