Do you feel stressed on a regular basis?
Stress is our body’s natural defense against predators and danger. Stressful experiences activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. We may at first feel energized because the HPA axis stimulates the production of cortisol and other hormones. It gives us the energy we need to get away from the stressor, it activates the fight or flight mode (like running away from predators). But if we experience stress too frequently, our HPA axis can start to get dysfunctional, leading us to feel tired.
That's because, in our busy world, we often experience more ongoing stress than our body is really designed to handle. As a result, we can end up mentally and physically ill. Stress can become a chronic condition if we do not take steps to reduce and cope with it. And it is good to detox our stress on a regular basis to get our bodies working properly again.
Stress can lead to many health issues and or increase existing health problems. Knowing just how harmful stress can be on the body, finding ways to relieve stress is essential. Here are some of the science-based stress relief strategies you can try.
Not getting enough sleep contributes to greater HPA axis activation. So to relieve stress, it can be really helpful to get more (and better) sleep. Be sure to block out blue light (from TVs, phones, and computers) 30 - 60 minutes before bed. Consider getting a red light bulb (which research suggests may improve sleep) for your bedside lamp.
We all know that moving our bodies is good for us. Movement doesn't mean you have to go to the gym or have to be intense. Exercise increases the demand for energy and cortisol, so if we desire to relieve stress, we may benefit more from lower-intensity exercises, like walking in nature, swimming, or pilates.
Studies show that mediation can help decrease cortisol in stressful situations. Meditation has been shown to help reduce depression and anxiety across several studies. So, it may be helpful to try meditation for stress relief and see if it's a good fit for you.
Stress can be a motivator, and it can even be essential to survival. When we view situations as threatening, it can make us feel more stressed. If we instead view our difficult situations as a challenge (and not a threat), we can feel less stressed and more capable of handling the situation. So try to shift your mindset and think about how to use the skills you already have to handle the stressors that come your way.
5. Practice breathing exercises
Deep breathing is a good way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system—our "rest and digest" calming system. For example, taking a breath in for a count of four, holding for a count of five, releasing for a count of six, and holding again for a count of four is a simple technique that can help you slow your breathing down.
6. Take a cold shower
One way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system is by taking a cold shower after getting warm with exercise or a sauna. Both exercise and a sauna may be self-soothing, but research shows that submerging the body in cold water also activates the calming parasympathetic nervous system. If you like warm baths then at the end you can take a quick cold shower. So, consider trying a cold shower to relieve stress.
The foods we eat often contribute to stress. For example, sugar increases inflammation, which stresses the body, so it can exacerbate stress in the longer term. Trans fats also contribute to inflammation, which can put pressure on the HPA axis. In general, eating foods that are, good fats, high-quality protein, and non-starchy vegetables seems to be the best bet to relieve stress.
Caffeine actually activates our HPA axis, making us feel more anxious. So ditch or reduce coffee, caffeinated teas, and energy drinks to relieve stress.
9. Consider taking adaptogens
Adaptogens are plants that are thought to help relieve stress. Some adaptogens that have been studied and shown to work include Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Eleuthero, Jiaogulan, Rhodiola, and Ginseng.
A constant state of stress can also increase a person’s risk of many health issues like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. In our busy modern world, most of us need some stress relief. By learning to use these science-based stress-relief techniques, hopefully, we can start improving our mental and physical health.
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