How To Manage Stress
When we talk about stress, we often mean a feeling of emotional and physical tension. Stress may be triggered by extrinsic factors such as life events or by intrinsic factors such as thoughts in your head. These triggers are called stressors. When our body perceives stressors, it signals the adrenal gland to release a surge of hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones lead to a cascade of physiological responses inside our body to prepare us for strenuous physical activity in a fight-or-flight situation.
Adrenaline is responsible for the physical tension we feel when we are stressed: increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and rapid breathing (hyperventilating) in some people.
Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, boosts energy supplies by increasing sugars (glucose) in the bloodstreams. At the same time, cortisol also curbs nonessential functions. It suppresses the digestive system, reproductive system, growth processes, and immune system.
This complex physiological response also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation, and fear.
What if stress is always present?
The stress-response mechanism in our body is self-limiting. Once a perceived stressor has passed, adrenaline and cortisol levels return to normal. The drop in the stress hormones levels facilitates our heart rate and blood pressure to return to baseline levels, and other systems to resume their regular activities.
But what if stressors are always present? When multiple stressors are constantly present, that fight-or-flight reactions in our body stay turned on. The overexposure to cortisol increases our risk of many health problems:
1) Weight Gain - One study shows that chronically elevated cortisols leads to storing fat in the abdomen
2) Digestive problems
3) Headaches and/or migraines
4) Heart diseases
5) Sleep problems
6) Memory and concentration impairment
8) Anxiety/Onset of panic attack
Why do people react to life stressors differently?
You may have noticed everybody reacts to life stressors differently. Some people seem at ease with almost everything while others react surprisingly stronger to the slightest stressor. How we react to life stressors is dictated by many factors:
1) Genetics: our body’s stress-response is signaled by the presence of stress hormones, which in turn is controlled by the genetic makeup written in our DNA. Slight differences in these genes may result in overactive and underactive stress responses.
2) Life experiences: how our body reacts to a stressor also depends on our life experience. People who have experienced traumatic events in life tend to be particularly vulnerable to stress.
As detrimental as repetitive stress can be to our health, it is a fact that there is not much we can do to avoid it. Although we cannot eliminate stressful events, we can learn to mitigate the impact these events have on our body with the following steps:
1) Have a healthy diet with regular exercise and sufficient sleep
2) Practice relaxation techniques (such as yoga, deep breathing, getting a massage, or mediation)
3) Make time for hobbies
4) Foster healthy relationships with friends and family
5) Incorporate nootropics and adaptogens* to our diet
Learning to manage stress takes conscious effort. The reward is perhaps a longer, healthier, and happier life.
*Nootropics (noh-ə-TROP-iks) and Adaptogens (ə-DAP-tə-jən) are natural substances that support our body’s ability to manage stress. Nootropics focus on brain health and performance, whereas adaptogens focus on reducing mental and physical stress. Studies have found a few powerful herbs that can offer both functions, the most noticeable among those is Ashwagandha.