We all have stress – whether work, home life, family or friends cause it, we all feel it at some point. Stress is a situation that triggers a particular biological response. When you perceive a threat or a challenge, chemicals and hormones surge throughout your body. Stress triggers your fight or flight response in order to fight the stressor or run away from it. Usually, after the response occurs, your body typically relaxes. But too much stress can have negative effects on your long term health.1
Stress…not always a bad thing
Sometimes stress can be helpful, if you are working hard to meet a deadline it may motivate you to meet that goal. Stress can also be positive. Your wedding day, for instance, would be an example of a positive form of stress. The bottom line though, is that stress should be temporary. Once you’ve gotten past the fight-or-flight moment, your heart rate and breathing should slow down and your muscles should relax, and there should not be any long-term negative effects. But severe, frequent, or prolonged stress can be dangerous to your mental and physical health.
How stress affects the body
Stress causes your body to produce greater than normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In short bursts, cortisol can actually boost your immunity by limiting inflammation. But over time, your body can get used to having too much cortisol in your blood. And this opens the door for more inflammation. Also, stress can reduce the amount of lymphocytes in the body, which are the white blood cells that help fight off infection. The less lymphocytes you have, the less your body can fight off infection, and the higher chances you have of contracting the common cold, or viruses. High levels of stress can also lead to depression and anxiety, which in turn contribute to higher levels of inflammation in the body. In a nutshell, long-term high levels of stress can lead to lots of inflammation, which can lead to an over-worked immune system that can’t properly defend and protect you2.
So what can you do? While it is not possible to completely eliminate all stress since life can be unpredictable, we can learn to avoid it if possible, and manage it, if it is unavoidable. Here are some simple ways to manage your stress.
Top tips to avoid stress
Socialize: Spend time with friends and family who support you, and who you can support as well. Being part of a friend network gives you a sense of belonging and self-worth, which can help in stressful times.
Consider supplements: Certain herbs, nutrients and vitamins can help promote less stress and anxiety. Look for supplements that combine GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) along with B vitamins, which can support healthy relaxation and increased alertness. Other nutrients to look for in a de-stressing supplement are omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce anxiety, ashwagandha, which is an herb used in ayurvedic medicine to help lessen anxiety, and valerian root, which is a popular sleep aid, due to it’s calming effects3.
Exercise: Try going on a brisk walk outside, do some yoga, or take a boxing class. Exercise is a great way to manage stress. Exercise lowers your body’s stress hormones, like cortisol. It also helps release endorphins, which are the body’s natural mood-elevators. Find an exercise routine that you enjoy doing, because then it will be easier to stick with it.
Laugh: It’s hard to feel stressed when you’re laughing! Laughing is good for your health, and can help to relieve your stress response and even help relax your muscles. Try watching a funny show, or hanging out with friends who make you laugh.4 Cat videos are often good for a laugh.
Meditate: Practice deep breathing and meditation exercises, like box breathing (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, then exhale for 4 seconds). It reduces your cortisol levels and reduces inflammation.5
Remember, stress in some situations can be helpful, even positive. It is the long-term, prolonged stress that needs to be addressed before it affects your health. Practicing the strategies above will help you curb your stress and protect your immune system.