Stress is an everyday fact of life, managing stress is something we can learn. How we deal with stress can be a learnt behaviour derived from childhood. Although this response may seem like it is ingrained within us, there are lots of ways that we can retrain our brain to respond better to stressful situations. Frequent or prolonged stress, which alters the mind and body’s overall homeostasis (physical and chemical balance) can cause a host of harmful effects on your health and well-being.
The body produces the hormone cortisol: the stress hormone, when it’s under duress. Too much cortisol can cause inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s first response against toxins, infections, and injuries. However, chronic inflammation is the gateway to many major diseases, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. The physical effects of chronic stress can result in increased risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
The physical effects of stress can result in sleep disorders such as insomnia, which affects the overall quality of sleep. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, and many other diseases or health challenges.
Not all cases of insomnia or sleeplessness are caused by stress. If you can link your difficulties in falling and staying asleep to when stress started effecting your life, stress may be the culprit. If it is, normally this form of insomnia will go away on its own once the stress has passes.
How to Manage Stress
Here are tips to help with managing stress:
- Self Hypnosis: Practicing Self Hypnosis is great for activating the parasympathetic system in the body. Regular practice allows you to manage stress and release stressful thoughts and thinking.
- Get Active: Doing regular activities, burns up cortisol (as shown in rats). Yoga creates a similar effect with an added bonus: incorporates meditation and mindfulness training.
- Meditate: Taking a few deep abdominal breaths engages the vagus nerve, which connects the brain to the body and prompts the nervous system to lower blood pressure, slow heart rate, and decrease cortisol. Meditation activates the relaxation response which is the body’s natural antidote to stress. In meditation, your body actually releases stress and reverses the effects of the flight-or-fight response. The fight or flight response was really intended to be a short-term mechanism to protect you from perceived danger.
- Eat Well: Nourishing your body with the right food will give you the energy you need to tackle what life brings you, including stress.
- Spend more time with Family and Friends: Human connectivity and physical touch relax the parasympathetic nervous system, which “slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.”
- Create a Gratitude Practice: Gratitude is a powerful force that you can use to expand your happiness, improve your health, and helps you cope with stress. Many scientific studies, including research by renowned psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough. They have found that people who consciously focus on gratitude, experience greater emotional wellbeing and physical health than those who don’t.
- Talk with a good therapist: If your stress leaves you feeling overwhelmed, unable to cope, self medicating to cope, or having suicidal thoughts, seek out professional help.
What’s Stressing you out?
Stress doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, a permanent state. There are ways, such as the above ideas (more) to help reduce stress. Tune in to your body and acknowledge that you feel stressed. Take note of how long you’ve felt this way, and then try to identify the source. Spend some time contemplating the next step to take. Recognising the triggers to your stressful reactions, what or who is pushing your buttons, is an important first step in managing your stress. It might be impossible to remove all of life’s stresses. Understanding the things that stress you out, and in what ways is particularly helpful in solving the underlying problems.