Stress can wreak havoc on your body both mentally and physically, and persistent stress can diminish your immune system’s ability to function. When you are under stress, your body goes into fight or flight mode. Back in cave-man days, you might be chased by a ferocious animal or hostile person. Today, you may be in an argument with your spouse or frantically trying to meet a deadline. Your body behaves the same way whether you are in a heated argument or being chased by a lion. You get a burst of adrenaline, which then causes your cortisol levels to rise. These two chemicals evoke the following:
- You get a burst of energy.
- Your non-essential body functions are shut down, digestion is slowed, and your immune system is weakened.
- Your heart rate is increased.
- Your sensitivity to pain is reduced.
This bodily response is appropriate if you have a real physical emergency and need to react quickly and effectively. However, when in this state for prolonged periods of time, it can compromise your immune system and affect your health and well-being. The effects of continually ongoing stress can be devastating to your health. Unchecked, stress can contribute to the following conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Inability to concentrate or focus
- Sleep disturbances
- Diminished libido
With the fast-paced society we live in today, it can be challenging to keep stress levels at bay. Eating healthfully along with good supplementation can help nutritionally support your body’s ability to manage stress; but this may not be enough. If you find yourself feeling stressed on a regular basis, I encourage you to assess your life and find ways to mitigate stress.
Some areas of life that may contribute to stress are relationships (how you relate with others), career, spirituality (where you fit in or religious pressure), self-esteem (how you feel about yourself), finances, health issues and physical activity (under or over-exercising). In thinking about each of these areas of your life, how do you feel your stress levels rank? Is there anything you can do to modify your own behavior or the way you perceive things? Do you need to make a change? These are some of many questions you can ask yourself to start down a path of self-improvement. I say “self” improvement because we often want to blame others for our stress when, in reality, it is our responsibility. When you accept responsibility, good or bad, you also accept control over your own life and, therefore, start making changes that positively affect you.
While stress is inevitable, you can incorporate activities in your life that help you mitigate it. For example, simply taking a minute to breathe in deeply several times can bring your adrenaline back to normal. Taking a brisk walk can help oxygenate your body and relax your mind. Taking a warm bath at night can relax both your mind and body. Using a rebound trampoline or simply bouncing up and down in place can move stagnate energy and balance your body.
While there many ways you can reduce stress, I’d like to share my favorite breathing technique that can help to balance your energy. By “balance” I mean that it can energize you if you are dragging and calm you down if you are feeling overwhelmed. In other words, it is an adaptogenic technique.
- Breathe in through your nose deeply for four counts.
- Hold your breath for seven counts.
- With the tip of your tongue lightly pressed to the roof of your mouth, force your breath out through your mouth for eight counts.
- Repeat process five to ten times, or as long as you would like.
Note this technique may make you a bit light-headed the first several times you do it. This is because of the massive amount of oxygen you are bringing in and forcing out of your body. You will get used to this sensation over time.
Whatever you choose to do, I encourage you to be consistent in managing your stress levels. Anytime you notice elevated stress levels, try and take a short break to counteract your stress. Over time, you will learn to effectively mitigate stress quickly, keeping your mind and body healthy and full of vitality.
By Gina Van Luven
Director of Nutrition Education
This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.