The World Health Organization defines stress as “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives.”
And while mental tension is what many associate with stress, that state of distress can also be experienced as physical or emotional tension.
We all experience stress!
In fact, the American Institute of Stress reports that about 1 in 3 Americans feel extreme stress. Of those, 73 percent reported their stress impacts their mental health and 77 percent said stress impacts their physical wellbeing.
Three Types Of Stress
- Acute stress is an intense, unpleasant, and dysfunctional reaction to an overwhelming or traumatic event.
- Episodic acute stress describes frequent episodes of acute stress.
- Chronic stress involves prolonged sense of pressure and feeling overwhelmed.
Acute stress triggers the activation of the autonomic nervous system – a brain function that regulates our heart, blood vessels, lungs, stomach, salivary glands, and sweat glands. That’s why experiencing a stressful episode may be accompanied by an increased heart rate, quickened breathing rate, and higher blood pressure. The body is experiencing a blast of cortisol and adrenaline. Blood is being pushed to the extremities and large muscle groups to prepare us to fight something off or run like crazy to get away.
You know that more commonly as the fight or flight response.
In that respect, stress and our response to the episode can be helpful. Short lived stress can help us when it comes to deadlines, job interviews, making big life changes or achieving a specific personal goal. A powerful response to stress can be lifesaving when we’re faced with a dangerous situation.
Too much stress, of course, is not helpful.
Frequent, consistent episodes of stress -- often connected or a series of different unfortunate events -- or experiencing the same stressful situation repeatedly can lead to chronic stress. That state of continual stress is particularly harmful to the body because of the constant triggering of the internal stress response.
Signs of chronic stress may include “irritability, anxiety, depression, rumination, insomnia, or waking in the middle of the night with anguish,” according to the American Heart Association. Physical symptoms that can be brought on by chronic stress include headaches, upset stomach, neck and shoulder tension, insomnia, low energy, and fatigue.
In a 2017 study published in The Lancet, images were used to show how the part of the brain involved with fear and stress had links to stress and cardiovascular disease episodes. Brain and bone marrow activity were studied along with artery inflammation. That study identified a correlation between emotional stressors and cardiovascular events.
So, what to do about stress and how it makes us feel both mentally and physically? We recommend taking some steps to find relaxation to offset stressful episodes.
Five Steps For Relaxation
Everyone relaxes differently. Relaxation is key to countering stress and the accompanying physical and mental impact it has on our lives. Here are five steps that might help:
Go for a walk or a jog. Maybe play with the kids/grandkids outside. Move your body and enjoy the stress release that accompanies getting up and moving. Regular exercise can help lower blood pressure and reduce other disease risk factors.
Try proactive breathing, moving, and meditating. You may consider yoga – widely available in many different forms – to combine movement, stretching, controlled breathing, and relaxation.
Get Some Sleep
Sleep hygiene is non-negotiable when it comes to stress management. Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet place to help ensure good periods of deep rest. Avoid food, alcohol, and
exercise too close to bedtime. Try journaling to track your pre-sleep routine, sleep patterns and to help release negative thoughts or challenging situations from your thought process before bed.
Whatever fun is to you, do more of that! Telling jokes with children, family, or friends, take an art class, blow bubbles, go out on the town with friends, take a trip, get outdoors, plant a garden, read a book…the list of fun suggestions is endless.
Supplement Your Diet
There is no hack for taking care of your body. You’ll never fool Mother Nature. Start building a solid foundation by eating organic foods that are enzyme rich, nutrient dense, and non-GMO. Only then can you reach the next level of natural wellbeing and fill in your individual dietary blanks and overcome the impacts of missing or deficient essential nutrients.
Take The 5-Minute Stress Quiz to see how you score & learn about supplements that can help manage stress.