The pressures of our modern world are undeniable. Whether at home, work, school, or inside our relationships, feelings of stress and anxiety can affect everyone in every walk of life. Stress can have both a positive reaction and a negative reaction and is the body’s normal response to any change that requires adjustment in our lives.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines stress as “a feeling of emotional or physical tension”. (1)
Distressingly, a recent study showed a significant percentage of Americans suffered from (or felt) high levels of stress, in everything from personal matters to national and world events. (2)
The Basics Of Stress
Stress is a biological reaction to certain challenges or threats identified by our central nervous system. Hormones and chemicals produced by the body during periods of stress trigger a flight-or-fight response. Your heartbeat increases, sending blood to areas that need it most, such as muscles and important organs. This response helps to protect your body during a crisis, enabling you to react quickly.
When periods of stress subside the body should return to normal. However, if levels of stress stay high longer than necessary, it can take a toll on health and may affect overall well-being.
Causes Of Stress
Causes of stress are different from person-to-person depending on lifestyle and circumstance. Being under lots of pressure or facing big changes may cause anxiety and worry, leading to stress. Having little or no control over the outcome of a situation, or even certain responsibilities can be overwhelming in times of uncertainty. These can include work or money problems, health issues, time management, or just an inability to accept things as they are.
Negative Effects Of Stress
While not all stress is a bad thing, there are many negative impacts on the body. These can include:
- Tension headaches.
- Weakened immune system. Increased levels of stress may cause the body’s defenses to become vulnerable.
- High blood pressure.
- High blood sugar. Stress can cause the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream. Long-term stress may increase the risk of type2 diabetes.
- Increased heartbeat. Over long periods, an increased heartbeat along with high blood pressure may cause damage to arteries and lead to heart problems.
- Tense muscles.
- Fertility problems both in men and women.
Long-term or chronic stress when the body’s response stays at a heightened level for longer than is necessary can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
Stress can also have a negative effect on diet, including overeating or not eating enough, and may lead to an increased intake of alcohol or substance abuse.
Benefits Of Stress
- Increased brainpower. The negative impacts of stress can seem extensive and can play havoc on health but there are some benefits also. Some people thrive under pressure. Those at the top of their game, in high-powered careers, can work better when presented with tough projects or assignments that have to be ready within tight deadlines.
At the University of Berkeley, a study on rats revealed that significant, but brief levels of stress are good for the brain and cognitive performance. (3)
- Anti-aging. Though high levels of chronic stress can have the opposite effect, small doses of moderate levels of manageable stress may help against the effects of aging and disease by protecting against oxidative damage. (4)
- Dodging a cold. When you experience moderate levels of stress, a chemical in the body called interleukins is produced. This can give the immune system a quick boost to protect against illness. (5)
- Unborn children. Studies have shown that mild to moderate maternal stress during pregnancy may enhance the maturation of unborn children and children up to age 2. (6)
Lifestyle Choices For Stress Control
Stress is part of life and is impossible to eliminate. As mentioned, it can have both positive and negative effects. But what about stress management? What can we do to control our stress levels so they don’t spiral out of control? Being able to handle our stress may lower the risks of certain diseases and illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. (7)
Here is a quick stress guide to managing and reducing at-risk levels.
- Recognize the signs. Being able to identify the signs and the body’s response to stress is key. Watch for signals such as difficulty sleeping, a feeling of depression, low energy, irritability or easily angered, and increased use of alcohol or drugs.
- Exercise. Regular exercise, even as little as 30 minutes per day can boost mood and improve health.
- Social circles. Spending time with friends or loved ones can have a positive effect on mindset and may help reduce stress.
- Massage has long been touted by estheticians and beauty therapists as a treatment to reduce stress. Medical studies are inconclusive however, massage has been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, both common symptoms related to stress. (8)
- Meditation and relaxation. Some studies have shown meditation has small to moderate effects on levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. (9) Other relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, and Tai Chi may also help by creating feelings of calm and relaxation.
- Diet and supplements. Enjoying a healthy, nutrient-rich diet can make a difference in controlling and managing stress. Supplements also can play a part, complementing a healthy lifestyle.
- Be Serene is one such supplement designed to reduce anxiety and nervousness, lowering reactivity to stress. Being 100% natural, Be Serene includes five potent, healthy ingredients including, Mulungu, Holy Basil, Scisandra, Shatavari, and Rehmannia – all backed by over 30 independent peer-reviewed studies providing compelling evidence on effectiveness.
At the end of each day, no new place, unfamiliar person, strange or stressful situation needs to overwhelm us. It’s quite amazing the strength that can come when we nurture ourselves, or if we acknowledge some of the coping mechanisms above. If you feel yourself being submerged under a deluge of stress, your doctor or mental health practitioner may be able to help.