Stress is a common part of life that can arise from factors including family, work and health issues. While some stress can be motivating and help us stay alert during dangerous situations, prolonged stress can have negative effects on our mental and physical health.
How stress impacts our bodies
Biologically, when we experience danger, the area at the base of our brain known as the hypothalamus notifies our body, just like an alarm would –– cue the bat signal.
Our adrenal glands send out a rush of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that raise blood glucose levels. This fight or flight response activates our muscles and heart so we can either fight or run away to safety.
Adrenaline increases our heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and gives us a supercharged energy boost. Cortisol, our main stress hormone, deposits glucose into the blood stream, suppresses digestion and other non-essential body functions. It’s literally like putting on a superhero cape.
When the stress is over, everything returns to normal. This works great for short-term stress, like running away from a lion, but problems happen when the stress doesn’t stop, and the system stays locked in the “on” position. Unfortunately, many of today’s modern world stressors are chronic. Marital, financial and job problems, for example, often stick around for days, months or years.
This long-term stress response – overexposure to cortisol and stress hormones – disrupts the body’s processes and leads to major health risks. The elevated cortisol increases blood glucose and other issues, including:
- Digestive problems
- Muscle tension
- Heart disease, heart attack or stroke
- Sleep disorders
- Depression and anxiety
- Weight gain and digestive issues
- Cognitive changes (memory and concentration)
Healthy ways to manage stress
It is best to remove the source of stress, but this is not always possible in today’s world. Simple changes can improve your body’s reaction stressors.
Some simple ways to relieve stress:
- Regular exercise – releases endorphins, improves mood and boosts energy
- Mindfulness – focus on the present
- Find a hobby – this also provides a great opportunity to create new social connections (examples may include knitting, guitar, coloring, painting)
- Look for a fur baby – pets are a constant source of companionship and love
- Breathing exercises, such as Box Breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation – improves your ability to stay present and focused
- Prioritize quality sleep (7-9 hours)
- Write down your anxieties in a journal
- Practice gratitude by focusing on the positive aspects of your life
- Focus on a healthy diet, which helps your body cope with stress
- Limit consumption of caffeine and alcohol
- Talk to somebody – Seek social support via friends and family
- Get outside in nature
- Limit electronics, especially before sleep
- Stay off social media
Find what works for you and what helps you feel happiest. We encourage members to connect with their coach if they feel they are suffering from high stress.
Aug. 30 2021