How Stress Helps or Hurts Us

Tips to deal with stress

Stress symptoms may be affecting your health, even though you might not realize it. You may think illness is to blame for that irritating headache, your frequent insomnia or your decreased productivity at work. But stress may actually be the cause.

Short-term stress motivates us to get through challenging situations. Whether it’s a genuine threat, preparing to take a test, or having a short turnaround time on a project at work, the stress response kicks in quickly by releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These in turn, cause physiological changes that put us into high gear to help us do what is needed to get through the situation.

Once that’s achieved, the stress response then quiets down until it’s summoned again.

Unfortunately, our brains don’t differentiate between real and perceived threats; the evolutionary wiring is geared to protect us, no matter what. The problem is that when stress becomes chronic, our stress hormones don’t turn off and this can lead to significant health problems, such as:

  • Increased inflammation
  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Obesity (which increases the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer)

Given the magnitude of everything that’s been going on, if you’re facing some of these same problems, it’s really important to start making stress management a priority for yourself.

Tips for Getting Stress Under Control

Even if stress seems to be getting the best of you right now, it’s still possible to get it under control. Here are some simple tips that can help you make a positive difference for you going forward.

  • Start Your Day Right: Having a tasty but nutritious breakfast gets you started on the right foot and helps keep your stress in check for the rest of the day. It’s really important to eat some protein along with healthy fats and fruits or vegetables to properly fuel your body and brain.
  • Call a Friend and Take a Walk—or More: Exercise helps to release endorphins which boost your mood and help you feel more relaxed afterward, while spending time with someone you enjoy can be uplifting and calming. As you’re walking, try adding in some bursts—walking as fast as you can for 30-45 seconds—alternating with your regular pace.
  • Spend a Few Minutes Meditating: Time and time again, research has shown that meditation can decrease stress while improving brain function—2 things all of us need more of right now!
  • Switch to Healthier Sleep Habits: I know stress can interfere with the quality of sleep, but there are some easy fixes to help you get the sleep you need:
    • Avoid any type of caffeine after 12:00 pm.
    • Turn off your devices—TV included—1 to 2 hours before climbing into bed, because the blue light can interfere with your circadian rhythm and disrupt your sleep. Try reading a book (but not a thriller) instead to help you unwind.
    • If you’re a light sleeper, use dark curtains to block outside light and run a fan or other white noise device to minimize distracting sounds.
    • Instead of sleeping pills, which lower brain function and make you groggy in the morning, take a natural supplement instead. I like BrainMD’s Restful Sleep, because it has melatonin, magnesium and other calming nutrients that help you sleep well and wake up feeling refreshed.

By taking the steps now to reduce your levels of stress, you’ll also be creating more balance in your life. This will help improve your overall sense of well-being and support you in becoming the resilient person you are meant to be.

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