WRITTEN BY MICHAEL EKE AND DR. SWATHI
What is stress?
Stress is a major problem in our society today–it can change our bodies physically, change our mind emotionally, and therefore impact our relationships and how we interact with others. Unfortunately for many of us stress is a normal part of our daily lives. Stress is a response to an external cause such as a future exam, job interview, trouble in a relationship, or the holiday season. Anxious feelings could be your body’s reaction to stress. Our bodies are made to handle stress, but ongoing stress over a long period of time can severely impact your body. Stress affects all systems of the body. Therefore, it is important to have a foundation of daily activities and habits for stress management. Some common symptoms of stress are fatigue, change in dietary habits, lack of concentration, and sleep disturbance.
When the body is feeling stressed, the heart rate tends to rise causing stronger contractions of the heart. Increased heart rate and contraction signals the body to release certain stress hormones such as cortisol, noradrenaline, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These hormones are the hormones that put the body in a fight or flight response and can have a negative impact on your heart especially when the body is feeling stressed over a long period of time also known as chronic stress. Cortisol is involved in energy production but also could suppress the immune system. When these hormones are being released over a long period of time blood pressure increases along with the risk of stroke and heart attack. Stress is also closely tied in with gut health as well. Communication between the brain and the gut can be interrupted by stress which can lead to bloating, constipation, or even bowel discomfort. The gut is home to millions of ‘good’ bacteria that can influence your brain health. Any disruption to your gut bacteria caused by stress could possibly affect your emotions. All in all, stress can alter the normal functions of the human body. Here are some daily activities and habits for stress management.
How can exercise affect stress?
Exercise is a proven way to combat stress. An advantage that exercise has over other stress relieving activities is its ability to provide physiological and physical benefits to the body. About 20 to 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise can decrease the body's stress levels. Aerobic exercises include walking, running, cycling, and rowing. It is worth noting that high intensity workouts could increase stress levels in certain people, so sticking to low or moderate intensity is often preferred for most people. Being physically active can improve the way the human body handles stress. Exercising affects neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin and dopamine as well as the endocannabinoid, anandamide These are the neurotransmitters that directly impact your mood and behavior.
How can diet affect stress?
Eating a balanced diet can help reduce stress in the long run–exercise wordplay intended. Often when people are stressed, they tend to partake in “emotional eating” and grabbing food that is high in refined sugar, poor quality animal-based fat, and excessive calories–eating these types of food feels good in the moment and provides a temporary sense of relief because they release dopamine into the brain but can contribute to your long-term stress. A well-balanced diet supports a healthy immune system and provides extra energy throughout the day. Research shows that ‘good fats’ like polyunsaturated fats from vegetable sources and omega-3 fats help regulate cortisol levels. Some foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are mackerel, salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, almonds, pistachios, and seaweed.
How can sleep affect stress?
Everyone’s sleep schedules may vary but it is important that you are getting enough sleep consistently. Sleep deprivation can contribute to higher stress levels and an increase in unwanted inflammation. Research shows that seven to nine hours of sleep reduces cortisol levels. Some ways you can optimize your sleep is by avoiding caffeine consumption late in the day. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and prevents the body from naturally relaxing as the day progresses. It also helps to incorporate a specific bedtime routine to let the body know that it is time to wind down. The human body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes like sleep. Getting natural light, especially early in the day, helps keep the body’s circadian rhythm healthy.
How can meditation affect stress?
Adding meditation into your daily routine can lower stress levels. Meditation is a practice that involves many techniques that help you focus and increase your state of awareness. One can meditate by sitting in a relaxed position and clearing the mind or focusing on one thought. Even as few as five minutes of meditation a day could bring you wonderful benefits. Meditation lowers stress levels, improves immune function, and clears the mind.
How can CBD affect stress?
Another way to mediate the stressors of daily life is incorporating cannabidiol, or CBD, has been researched for its ability to play a pivotal role in promoting a healthy response to inflammation. CBD works with the endocannabinoid system, a vast receptor system spanning many organ and neurotransmitter systems throughout the body. Incorporating CBD into your routine daily optimizes what is referred to as endocannabinoid tone–meaning that improves the functionality of your overall systems. What is seldom discussed is the importance of taking CBD every single day–this keeps the body in balance and helps the body combat stress.
How can journaling affect stress?
Last but certainly not least, journaling is a great way to manage stress. Journaling about past events allows you to fully process your emotions and what took place, or even get a deeper understanding of why you are currently feeling the way you are. Journaling is a problem-solving tool, writing down your feelings and problems on a piece of paper makes coming up with a solution much easier.
The bottom line
Experiencing stress is normal but it can easily take over your mind and body if you don’t tend to it in time. These stress fighting activities and habits are made to easily slide into your daily schedule. Each and everyone of us goes through at some point, so it is crucial to incorporate these daily activities and habits to lead a less stressful, happier, and healthy life.
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This article was edited by Dr. Swathi and was written by Element Apothec Scientific Communications Intern, Michael Eke. He is a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) candidate at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas.