A little bit of stress can be a good thing — it motivates people to work hard and accomplish tasks. But high amounts of stress can be an underlying culprit in a lot of health problems. Too much of it makes us sick, and not just a little bit. High amounts of stress weaken the immune system and are linked with health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, depression, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and even obesity. That is why health practitioners around the country got together to start Stress Awareness Month — to help people understand the harmful side effects of stress on their health and give them ways to counter it.
Stress creates cortisol and adrenaline. When these two hormones are stimulated, your body gets more energy than normal. A great way to metabolize these stress hormones is to exercise them out of your body. Literally. Exercise burns away cortisol and adrenaline, which reduces stress while releasing endorphins, which are feel-good hormones.
Taking time every day to relax actually reduces stress hormones. There are several ways to accomplish this.
- Meditate. Five minutes of meditation can put you into a more relaxed, mindful state, and it doesn’t cost a thing. Don’t know how to meditate? That’s okay. There are YouTube channels and podcasts dedicated to it. The hard part will be picking the best one for you.
- Deep breathing. This is another almost-instant technique that is used to destress, plus it’s simple and you can do it anywhere! Inhale deeply for four seconds, hold it for two, and then breathe it out for six. Repeat.
- Yoga. This is especially good because yoga is a combination of exercise, meditation, and deep breathing. Add to that the fact that stretching releases tension stored in the muscles. Stress can cause joint pain and muscle tension, and yoga is a natural way to help relieve these stress symptoms.
- Sleep. Getting 7–8 hours a night is imperative for good health.
To help combat stress, eat a rainbow every day: simply put, eat as many colors of fruits and veggies as you can, because vitamins and minerals are incredibly important when managing stress. The central nervous system relies on vitamins to function properly. B vitamins in particular help combat stress and anxiety. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in avocados, fish, and nuts, are good for brain health. But if you’re like most people, getting the proper balance of vitamins and minerals through diet is a hard thing to do. Adding a high-quality multivitamin to your daily routine may be a good solution.
A few things to avoid are caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants. They can actually increase stress. Alcohol, while a depressant, acts as a stimulant when consumed in smaller quantities.
Our cells are the literal building blocks of our bodies, so it is important to consider them when trying to combat stress. Oxidative stress damages cells. This type of damage is caused by many things, including stress and external factors like pollution, smoking, and fatty foods. Vitamins A, C, and E are powerful antioxidants. Healthy cells use redox signaling molecules to combat oxidative stress by signaling when your cells need to be healed or replaced, and healthy cells make for a healthy body. Some foods high in antioxidants are dark chocolate, strawberries, and artichokes.
Last (and best of all) is laughter. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter:
- Fires up and then cools down your stress response
- Enhances air intake
- Stimulates muscles, lungs, and heart
- Releases endorphins
- Aids in muscle relaxation
Laughter is the best medicine. Take time every day to laugh. Carve out a few minutes each night to watch your favorite sitcom, listen to comedy podcasts on your way to and from work, or catch a funny movie with a friend. Research has found that watching something funny with another person actually makes it seem funnier. So make laughing and having fun a daily priority.
For the next month, be aware of how you feel. Pay attention to when your stress seems to rear its ugly head and then take steps to control it. If you make stress management a priority for one month, it may become a habit, and this is definitely the type of habit that will make your life a little bit better. Learn more about National Stress Awareness Month.