We’ve all felt that familiar panic – the increased heartbeat when you suddenly remember that fast-approaching deadline. Or the sweaty palms that appear right before giving an important presentation. Stress is a totally normal experience to have from time to time, and any number of things can trigger it. But when stress becomes chronic, it can take a toll on your overall health. In fact, some of the symptoms you may be experiencing could even be caused by stress and you don’t even know it! Let’s talk a little bit about how stress manifests itself in the body, and define some management techniques that’ll make you feel like yourself again.
What kind of impact does stress have on the body?
It keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep
When the stress response is chronically engaged, it can prevent you from falling asleep and can even cause full-blown insomnia. Your body naturally produces hormones like cortisol throughout the day that influence your energy levels. Your cortisol levels should naturally drop as night sets in, but when you’re stressed, the body continues to release it. In addition to overtaxing the adrenal glands, this can negatively influence the release of melatonin, a hormone that signals to our body when it’s time to sleep. Many people who experience insomnia or sleeplessness due to stress find that a supplement containing melatonin taken shortly before bedtime can help them fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.
It messes with your digestion
Did you know that the gut and brain are connected? Yup, that’s right, there’s constant communication going on between these two organs. The gut is home to a whopping 500 million neurons that connect to the brain via the nervous system. Neurotransmitters, chemicals that send signals to the brain, are produced by the gut cells. In fact, a large percentage of serotonin, aka the “happy” hormone, is produced in the gut. When we’re stressed out, the communication between the gut and the brain can be interrupted, leading to symptoms of GI discomfort.
It can be responsible for your cravings
The stress response temporarily decreases our appetite so the body can overcome the stressful situation. This is due to the increase of adrenaline, putting our desire to eat on hold. However, if stress is constant, cortisol release is upped and this can cause an increase in appetite. In particular, it increases our desire for sugary or fatty foods. Studies show that these types of foods seem to counteract the impact stress has on our body, but over the long term, eating these foods in large, consistent amounts can stress the body further.
Focusing on a diet of whole foods with plenty of nutrients is one of the best ways to support the body in times of stress. Bumping up your intake of foods rich in B vitamins is a great thing to do, as they can help promote nervous and immune system health, relieve stress, and boost cognitive performance. Foods like fish, eggs, dark green vegetables, nuts, and beans are great dietary sources of B vitamins. If those foods aren’t your thing, just grab a high-quality B vitamin supplement to nourish and support the body, while relaxing the mind.
So, what can we do to relieve stress?
You’ve probably heard this many times before, but yes, exercise is a great stress reliever! That’s because when we get our heart rate up, the brain releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that make us feel good. Start slow, find something you like doing, and try to do it a few times a week. (And remember, walking is exercise too!)
Take some deep breaths
Engaging in breathing exercises is a simple way to refocus and come down from stress. It can reduce blood pressure, boost your oxygen, and slow down your heart rate if it’s beating really fast in a stressful moment. Check out our favourite simple breathing exercise here.
There have been many studies on the profound impact of the outdoors on mental health. Not only does fresh air = more oxygen, which helps calm the biological responses to stress, but it also increases blood circulation to the brain and aids the release of serotonin. Bonus: if you’re active outside, you can double up on serotonin and endorphins!
We’ve saved the best method for last – singing! At the back of our throats, there is a complex of nerves that gets stimulated when we sing. This nerve runs from the brain all the way to our major organs and triggers the “rest and digest” response. So, next time you hop in the shower (and you’re home alone) or are driving to your next destination, try belting out your favourite tune. It’s bound to relieve your stress!
Let us know in the comments how you like to relieve stress!
CanPrev is an all-Canadian company that develops premium natural health products to healthcare professionals and select health food retailers.