Stress and anxiety…we all experience it and have various coping mechanisms — some healthy and others not so healthy. While short bursts of stress are not harmful, long-term, chronic stress is damaging and detrimental to our health, and linked to disease. There are over 1400 chemical reactions that occur in our bodies body as a result of chronic stress.
Stress plays a role in every disease and induces hormonal autonomic responses. Over time, these hormonal changes can lead to ulcers, digestive dysfunction, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, arthritis, kidney and heart disease, PCOS symptoms, adrenal insufficiency, allergic reactions, and even cancer. –Dr. Hans Selye (acknowledged as the father and pioneering endocrinologist in the field of stress research)
The typical American goes through more physical, emotional and chemical stress in thirty days than their grandparents did in their entire lifetime! – John Hopkins University
Long-term stress and anxiety is linked to excess belly fat, insomnia and poor quality sleep, immune dysfunction, increased risk of allergies, depression, autoimmune diseases, cognitive disorders, memory problems, hormone imbalances, adrenal fatigue, thyroid dysfunction, digestive problems, fatigue, heart disease, shorter telomeres and accelerated aging, even cancer … and the list goes on.
When you’re chronically stressed out, your body produces excess stress hormones secreted by the adrenal glands, which leads to premature aging, oxidation, inflammation, bone loss, thyroid dysfunction, memory loss and excess belly fat. Over time, when cortisol stays up, DHEA goes down and telomeres shorten and the aging process accelerates. Individuals with the highest levels of perceived stress have the shortest telomeres, indicating that they have a cell age 10 years ahead of their biological age. Excessive levels of cortisol prevent the immune system from functioning properly and lead to diseases of aging.
According to the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, the more stress in a woman’s life, the greater her weight. Another study in Molecular Psychiatry found that women are more sensitive to the stress hormone cortisol and are less able to adapt when levels are high. When cortisol is released in high amounts, production of sex hormones come to a halt and instead more stress hormones are produced. This is why it’s especially important that women prioritize healthy functioning adrenals before entering into menopause since the adrenal glands produce 40% of sex hormones before menopause and 90% after menopause.
Corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) which acts as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter is triggered during stress and attaches to receptors on cell membranes in the brain’s alarm center leading to an aroused mental state. Compared with females, male brains need more CRF to become agitated. In males, the receptors retreat inside the cells eluding CRF to minimize stress. Even in the absence of any stress, the researchers found the female stress signaling system to be more sensitive from the start. It’s well known that women have higher incidences of anxiety and depression.
Chronic stress is everywhere these days; from long work weeks and poor sleep to new babies and aging parents, to negative thoughts, cell phone addiction and chemical exposure.
Combine this with low quality nutrition, sleep deficiency, traumatic events, illness, infections and gut dysbiosis, and it’s no surprise that so many people experience digestive problems, acne, blood sugar imbalances, anxiety, depression, autoimmune disorders, weight loss resistance, thyroid dysfunction and hormonal imbalances.
A child or fetus in the womb that experiences stress and trauma whether physical, emotional, electromagnetic, environmental or psychological will have a lower stress threshold in adult life.
Previous trauma, stress or abuse, especially during early childhood in which a child felt unsafe or threatened during the developmental phase of the nervous system, the child will experience changes in their stress response. It’s important to realize that the nervous system, endocrine system and immune system are all interconnected.
If you don’t know how to say no, your body will say it for you through physical illness. —Dr. Gabor Maté
Although stress is life and life is stress, we have the capacity to change our mindset, perception and thought process (something we all have control of), and build resiliency when inevitable challenges arise. Stress management is identifying and recognizing the healthiest way for you personally to respond to challenges that will inevitably occur in life. “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” —John Maxwell
Rest and relaxation are essential to our overall health and well-being, and may take the form of meditation, relaxing in a bubble bath with Epsom salts and essential oils, restorative or yin yoga, listening to relaxing or classical music, walking your dog, spending time in nature, gardening or reading something spiritual or uplifting.
By reducing internal stressors (imbalances inside the body and mind), one will be more able to handle all kinds of stress that comes from outside.
Breathe. Deep, full breathing is your body’s built in secret weapon to managing stress and anxiety. The simple act of mindful breathing releases endorphins that create feelings of happiness and activates the parasympathetic (calming) branch of the nervous system. The breath is the foundation to de-stressing, lowering cortisol, and revitalizing and energizing every cell in your body.
Practice full, deep belly breathing using your diaphragm versus chest breathing. Start with just five minutes in the morning and again in the evening. Empty your mind of your day-to-day activities and focus on a 1-5 word phrase (mantra) that resonates with you and repeat it over and over again, or just surrender into the silence.
Breathe into your heart to the count of four, hold two counts, exhale to the count of eight and hold two counts before you inhale. Try alternate-nostril breathing, a simple yet powerful technique that deeply relaxes the mind and body and balances energy. Imagine yourself breathing in harmony and relaxation, and as you exhale let go of stress and negativity.
Studies show breathing exercises improve problem solving, lower cortisol, reduce blood pressure, release healing hormones into your body, increase creativity and productivity, and enhance one’s ability to handle stressful situations.
Yoga, Meditation & other Mind-Body techniques can actually turn on and turn off specific genes linked to stress, inflammation and immune function.
A study published the medical journal PloS One showed that just one session of relaxation-response practice was enough to enhance the expression of genes involved in energy metabolism and insulin secretion, and reduce expression of genes linked to an inflammatory response and stress. There was an effect even among novices who had never practiced before.
Just 12 minutes of daily yoga meditation for eight weeks has a positive effect on mental health, cognition and increases telomerase activity by 43%, suggesting an improvement in stress-induced aging.
Move Your Body. Aside from strengthening your heart and lungs (two organs that can become affected from too much stress), exercise is highly beneficial for your mental health too. Exercising increases endorphins, which stimulate the immune system and has a positive influence on mood.
Don’t overdo it though! Include daily exercise such as weight training or interval training paired with yin-style parasympathetic activities such as yin or restorative yoga, Qi gong and walking, preferably outdoors in nature. Exercise bouts of 30 minutes (but not longer than 60 minutes) appear to have the best stress-reducing benefits. Moderate to vigorous activity reduces stress better than low intensity activity.
You must be healthy, nourished with nutrient-rich foods and well-rested with balanced hormones to benefit and recover properly from more intense exercise. Working out too hard, too much and too often without addressing these other important variables compromise the immune system, nervous system, and endocrine/hormonal system.
Restful Sleep: the fountain of youth. During sleep, the stress hormone cortisol is lowered, but when we’re sleep deprived cortisol levels rise. Lights out by 10pm. According to the National Institutes of Health, the physical body repairs between the hours of 10pm and 2am. The mind/emotional/spiritual body repairs between the hours of 2am and 6am. Aim to get 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night. It’s important to remove all electronic devices from your bedroom to eliminate electromagnetic stress. Helpful Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep
Digital Detox. Unplug. Take time off from constant, non-stop connection. This includes checking email, your cell phone, computer, social media, youtube, television and iPad. Doing so will minimize mental, electromagnetic and physical stress, reduce anxiety, increase energy, focus and concentration, and induce sounder sleep.
Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve. The tone of the vagus nerve is key to activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Higher vagal tone allows your body to be more resilient and relax faster after stress. 30 Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve and Activate Vagal Tone
Get rid of clutter. Clutter will make your life feel more complicated than it needs to, while a clutter-free space is one where you can truly feel at peace. Commit to eliminating anything or anyone that is not improving the quality of your life. Manage your to-do list and set healthy boundaries.
Clutter is not just physical stuff. It’s old ideas and behaviors, toxic relationships, addictions and unhealthy habits. Clutter is anything that does not nourish your soul or support your higher self.
Nutrient-dense food and filtered water. Providing your body with the nutrients and water it needs to function optimally is crucial to reducing stress. Stress depletes your body of nutrients.
Make sure to include protein, vegetables, plants and tons of leafy greens, fruits and healthy fats. These foods contain stress-reducing nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, calcium, vitamin C, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, vitamin B12, folate and other B-vitamins. Consume adequate protein at every meal. The importance of organic, pasture-raised and grass-fed protein cannot be underestimated because under any type of stress your body requires more protein.
Drink a minimum of half your weight in ounces of clean, filtered water daily. Add a pinch of unprocessed sea salt. Many people are chronically dehydrated which may reveal as dry skin, brittle bones, back pain, hunger which is actually thirst and even depleted brain chemistry (neurotransmitters function in water).
Hydrate sufficiently, eat mindfully, chew your food thoroughly and enjoy mealtime. Eliminate news, television, loud music, cell phones, computer and stressful conversations during meals.
Avoid inflammatory foods: sugar, white flour and wheat products, rancid vegetable oils, gluten, artificial sweeteners, processed, junk foods, GMOs and any food item that your body is sensitive to, which actually increase stress hormones, inflammation and damage your body. Eliminating these items helps regulate insulin levels, lower cortisol and reduce digestive stress. When blood sugar drops, adrenaline is released to compensate which increases anxiety.
Beliefs and Thoughts. Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly can also be the most destructive force in your life. Your thoughts and beliefs affect your perception and your interpretation of reality. Your beliefs and thoughts are wired into your biology. They become your cells, tissues and organs.
Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. —Romans 12:2
Hugging is good medicine. Get your daily dose of hugs lowers cortisol levels, increases oxytocin and serotonin, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and is a natural stress reducer.
Music. Listening to slow, quiet and classical music is a natural healer proven to release dopamine, lower cortisol and proven to have a calming effect. Countless studies have shown that music’s relaxing effects can be seen on anyone, including newborns. Music can help you get into the zone when practicing yoga, self hypnosis or guided imagery, can help you feel energized when exercising and recover after exercising, help dissolve stress, and promote relaxation when you’re soaking in the tub. Upbeat music can take your mind off what stresses you, and help you feel more optimistic and positive. This helps release stress and can even help you keep from getting stressed over life’s little frustrations in the future. Researchers discovered that music can decrease the amount of the cortisol produced by the body in response to stress.
Ecotherapy. Sunshine. Vitamin N. Nature Therapy. Children and adults are spending more and more time indoors. As a result, we are seeing more problems such as ADHD, isolation, depression and obesity. Spending time outdoors in nature creates a positive effect on mental, emotional and physical well-being, induces a sense of connectedness, spirituality, meaning and purpose.
Environmental psychologists have demonstrated that contact with nature restores attention and mental focus and helps the mind to recover from mental fatigue. Sunlight offers many benefits to the human body, including mental health benefits, increased serotonin production and vitamin D levels, better sleep, less anxiety, depression and stress.
Aromatherapy. Relax with Water. Water has been used since the dawn of humankind for reduction of stress. Water is our connection to life itself. Spend time near the ocean, the beach or a lake.
Schedule time to soak in a relaxing Epsom salt bath. The magnesium from the Epsom salts will be absorbed into the skin aiding in muscle relaxation. Add 10 drops of your favorite essential oil or rub the oil into the temples and back of the neck (lavender, bergamot, rose, frankincense or sandalwood). Aromatherapy is very powerful for inducing relaxation. Light candles around the tub, a powerful way to relax and connect to your mind, body and soul.
Dark Chocolate. A study in the Journal of Proteome Research found that eating one ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed. Or, enjoy a cup of hot cocoa made with raw cacao, water, coconut cream and stevia.
Identify underlying causes of stress. This will be different for each and every one of us. You may be completely unaware of certain stressors such as digestive distress, imbalanced hormones, food sensitivities, toxic overload, chronic infections (Candida, fungal, Lyme, viral or bacterial), childhood trauma negative self-talk, unhealthy relationships, unresolved soul wounds
Let go! Release attachment to control of other people, events, circumstances and the past. Direct your energy into things in which you can control such as your thoughts. Be aware of your emotional state and the fact that you have the choice to change it.
Genes are plastic based on environmental epigenetics. You can turn certain genes on or off depending on what you’re doing in your environment. Turn off your stress genes and turn on your bliss genes modulate epigenetics. We are what we see, act, think, believe and feel.
Man’s Best Friend. Research shows that owning or just spending time around a dog is healing, lowers cortisol and reduces stress.
Build Strong Friendships and Relationships. Connect with others emotionally, spiritually and mentally that support. Stress can lead to feelings of depression and isolation. Surround yourself with like-minded people who make you feel good. Decide who and what is most important to you and center your life around those people and items. Resign from negative influences, situations, energy vampires and commitments that are not fulfilling to you. It’s okay to say no to invitations and events you really don’t care to attend.
The Stress Institute’s founder, Dr. Kathleen Hall states: “Friendships are strong indicators of mental, physical and spiritual health. Friendship is not a luxury, but is essential to work-life balance and your health. Studies show that isolation decreases immune functioning and increases mortality risk.”
When you connect with positive, genuine, enthusiastic people, their vibrant energy is a source of inspiration.
Support your body with nutrients. Stress causes digestive dysfunction and depletes your natural production of hydrochloric acid (HCL), zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and many other important and essential nutrients.
Listen to your heart. Turn off your brain and quiet the monkey-mind chatter. Meditate. Listen to the voice of your heart, your essence. The adrenal glands listen to what the heart tells the brain. Your true heart is not subject to chaos or limited by pain, fear and neuroses, but is joyful, creative and loving. Some believe the heart can be too uncertain and even misguided, but that’s the head talking! The heart is the core, the essence of your being, a reservoir of joy, powerful love and infinite compassion that lies within each one of us.
The magnetic field of the heart is 5,000 times more powerful than the magnetic field of the brain and reaches out several feet from out body. Connect with and nourish your spirit by listening to your heart.
Be charitable. Charitable acts have been shown to decrease stress, improve quality of life, and increase lifespan for the giver, while a person who receives but does not practice charity, doesn’t experience the same benefit. Dr. Kathleen Hall, a world renowned expert in stress and founder of The Stress Institute, says that “altruism creates a physiological responses or helpers high that makes people feel stronger, more energetic and counters harmful effects of stress.”
Journal Exercise. This exercise is from the book “59 Seconds.” According to scientific studies, when you do this exercise every day you will quickly notice the difference in your mood, energy and level of happiness…changes that may continue for months. If you feel the effects wearing off, simply repeat the exercise.
Daily, Monday through Friday, perform the following exercise (from the book, “59 Seconds”)
Attitude of Gratitude. The source of our stress isn’t really difficulties, circumstances and situations. It’s our attitude and approach toward them. Being grateful for what you have allows one to focus on the positive elements in life and value the gifts you’ve already been given. Every night I pull out my gratitude log and list 5-10 things, events or people I am grateful for or things that went well during day. Studies tell us that daily gratitude exercises result in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy.
The simple act of appreciation and gratitude have a positive influence on hormones, reducing cortisol by 23% and increasing DHEA up to 100 percent! Read something positive every night and listen to something helpful every morning.
♥ Love, Appreciation and Gratitude have a profound effect on your health. Love, Gratitude and Appreciation increase vitality and vigor, boost your immune system and increase chemical production; reduce stress hormones; lower blood pressure and feelings of anxiety, guilt and burnout, and increase glucose metabolism in diabetics! ♥
Vitamin “L” Love. One of the most important nutrients for optimum health is a daily dose or more of vitamin L. This vital human emotion, expression and experience is necessary for the optimal functioning of people and all of their cells, tissues and organs. It is found in most of nature, in foods, domestic animals, friends, and family and is used to heal a wide variety of diseases.
Hundreds of major medical studies have shown that an active sex life leads to a longer life, better heart health, a healthier immune response, reduction in chronic pain symptoms, lower rates of depression and even protection against some cancers. Men who engage in sex (just 2x/week) have half as many heart attacks as men who only have sex once per month. In fact, a healthy sex life has been shown to extend life by as much as ten years. People who enjoy a meaningful sex life are less anxious, fearful and inhibited.
Laughter releases feel-good endorphins, your body’s natural pain killer. Laughter lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety and stress hormones, and boosts immune function, mood and feel good neurotransmitters.