STRESS. We talk about it, read about it, and try to avoid it. Just saying the word can make our heart beat a little faster, raise our blood pressure, cause our palms to sweat, and create tension in our neck, back, or gut. As our world has gotten faster, louder, and more complex most of us are experiencing more stress in our lives. So, what can we do about it?
First, what is stress? In simple terms, stress is the inability to adapt to the challenges in our life; whether the challenge is over-work, anxiety, a lack of sleep, toxic drugs or chemicals, a diet of junk food and sugar, a difficult relationship, an injury or illness, or simply a traffic jam.
While occasional stress can be beneficial – for example, a deadline can help us focus and become more alert and efficient – persistent or excessive stress can undermine performance and make us vulnerable to a multitude of health problems from cancer and heart disease to digestive problems, depression, and obesity.
Under stress, our adrenal glands work hard and levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) are increased to boost our energy and keep our body in a state of balance. If pushed too hard, the adrenals produce too much cortisol which leads to fatigue, making us feel exhausted, rundown, and emotionally drained.
Constant stressful stimulation ultimately leads to adrenal exhaustion. Think of the adrenals as if they were muscles. Muscles contract when the need arises and relax when the need passes. Try holding even a small glass of water straight out from your body – it doesn’t take long for your arm to fatigue and go weak. Similarly, the adrenals ultimately fatigue if not given an opportunity to relax and restore their strength and function.
Relieving stress can seem impossible. But it’s how you handle the stress that will allow you to feel better, and decrease cortisol levels. Here are five key ways to take charge of the stress in your life.
Set Boundaries: Don’t take on more than you can handle. Say “no” if you have to. Ask for help if you need it. Set realistic expectations and strive for excellence rather than perfection.
Sleep: The best way to relieve stress is to ensure you get eight hours of sleep per day. This allows time for cortisol levels to drop and give you deep, restful sleep.
Exercise: Work exercise into your schedule. It’s a natural energy and mood booster. A gratitude walk is beneficial both physically and emotionally.
Eat Well: Eat plenty of vegetables, lean protein, fruits, and whole grains. Avoid sugar, high fructose corn syrup, diet soda, and refined flour.
Meditation: Take a few minutes during the day to sit quietly and simply focus on your breathing. Focus on anything you are grateful for.
Much of our stress in unavoidable, so it is important to increase our ability to cope with it. Rather than treating the effects of stress with pain killers, blood pressure medication, purple pills and antidepressants, alternative medicine focuses on restoring the body’s ability to heal and recover from stress. Massage relaxes mind and body. Acupuncture is both relaxing and energizing. It helps to balance hormone levels, including cortisol. Chiropractic breaks the tension cycle and frees the nervous system to respond to stress in a normal, healthy way. Whole food nutritional supplements can provide additional support for the adrenal glands.
People who manage stress effectively not only are healthier, they also have more time to enjoy life and accomplish their goals. I encourage you to spend some time exploring the stresses in your life and how to best reduce their impact on your health and lifestyle.