At times, stress can be beneficial. It can motivate us to get past an obstacle and even prepare and protect us in a dangerous situation. These feelings of stress are common, natural and usually brief.
Sometimes, though, stress can be long-lasting. This type of stress, known as chronic stress, can negatively impact our physical and mental well-being.
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In times of stress, a region of the brain called the hypothalamus signals an alarm and activates a combination of nerve and hormonal signals. When this happens, your adrenal glands release hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
According to Mayo Clinic, “Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.”
Typically, this response system doesn’t last long. Once a stressful situation has ceased, hormone levels return to normal. Adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, and your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels.
However, when stressors are constant, that reaction stays turned on. When that happens, a person becomes overexposed to cortisol and other stress hormones. Cortisol can alter our immune system responses and suppress the digestive system, which can increase your risk of physical symptoms, such as:
And mental health issues, including:
Of course, not everyone reacts to stressors the same way. Many variables play a part in your body’s reaction. For example, past experiences and genetics play a significant role in how your body reacts to stressful situations. Some people have genes that allow them to keep calm in nearly any situation, whereas others have a more sensitive threshold, and the body begins its flight or fight processes more often.
Stress is inevitable. Fortunately, stress management strategies can keep stress from having a negative impact on your health and wellness. However, knowing what situations cause you stress is the first step in coping with it. You are more susceptible to stress when you:
It’s vital to develop a healthy approach to reducing stress. Once you’ve learned what your triggers are, experiment with coping strategies. Here are a few ways to practice stress management and protect your body from becoming more susceptible to stress.
Regular Exercise – One survey found that 62% of adults who exercise or walk to help manage stress say the technique is very or extremely effective.
Eating Healthy – A balanced diet supports a healthy immune system and can provide the extra energy needed to cope with stressful events. Eating healthy also includes mindful eating or eating because you are hungry, not as a coping mechanism for stress.
Getting Enough Quality Sleep – Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep a night and slow down about 30 minutes before bed.
Relaxation Techniques – Practices such as deep breathing and meditation calm the mind and lower the heart rate.
Manage Your Time – Feeling like there is not enough time in the day can be a major source of stress. Making a day-to-day schedule can help ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines.
Engaging in Hobbies – Gardening, reading, listening to music, spending time outside or cooking a favorite recipe are simple ways to relieve stress and refocus the mind.
Volunteering – Whether working with adults, children or animals, volunteering can take our minds off our worries and focus our attention on someone or something else. The more satisfied we feel with our efforts, the better we feel.
Being mindful of your stress levels and practicing effective stress management strategies can help you lead a happier, healthier lifestyle. We encourage you to visit our blog to explore other health and wellness topics!