When most people find themselves in the middle of dealing with a health problem, they often ignore one of the biggest factors that can affect our physical health – sources of stress and how we mentally deal with stress. Among many other things, our body reacts to stress by activating our adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. Prolonged elevated cortisol levels can disrupt many of our bodies’ natural processes.
While it is true that not all stress is bad, chronic stress and how we respond to it can have significant negative effects on our overall health, both in the immediate moment and the accumulation of it over time.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “preventing and managing long-term stress can lower your risk for other conditions like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and depression.”
Nobody is immune to stress. Therefore, the better equipped we are to handle it the more likely we are to avoid suffering the long-term adverse effects.
Stress can vary from person to person, just as our response to stressful situations in life can look different as well. When we’re stressed, we may feel worried or anxious, irritable, distracted, depressed or angry. Physically, this often translates into tense muscles, headaches, upset stomach, unhealthy weight loss or gain, illnesses such as colds, and difficulty maintaining normal sleep patterns.
Therefore, effectively managing stress and our response to it can help us have better relationships, get sick less often and recover more quickly from illnesses, eat and sleep better, have less muscle tension, and more.
How Can We Reduce Stress?
“Just relax” is easier said than done, or is it?
One of the quickest and most effective ways to reduce stress and calm our nervous system is through various forms of meditation and breathing. In fact, a simple way that anyone can start and begin to see immediate results is to sit quietly for a few moments with your eyes closed and just focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. This centering technique has tremendous benefits as a form of basic mindfulness meditation to help us become more grounded in the present moment and alleviate stress.
In fact, of one of the thousands of studies that have now been conducted on the benefits of mindfulness meditation stated that it “lowers the cortisol levels in the blood suggesting that it can lower stress and may decrease the risk of diseases that arise from stress such as psychiatric disorder, peptic ulcer and migraine. Then, mindfulness meditation should be used in combination with standard treatment.”
Physical activity can also help significantly, such as ensuring a moderate amount of aerobic exercise at least a couple days per week.
A combination of the two, such as Yoga, has added benefits. Mental and physical alignment fortifies our stature and improves mental and physical performance.
A healthier diet can also be very beneficial, as well as getting plenty of regular sleep. Along with these you may consider nutritional supplements for an extra boost.
Support can come in many different varieties. Most notably are close friends and family members, as they tend to know us on deeper levels and usually have our best interest at heart.
However, they’re not always able to provide the full type of support we may need for any given situation, and always turning to our significant others, for example, also runs the risk of adding stress to the relationship.
Finding help through a coach, counselor, therapist, peer support specialist or support group can be tremendously valuable. Since stress comes in all varieties, the type of support we may need from day to day or week to week can also vary greatly, and having more resources to turn to is a good thing. This is why we have created our mental health maintenance program – to provide all kinds of support for people going through life.
We all deserve to lead happier, healthier lives, and reducing stress can be a great way to enhance this goal!