Adrenaline is pumping through your body, eyes are dilated, palms are sweaty, heartbeat speeds up, muscles tense, breath is short… Sound familiar? This is your body’s “fight or flight” response that occurs when you are in a stressful situation.
Your nervous system releases hormones, like cortisol, that prepare you to fight whatever the offending agent is or to run. This is your body’s short-term response to stress and it recovers quickly from this. This is a survival mechanism in the body and does more good than harm.
Cortisol, or the "stress hormone," is an essential part of your normal health and function helping control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation, assist with memory, and control blood pressure.
However, if this stress is present over a long period of time (chronic stress), it can lead to more serious health problems. Aging more quickly, a decreased immune system, and higher disease prevalence are just a few of the problems that can occur due to long term stress.
What Causes Stress?
Everything causes some kind of stress on the body. It can be good stress and bad stress. When we typically hear the word stress, we think of bad stress, which can be caused by any of the following:
Lack of job satisfaction
Anxiety, anger, grief, low self-esteem or other emotional problems
Traumatic events like theft, rape, or violence against you
Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or floods
However, not all stressors are bad. Here are some examples of good stress:
Taking care of family
The most important thing is how you view the world and how you deal with the stress that comes your way. Your reaction to a particular situation can mean the difference between positive progress and negative. If you have unrealistic expectations, for example, you’re going to go through life feeling much more stressed than you should.
Stress Symptoms: Short Term and Long Term
Stress causes an increase in your cortisol levels. Like discussed above, this can be vital for your health and safety. But chronic stress on the body can cause serious long term health conditions as well. This occurs due to elevated cortisol levels present over a long period of time, which actually begins to increase inflammation in the body instead of fighting it.
Blood is thicker, blood pressure is increased, and blood supply to extremities (legs, skin, arms) is decreased, which also affects the eyes and brain.
Short Term Effects of Stress on the Body - “Fight or Flight”
Stiff neck and shoulder pain
Increased heart rate
Sweaty palms and feet
Long Term Effects of Stress on the Body
Hormone fluctuations and changes
Suppressed immune system
Skin Blemishes and Dry Skin
11 Ways to Relieve Stress | Stress Management and Relief
1. Get Grounded
Grounding is the practice of getting back in touch with the naturally negative charged free electrons that the earth has. Research has shown that if you place your bare feet on the ground (grass, beach, ocean... not concrete) after injury, electrons from the earth will migrate into your body and spread through your tissues.
During injury when our immune system responds, it releases many chemicals that create an inflammatory cascade. One chemical released is reactive oxygen species, or free radicals, which can leak into healthy tissue causing inflammation in non-injured tissue. When grounding, electrons from the earth travel to this area and naturally bind to these free radicals, neutralizing them and making them harmless.
This is a process that is constantly going on in your body, so grounding daily is very beneficial. Have you heard people talk about the power of the beach and ocean? That is because we finally take our rubber-soled, electron-blocking shoes off and walk barefoot. You can also sit outside with your bare feet in the grass.
According to the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, grounding benefits can include better sleep and reduced pain (from decreased inflammation).
2. Get 10 Minutes of Sunshine Before 10 am
Who doesn't like a good sunbath? Getting as little as 10 minutes of sunlight in the morning can provide numerous health benefits for you later that day and for overall health and vitality.
A reduction in Vitamin D plays a large role in a ton of chronic diseases including eye problems, blood sugar, blood pressure, and more. Your skin will absorb the morning sunlight to be used later in the day for vitamin D production which helps reduce the risk of these diseases.
Speaking of using later in the day, morning sunlight increases your serotonin production, which your body converts into melatonin later in the day. Melatonin is increased when the sun goes down, and it starts to signal to your body to go to sleep.
Avoid phones, TV's and other electronic devices at night as this inhibits melatonin production therefore leading to worse sleep. Wearing a pair of blue light blocking glasses while working during the day, and definitely after 7pm, will also help increase your melatonin production.
Sunlight helps increase endorphins in the body, which help to decrease stress and anxiety.
Meditation is a means to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness. Now before you think I am going all spiritual, or foo-foo, on you, please read this whole short section.
What if you could meditate in as short as 10 seconds per day?
What if this meditation could decrease stress levels, therefore decreasing your risks of disease?
Meditation does not have to be an ultra spiritual, out-of-body experience only reserved for Buddhists in the mountains of Nepal. It can be, but it can also be highly accessible to you from the comfort of your own home.
How to Meditate to Decrease Disease Risk
This simple meditation technique can be used ANYWHERE. Whenever you’re feeling stressed, depressed, anxious, nervous, or just need to get refocused, use this simple guide.
Close your eyes
Take a slow deep breath in. This deep breath should take five seconds, and you should count the five seconds in your head.
Hold your breath for two seconds
Then take a long slow exhale for five seconds
We also love using apps like Insight Timer or Calm to guide you through meditation. Guided meditations can help you focus your thoughts much more easily, until you’re ready to go it alone.
4. Yin Yoga
Yin yoga is a slower paced style of yoga with postures, or asanas, that are held for longer periods of time. This could mean holding a pose for 45 seconds up to five minutes or more.
Yin yoga increases circulation in the joints and improves flexibility as you sit in the poses. This form of yoga is similar to a good stretch, and you can combine it with meditation. It aims to cultivate awareness of silence and interconnecting with your purpose or higher being, which is what meditation does as well.
This form of yoga also allows you to slow down the mind, stretch the muscles, and reduce your stress and anxiety, which will help you fall asleep faster at night. We tend to start our yin yoga practice around 9:00 pm at night and then go to sleep afterwards.
The practice is usually 15 minutes to 60 minutes. Here are a few of our favorite examples
By far one of the best tips on this list is keeping a gratitude journal. This is as simple as writing down three or more things you’re grateful for everyday in a paper journal.
Keep a paper journal beside your bed with a pen. Every night before you go to sleep, write anything that happened during that day that was positive and that you are grateful for.
Expressing gratitude on a nightly basis will help you look for positivity in people and the world around you because you are starting to train your brain to do so.
It also helps you avoid negativity like the news, complainers, and drama in general.
Gratitude's can be large or small. Here is an example journal entry:
I am grateful for Jenna doing the laundry today and making lunch for me.
I am grateful that Jude is so sweet.
I am grateful for Silas sleeping right now.
I am grateful for a beautiful sunny day.
6. Mind Dump Journaling
Do you ever feel like you have WAY too much to do and you can't figure out what to do first, so you end up doing nothing at all? This is a result of overwhelm. There is an extremely easy way to deal with overwhelm, and it is what I like to call mind dump journaling.
This is where I like to put on a 20 minute meditation song or video and write down absolutely everything I have to do for work, health, personal life, for my wife and son, and anything else that comes to mind.
After about 5 minutes, take a look at your list and circle the most important ones on your list.
Ask yourself which ones are the most important right now.
You should have less than 10 items circled on your list.
Label these items in order of importance, with one being the most important and 10 being the least important.
On a separate sheet of paper, write the top three things you have to do as labeled one, two, and three.
Focus on finishing number one, before ever thinking about doing number two. Once finished with number one, move on to number two, without ever focusing on three.
Continue this process whenever you have a state of overwhelm.
7. Get Rid of Your Victim Mentality | Cause>>Effect
As Tony Robbins says, “What if life wasn’t happening to you, but happening for you?” What this means is that we need to stop thinking that everything that happens in our life is happening TO us. Stop being the victim and reacting to all scenarios. You get to choose how you react to that person cutting you off or your colleague making fun of you. If you start thinking of life happening FOR you, you start to think about what you can learn from the situation. Maybe a particular situation is happening because it’s going to improve your life!
Instead of being reactive, be proactive. Choose to not react to the guy cutting you off or the baby crying or the traffic accident that caused you to be late to work (at least you’re not in the accident). If something happens to you that is less than pleasant, close your eyes and take a deep breath.
Go over tip #3 again, meditation. That is the exact technique I use multiple times per day to avoid these problems and stay on the CAUSE side of the equation. This technique can save you from doing something that you will regret for the rest of your life.
8. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
If you’ve never read the famous book by Richard Carlson, I highly recommend it. Most things in life are just not worth being stressed out about because the acute stress then leads to chronic stress and increased inflammation over time. The more stressed out you are, the more likely you are to have health issues. If something stressful happens in your life, take a step back and ask yourself, “Will this matter a year from now? Five years from now?” and focus on what you can do about it today.
9. Eliminate Bad Fats and Increase Good Fats
Eating fats in our diet has received a bad rap for several years, but not all fats are created equal. If you increase the amount of good fats in your diet, this will significantly reduce your problems with your eyes.
How do you do that? Eliminate, or eat in moderation, bad saturated fats. These are found in most foods in the Western diet. This includes fried foods, baked goods (cookies, cakes, pies), most desserts (ice cream), most fast foods, pastries, mayonnaise, and more.
Instead, focus on whole foods that are high in omega-6 and omega-3 for your fat intake. Some of the best sources of omega-3s include fish oil in salmon, sardines, and halibut or you can take an omega-3 fish oil supplement. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 include flax seed, chia seeds, walnuts, Brussels sprouts, kale, and spinach.
Although you may not think that what you eat affects your mood, this couldn’t be further from the truth. When you eat well and you’re nourishing your body properly, you’ll have more energy to do the things you love to do. The simplest way to ensure that you’re nourishing your body is to replace your breakfast with a green smoothie. We love this tip because it means you’re flooding your body with hydration and essential nutrients first thing in the morning. You’ll also be avoiding bad fats and extra stress on your digestive system. Click here for more info on green smoothies. If smoothies aren’t for you, work with a functional medicine doctor to find another breakfast that makes you feel equally energetic and ready for the day.
11. Hydrate Your Body
Proper hydration ensures that all the cells of your body have the ability to function properly. The cells and glands of your eyes will not work properly without hydration. The same is true for your brain, which ultimately governs your stress response. Do your body a favor and try drinking half your body weight in ounces of water daily. This means that if you weigh 150 pounds, you should be drinking roughly 75 ounces of filtered water daily. This may seem like a lot for those who aren’t accustomed to drinking water, but you can also realize that water comes in the form of other drinks and foods. For example, if you have a green smoothie in the morning, you’re well on your way to hitting your hydration goal.
The above tips are just a few of many tips you can use to decrease stress and increase relaxation. By following these tips and making them a part of your daily life, you’ll soon find that you’re better able to manage the stressors that come along. As always, if you continue to feel anxious or depressed despite natural therapies, work with your doctor to find the best combination of therapies for you.