Stress has been described as the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organisation and for most of us, stress is unavoidable. However there are ways to reduce our exposure to stress and to manage stress when it does occur.
What happens to the body when you are stressed?
When under stress your nervous system signals the release of hormones which trigger your “fight or flight” response. This causes your heart rate to increase, and diverts more oxygen to your muscles so you can get out of danger, which causes an increase in blood pressure. A certain amount of stress is known to be beneficial(1), and In an evolutionary sense this “fight or flight” response has worked extremely well. However the human stress response is not suited to the prolonged and chronic stress which many people currently experience(2).
When your stress levels remain elevated, this overloads all parts of the stress response system, including the adrenals. Your adrenals produce cortisol, the so-called ‘stress hormone’, which effects all key parts of your physiology including blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature. People with ongoing or chronic stress may find their cortisol levels remain elevated for unnaturally long periods of time. This could negatively impact your sleep and overall health, and can also affect your ability to handle future stress i.e. your ‘resilience’ in the face of future stressors. How you perceive stress matters too - what one person sees as a very stressful event may be viewed as quite ordinary for another.
What steps can I take to manage stress?
Whether it’s a perception issue, a series of stressful life events, or an overcommitted schedule, we have eight proven ways of reducing stress in your life.
Eight stress reduction ideas backed by science
- Spend time in nature as often as possible. Urban life is increasingly disconnected from nature. There are a number of studies which show that nature can help to relieve stress, as well as addressing other health issues including obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, and anxiety(3). So whenever you can, walk on the beach or in a park, hike in the hills or take a ramble in the countryside.
- Carve out time to catch up - in person - with good friends and family. Humans are social beings, and there is good evidence to suggest that high quality social support can enhance your resilience to stress(4).
- Incorporate evening and morning rituals into your routine. Some people find journaling helpful or simply write your “To Do” list the night before. If you have a particular time of the day that tends to be stressful, consider making some positive changes to your routine.
- Taking salt can help the adrenals and hydration, this may be particularly important if you are on a low carb diet. (Chris Kresser has written more about the dangers of salt restriction here).
- Incorporate a sustainable yoga practice into your daily and weekly schedule. Yoga can help to relax your mind and body, and has been shown in clinical samples to reduce stress(5). The combination of movement, mindfulness, breath work and gratitude found in a regular yoga practice is hard to beat in terms of stress relief.
- Practice meditation or mindfulness on a daily basis. Mindfulness-based therapies have been found to reduce stress and anxiety(6). Mornings and evenings are thought to be particularly beneficial, with a recent study showing that night-time melatonin levels were raised after people practiced evening meditation(7), so this can also help with getting to sleep. Guided meditations may be helpful when you first get started - our favourites are Headspace and Tara Brach but there are lots of great options available.
- Recognise long term external stressors such as workplace or relationship problems.The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge it.
- Identify internal stressors which may be underlying and hidden sources of systemic stress on your body, including food intolerances, pathogens (including H.pylori), gut parasites or SIBO*. We can help you with this one - see our health coaching page for more information.