Everyone experiences stress in some form or another. In fact, 70% of adults admit they feel anxiety or stress every day.
A little bit of stress is normal and perhaps even good since stress helps us stay on our toes and adjust to life’s changes. Often it arises when we find ourselves not able to control our surroundings:
- Stuck in traffic
- Experiencing financial strain
- Accidents, disasters or other traumatic events
- A loud siren, car alarms or an inconsolable child
- Having too much work to do and not enough time to do it
- Rudeness or unkindness
- Family stress (when relationships change and trust is in question)
- Having something happen against your wishes
- Feeling unprepared
Stress is a natural response to change or any type of challenge. It’s a process activated in the brain that involves a number of hormones and brain chemicals that send messages to the body to help cope with that challenge.
Types of stress include short-term and long-term (chronic) stress. Short-term might be how your body reacts when it hears a sickening crash of dishes in the kitchen or get startled by an abrupt stop in traffic. Chronic stress is ongoing like dreading your employment because of unkindness or struggling to pay bills every month.
The sources of potential stress are myriad. But what can be done? Can we diffuse stressful situations or feelings? Can we find stress-free jobs in a perfect world? Can we get back to a relaxing way of life? Why is stress management important?
Don’t Stress Out
When you experience stressful situations, your brain and body may undergo a torrent of change. This includes a change in brain chemistry where dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine increase. These important neurotransmitters trigger the release of increased amounts of “fight-or-flight” hormones like adrenaline from the adrenal glands. This leads to increased heart rate and blood pressure and a weaker immune system.
Let’s look at the physical manifestation of stress on the body:
- Tense muscles (precursor to migraines and tension headaches) and even back pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Change in appetite (eat more or less)
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased heartbeat
- Face flushing
- Decreased immunity
- Digestive disturbances (rapid food transit times, diminished nutrient absorption, weight gain/loss, appetite changes) and subsequent nausea, heartburn, constipation/diarrhea, acid reflux, pain, etc.
- Foul mood
- Upset stomach and ulcers
- Risk of stroke
- Low energy and decreased productivity
- Lower adrenal function
Untreated, chronic stress can lead to more serious physical effects, including stroke, heart disease, stomach ulcers and asthma. And chronic stress is considered by many health care workers to be a major risk factor for both heart attacks and cancer.
Stress affects us psychologically as well and can contribute to:
- Anxiety or feelings of panic
- Difficulty making decisions
- Memory problems
- Difficulty focusing
- Irritability, impatience or anger
- Relationship problems, including decreased libido
With all of these potential risk factors, it makes sense to find stress-relieving solutions wherever possible…for your health!
How can I de-stress or become stress-free?
Consider a combination of these activities and habits to help you de-stress and live a more relaxing life.
- Meditation. Relax your mind and examine your inner self with compassion. Meditation focuses on small ways you can change. Doing 15 minutes of meditation a day can have profound benefits and encourage the body’s innate healing power.
- Breathing. Focusing on deep, slower breathing helps muscles relax while extra oxygen tells the brain to relax the body.
- Sleep. Lack of sleep magnifies the effects of stress. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Your brain needs downtime to renew itself.
- Check Your Diet. Increase your whole food intake (especially your greens). Decrease your caffeine and sugar intake.
- Moderate Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins, which increase confidence and lower symptoms linked to both anxiety and depression. It may also help you sleep more.
- Reading reduces stress. Grab a good book and let the relaxation begin.
- Stretching can help relax tight muscles.
- Journaling. Write down your thoughts and feelings so you can process them. Record the things that bring you joy and the things you are thankful for. Review them as a way to process anxiety.
- Volunteer. Serving others helps you get out of your own head.
- Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms. Don’t reach for alcohol, tobacco, drugs or rich foods, which add to stress long-term. Try talking with friends or family members, exercising or other healthful outlets. Get professional help if you need it.
- Think differently. Let things go. Think positively. You CAN do it!
Nature’s Sunshine Products for Stress Support
Certain herbs and nutrients can help provide natural stress relief and powerful support for the nervous system under fire.
- Stress-J. This herbal blend features calming herbs like passionflower, hops, chamomile and other botanicals, which provide occasional stress-relieving support.
- AnxiousLess™ features Sceletium tortuosumto help ease occasional anxiousness and promote feelings of confidence without drowsiness.
- Nutri-Calm® is loaded with B-vitamins, which support a host of nervous system functions. It also contains schizandra fruit, valerian root extract, passionflower flowers extract and hops flowers extract to help maintain a sense of calm and peace of mind.
- Valerian Root. This root has been used for centuries to help with occasional sleeplessness. It contains valerenic acid, which appears to affect GABA receptors in the brain.
- Kava Kava. This herb is popular in Polynesia for its use in helping with mild stress and anxiety.
- Lavender Essential Oil is soothing and calming. Diffusing it helps you relax and de-stress.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can stress cause a stroke?
Not directly, but stress hormones (like cortisol and aldosterone) do influence blood pressure, and long-term stress can lead to hypertension, which is the leading cause of stroke. Stress-related hormones also precipitate atherosclerosis, heart disease and diabetes—all risk factors for stroke. People who live with chronic, long-term stress are four times more likely to have a stroke.
Anxiety vs. stress. What’s the difference?
Most people experience levels of stress throughout the course of a normal day or week. Anxiety is less common and can be more serious. Stress is a natural and normal response to a situation or challenge. It can be triggered by bad news, a pop quiz, a faulty alarm clock, etc. Anxiety is a physical reaction to the stress. It’s usually out of proportion to the real or imagined threat. Symptoms of anxiety include increased heart rate, shortness of breath, a feeling of doom or panic and decreased social behavior.
Which exercises work best for stress-reduction?
Almost any type of movement helps naturally reduce stress. That’s because activity helps lower the levels of cortisol (a key stress hormone). Exercise also gets your heart rate up and can trigger the release of endorphins (happy brain chemicals that help your mind and body relax). Exercise makes sense! Choose an activity that sounds fun, and see how good you can feel!
- Yoga builds physical strength and flexibility while it helps lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress.
- Dancing may be the most creative outlet for stress relief. Find your groove and get moving to support heart health, weight loss and bone strength.
- Cycling. Get outdoors and watch the world go by as you pedal at whatever intensity you choose.
- Tai chi supports mind and body as you practice physical movements and breathing. Studies show that tai chi builds strength and flexibility and may help relieve pain while it fosters greater serenity.
- Gardening helps people de-stress. And it can help you burn up to 400 calories per day!
- Walk outdoors. Soak in beautiful views on a nature walk at a nearby park to reduce your stress levels.
Why do men and women handle stress differently?
How do you handle stress? Research shows that women are more likely to experience the psychological components of stress, including anxiety and depression. This may be due to the different ways our bodies process stress hormones.