Stress isn’t only a negative emotion or inconvenience. It can have detrimental impacts on your mental and physical health. Your body can handle stress in small doses, but ongoing, chronic stress can impact your muscles, cardiovascular health, gastrointestinal systems, and respiratory health, among many other systems in your body. While stress is a part of life, chronic stress doesn’t have to be with these natural stress relievers.
How Stress Impacts the Body
One of the first signs that stress might be impacting your physical health is problems with the musculoskeletal or gastrointestinal system. When we are stressed for long periods of time, our muscles tense up. If the muscles stay tense for too long, this can cause chronic conditions, such as regular migraines.
Stress can also interfere with the brain-gut connection. Because stress alters your brain, it also alters how it communicates with your gastrointestinal system. This gut health imbalance can cause bloating, pain, and other stomach discomfort and might even cause you to gain weight. Overtime, this lack of mind-gut coherence can develop into more serious conditions, such as stomach ulcers.
Because chronic stress interferes with normal brain functions, it also changes how your brain communicates with the nervous system. Your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems were designed to respond to fight or flight scenarios. But they’re also supposed to return to normal levels once a stressful event has ended. When you experience chronic stress, these systems stay on high alert, causing wear and tear to your body. Over time, this can manifest as asthma, blood circulation problems, and nervous systems dysfunctions which interfere with normal bodily functions.
Chronic stress can cause many other issues due to this wear and tear on the body. These conditions can include, but are not limited to, increased risk for heart attacks, reproductive issues, lower sex drive for both men and women, and cognitive issues which can affect your work and life.
The Benefits of Stress Management
Stress is inevitable, but chronic stress doesn’t have to be. Everyone feels stress at some point in their life, but those who don’t experience the long-term effects of stress have one thing in common: a stress management routine. Your goal shouldn’t be to eliminate stress, but to improve your management of it.
Stress management is any practice or routine that you use to reduce your cortisol levels and helps you transition to a more relaxed state. While some people might turn to Netflix or social media when they are stressed, this isn’t a healthy solution. Instead, try to consider a more natural stress management routine, such as yoga in nature or meditating when you’re stressed.
When you have a healthy stress management routine in place, you’ll experience a variety of mental and physical health benefits:
- Increased resilience – ability to prepare for, and recoup from challenge
- Reduced fatigue, burnout, hostility, anxiety, distress and anger.
- Increased brain clarity, focus, attention span, accuracy and learning ability
- Improved decision‐making and communication skills
- Improved work/life balance
- Decreased depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses
- Improved blood pressure, immunity, and cardiovascular health
- Decreased asthma
- Improved gut health and decreases gastrointestinal problems
- Decreased chance of obesity and other eating disorders
If you think your stress is manifesting as anxiety, check out my Cure Your Anxiety quiz.
Nature and Stress Management
Most of us can agree life in the 2020s is more stressful than ever before. Does that mean you should drink a bottle of wine while scrolling on TikTok? Probably not as that most likely won’t produce a healthy stress management routine. Instead, try this nature high five that I developed. The high five can be customized to fit any lifestyle and makes the stress relieving benefits of nature accessible to anyone.
Bergamot Essential Oil
Citrus Bergamot is an extract derived from the bergamot orange fruit. It’s been clinically shown to support heart health by promoting healthy cholesterol, blood sugar and triglyceride levels, and supporting blood vessel function.
While essential oils and flowers are great for relieving stress, nothing beats the stress relief of spending time outside. Going outside can be a great way to feel happier and to get out of negative thought patterns. Getting outside doesn’t just take you from stressed to neutral, but stressed to relaxed and happy.
Become a Plant Parent
Gardening is an incredibly effective stress management tool. Plus, it can be customized to any lifestyle. If you own an apartment, you can adopt a houseplant while those with homes can start small gardens.
A 2011 study involved patients who performed a stressful Stroop task and were then randomly assigned to 30 minutes of either outdoor gardening or indoor reading. Both groups had a decrease in cortisol, but the effects were significantly more pronounced for the gardening group; furthermore, the study adds that “positive mood was fully restored after gardening, but further deteriorated during reading.” The study concluded that gardening can provide relief from acute stress.
Spend Time with Animals
Your relationship with your pet is actually medicine! As we’ve talked about on the blog before, pet therapy reduces anxiety, promotes relaxation, and provides comfort. Research shows that even just the physical act of petting an animal releases an automatic relaxation response, releasing mood-elevating hormones like serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. Next time you’re stressed, take your dog for a walk or pet your cat.
Lavender might be one of the most well known natural remedies for stress. It is known for its calming properties and can even be a solution for anxiety, sleeplessness, or stress. Lavender calms the body through impacting the limbic system, the area of the brain that controls emotions.
Stress might always be a part of our lives, but it doesn’t have to be chronic. With nature-based stress management effects, you can avoid the wear and tear of long term stress. Not only that, but you’ll see marked cognitive, physical, and mental health changes.
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