When we think of stress, we typically think of work-related pressures and deadlines. But stress isn't only caused by your job; it is also caused by family issues, chronic illness and physical injuries. It is a phenomenon that challenges or surpasses a person's ability to cope with the event itself.
Many people who feel overwhelmed or ‘stressed out’ may not even be able to isolate what is causing them to feel that way.
Typical symptoms include:
• Digestive upset
Below are some essential health and wellness activities that are known to help mitigate these stress symptoms:
When your body is under acute or prolonged stress, noradrenaline and adrenaline are released by the adrenal glands, this is commonly referred to as a ‘fight or flight’ response. Where traditionally this mechanism would have helped us run away from immediate danger, it doesn’t help so much when we are just sitting at our desks stressed about our deadlines and our heart and breathing rate increase in order to get blood and oxygen to the organs needed for our bodies to fight or flee the situation!
Exercise is a great way to regulate these hormones and has been shown to be beneficial for reducing our stress hormones (1). There isn’t one type of exercise that is the best, just get your body moving regularly! It’s even better if you can schedule exercise in with friends as being surrounded by positive relationships will help you better manage stress levels.
Cortisol, also known as our ‘stress hormone’ is secreted from our adrenal glands and is typically at a higher concentration in the morning – so that we have enough energy to get out of bed – and concentrations should decrease all day until it gets to its lowest point at night so that we can fall asleep (2, 3).
When the stress response is triggered, it doesn’t shut off cortisol production at night. This is what leads to difficulties sleeping while under stress. Creating a relaxed environment for sleep is pivotal to reducing stress levels. You might like to try going to bed an hour earlier and reading a book to help you unwind (a real book, not an eBook as the artificial light is stimulating). Or try listening to ocean, rain or forest sounds to help relax your nervous system. You can also place a few drops of lavender essential oil onto a tissue and leave it under your pillowcase.
For more on the importance of sleep, check out this article.
Meditation is a popular form of stress management with one massive advantage being that you can do it anywhere(4, 5)! There are so many different forms of meditation and mindfulness exercises, the traditional being that you sit comfortably with your eyes closed and focus on your breath. You can practice mindfulness at any time throughout the day: focus solely on the task at hand, and if your mind wanders, bring it back to the present moment.
You can also try this simple breathing exercise:
Place your right hand on your belly and your left hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose and feel your right hand on your stomach rise. Breathe out slowly through your nose and feel your chest and belly fall.
Inhale: count to 6
Exhale: count to 8
Do this slowly, for 10 deep breaths.
Meditation Yoga is a mindful-based physical activity so it has double the action when it comes to reducing stress levels. By focusing solely on your breath and the postures themselves, it allows your brain to switch off from anything other than the present moment (5). There is a recent study to show that one single session of hatha yoga improves stress response and reactivity (6). There are many different types of yoga, ranging from a stronger flow like Vinyasa, to a more gentle class like Yin Yoga, so grab a friend and hit the studio!
If you would like help managing the stress in your life, book an appointment with Christina through her profile. You should also check out these other recent posts by Christina that explain which foods are good to eat to soothe menstrual cramps (AKA period pain) and 8 nutrition tips to boost your immune system.
- S. (2003). Health and Fitness series 1. The importance of physical activity for health. Journal of Family Health Care, 13(1), 1010-6.
- Elder, G.J., Wetherell, M.A., Barclay, N.L. & Ellis, J.G. (2014). The cortisol awakening response – applications and implications for sleep medicine. Sleep Medicine Review, 18(3), 215-24.
- Elder, G.J., Ellis, J.G., Barclay, N.L. & Wetherell, M.A. (2016). Assessing the daily stability of the cortisol awakening response in a controlled environment. BMC Psychology, 28(4), 1-46.
- Pascoe, M.C., Thompson, D.R., Jenkins, Z.M & Ski, C.F. (2017). Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 10, 156-178.
- Tolahunase, M.R., Sagar, R., Faiq, M. & Dada, R. (2018). Yoga and meditation-based lifestyle interventions increases neuroplasticity and reduces severity of major depressive disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Restorative Neurology & Neuroscience, Epub.
- Benvenutti, M.J., Alves, E.S., Michael, S., Ding, D, Stamatakis, E. & Edwards, K.M. (2017). A single session of hatha yoga improves stress reactivity and acute psychological stress task-A counterbalanced, randomized-crossover trial in health individuals. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 35, 120-26.