A stressor induces an adaptation or change to our body whether it is physiological, emotional or behavioral. This may manifest as changes to our habits, routines, thought processes and lifestyle choices. Typical stressors that we face today are not only occupational, social and financial but environmental pollution, drugs and other external toxins which are detrimental to the systems of the body. Contributing to our experience of stress is poor diet, chronic ill health, dysbiosis and hormonal factors which often leads to disease states due to the degrading effect on the immune system. Conditions often associated with stress include high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions, depression, anxiety, obesity, insomnia, type 2 diabetes (high risk) and many more.
Stress is a normal response and is associated with drive, motivation, arousal and stimulates positive adaptation therefore a certain amount of this pressure allows individuals to function optimally. However, intense and chronic stress is highly likely to have a negative impact on an individual’s wellbeing which outlines the importance if the awareness to stress management techniques to control stress and rule out the potential to result in ill health.
The three phases of stress:
Phase 1: Alarm phase
The ‘fright or flight’ response – an acute reaction to a stressful event: increased adrenalin, reflexes and resistance.
Phase 2: Resistance phase
The ‘coping/resistance’ response to continued stress: physiological strategies are developed to manage this.
Phase 3: Exhaustion phase
Known as ‘Adrenal exhaustion’. When the stress continues beyond the body’s ability to resist: results in immune suppression, potential organ damage and affects social and mental function.
Hormonal responses to stress
Homeostatic mechanisms are put in place to counteract stress, which successfully maintains normal physiological limits of the internal environment. These are controlled by a series of hormones predominantly released from the hypothalamus which evokes physiological responses.
Adrenaline and noradrenalin – released from the adrenal gland: increases heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow to the extremities and dilation of airways.
Cortisol, insulinlike growth factors, thyroid hormones – promotes the production of glucose and breakdown of fats/proteins for energy. Additionally, reduces inflammation.
Measures to control stress
Research has proven that meditative breathing techniques can drastically lower the detrimental effects of stress – both physically and emotionally. Therefore, this is a useful tool that can be applied daily to reduce the experience of stress – whether it be for 5 minutes or 45 minutes.
- Choose a quiet, comfortable room and ensure comfortable clothing, put away any distractions and lie somewhere comfortable.
- Close your eyes and allow thoughts to escape your mind – quiet down your mind although don’t focus too much on trying to rid them. Stay alert and focused while breathing in slowly through the nose, allowing your chest to expand gently, take the breath as far into your belly as possible. Now exhale, slowly – paying attention to the fall of the chest and exhale the stale air from your body. Notice how your body is relaxing, how is your body responding? Are you completely relaxed?
- Quieting down the mind is a constant battle when you’re in a stressful period but after a few minutes, this should come naturally and the rhythm of deep breathing should set in, if you feeling shallow breathing starting to occur, concentrate again on the depth and volume of each breath. Notice how all your muscles slowly relax and the tension is lifted from your body. If you can – visualize the stress and tension leaving your body while relaxation sets in.
- You can stay in this position as long as you like, just ensure you are still focused and not falling asleep! Take 10 deep, long breaths and on the last exhalation, stretch arms above your head and point your toes, stay here for 2 more breaths.
This particular breathing exercise is best practices morning and evening which contributes to a relaxing night sleep.
Other useful techniques:
- Reading – especially something that has nothing to do with work or study – it is very therapeutic.
- Take notice of places where you feel the most relaxed – is it on the beach or on a tranquil bush walk, maybe its your favourite lounge chair or while doing the gardening, for some it’s doing the grocery shopping!! Be aware of these special places that promotes your body and mind to relax and embrace them.
- Support sleep hygiene by allowing a couple of hours to relax before bed, this ensures waking feeling refreshed ready for a new day. Some people have desks in their room which may be detrimental to their sleep – especially if going straight from there into bed.
- Exercise – walking, swimming, yoga, gym, team sport – just being active can help reduce stress levels. For some, a big cardio workout helps to relieve stress where as others find it more beneficial practicing yoga, for example – find what helps you and practice at least 3 times per week. Team sports are a great way to socialize and support people around you at collectively reducing stress!!
- Take holidays!
- Consider seeing a herbalist/naturopath to get an individual herbal prescription that can help with stress-related symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, irritability and sleep issues.
- And of course consuming a healthy diet, fresh air and fresh water as well as reducing exposure to environmental toxins such as pollution, contaminants and cigarette smoking – to support your overall wellbeing.