Each day you are faced with situations that induce stress. Even on vacations, when our stress levels are supposed to be at their lowest, events can trigger our stress response. Stress is a normal part of life, but when it becomes chronic, it can negatively impact our health and wellness.
Together, we’ll talk about how stress works. We’ll explore what happens inside the body physically and mentally and learn to identify stress that isn’t being properly managed. We’ll also talk about ways to get relief when stress feels overwhelming.
What is Stress?
Generally speaking, stress is the body's response when external stressors are present. The stress response is multifaceted and affects virtually every system in our body.
The stress response is important because it keeps us safe. For instance, when we are about to walk into oncoming traffic, our fight-or-flight response tells us to step back onto the sidewalk to safety. Acute stress (AKA short-term stress) also helps motivate us to meet deadlines, perform under pressure, or finish a race.
The Stress Response
When we feel stressed, a chain reaction of events happens inside our bodies. The amygdala, a portion of the brain tasked with emotional processing, sounds the alarm.REF#2403 The hypothalamus picks up the call and initiates an all-hands-on-deck response from the body.
This response can include:
- A signal to the adrenal glands to begin secreting stress hormones like adrenaline (epinephrine) REF#2403
- Increased heart rateREF#2403
- Elevated blood pressureREF#2403
- Widening of blood vessels so more oxygen can be taken inREF#2403
- Release of glucose from the liver back into the bloodstream for a quick burst of energyREF#2403
This response is streamlined, and most of the time, you won’t even know any of these events have taken place until after the stressful event is over, and you are safe from danger (or deadlines). It’s chronic stress, or stress that happens for long periods, that is ultimately unsafe for our well-being.REF#2403
What Is Chronic Stress?
Our body’s stress response can get triggered in many different ways. What causes your body’s stress levels to rise may differ from someone else’s. Chronic stress occurs when the body can’t quickly recover from a stressful situation or when a stressful situation lasts for a long time.REF#2403
Stress comes from several different sources. These include:REF#2402
- Physical environment
- Social settings and relationships
- Financial issues
- Structured organization
- Major life events
- One’s health
- Lifestyle habits and choices
In each situation, the body’s stress response may become unbalanced and last longer than needed.
Physical Environmental Stressors
Our physical environment can be a source of continual stress, which may go unnoticed if you are in the same environment each day. Physical environmental stressors can include loud or continual noise, bright lights, temperatures that are too hot or too cold, inclement weather, or even a bad traffic jam on your way to work.REF#2402
Social Settings and Relationships
Consider this category to include people outside of your immediate circle. This category includes difficulty adapting to social situations, lack of involvement with social activities, and lonlieness. These situations can become stressful and negatively impact your mental health.REF#2402
Practically no one gets through life without some type of financial struggle. Even when money is plentiful, it can cause significant problems that affect relationships or major decisions. Feeling like your financial situation isn’t secure can leave you with an underlying stress that lasts for long periods.REF#2402
Pressure from your superiors or peers to perform at a certain level or attain certain achievements can become a source of stress in your life. In addition, working in an oppressive environment and feeling micromanaged can contribute to these feelings.REF#2402
Major events in life present an opportunity for the body’s stress response to go a little haywire. Traumatic events like the loss of a loved one or the loss of an important job can cause an incredibly heavy stress response that affects your daily life.
Even positive life events, like marriage or the birth of a child, can be life changes that will require adjustments. Those adjustments can lead to heightened stress.REF#2402
Health problems can create changes in your life that lead to chronic stress. Loss of your physical health due to an injury or disease can completely alter your life. Ironically, chronic stress can lead to a compromised immune system.
According to the American Psychological Association, stress that becomes long-term (more than two weeks) can weaken your immune system responses.REF#2404 That can lead to more illness and more negative health conditions.REF#2404
Lifestyle Habits and Choices
Our own choices can sometimes become causes of stress. Alcohol and drug misuse, for instance, can lead to negative social, financial, relational, and health issues. Poor diet and a lack of exercise can also lead a person to experience more symptoms of stress.REF#2402
Recognizing the source of your stress is the first step in stress management, an important part of your overall wellness. If you can’t change or leave the situation, you can take steps to healthily manage your stress and support your body while in the middle of it.
How Can You Support a Healthy Stress Response?
The effects of stress are significant, and taking care of your body while you’re under stress can keep you feeling healthy and provide some much-needed stress relief. Here are five tips to help you manage stress and support your nervous system.
1. Get Moving
Regular exercise is crucial for supporting a healthy and balanced stress response.REF#2405 It can seem hard to work up the energy to work out when you’re experiencing stress-related burnout, but even 10 to 15 minutes of movement per day can support your body and help elevate levels of serotonin in your brain, helping you get relief. REF#2405
2. Talk It Out
Keeping the source of your stress under wraps can contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Talking about your situation and feelings with a family member, trusted friend, or mental health professional can help you share the burden and feel more connected.REF#2405
3. Try Meditation
Meditation and yoga are reliable relaxation techniques that can even help with physical symptoms of stress, like muscle tension. Focusing your breath and practicing mindfulness can help reduce stress symptoms and give you better mental clarity. REF#2405
4. Get Rest When You Need It
Stress can dramatically impact your ability to sleep. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night. When you don’t get enough sleep, you create a sleep debt that can most likely only be repaid with more sleep.REF#2404
If you are having trouble getting the rest you need, consider taking an herbal supplement to help naturally relax your body and prepare your mind for sleep.*
5. Support Your Adrenals
When the adrenal glands are on high alert, they pump out adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are important for short-term stress, but they can cause health problems in the long term.REF#2403
Supporting and nourishing your adrenal glands with adaptogenic herbs can help restore balance to your body’s stress response, giving you back your balance and helping you experience fewer side effects of stress.REF#2406
Let’s face it; life will never be completely stress-free. But we can manage stress healthfully when we understand its causes and how our body responds to it.
By supporting our bodies with lifestyle changes and healthy habits, we can take stress management to a healthier level. Adding adaptogens to our health stacks is a smart and easy way to help calm our nervous systems and support our adrenals so we can experience better balance.
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