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How Stress Is Affecting Your Health – And How to Deal With It

guest blogs lifestyle mindset the retreat Dec 14, 2023
How Stress Is Affecting Your Health – And How to Deal With It.

By Vera Powles.

A stressful situation — whether in the form of a work deadline, a toxic relationship, or a persistent worry about finances — can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that change our physiology. When you feel stressed, you might feel your heart beating faster or notice your breathing increasing and your muscles tensing up. When we enter this 'fight or flight' state, there is a cascade of hormonal changes and physiological responses designed to help us fight the threat off or flee to safety. Stress is a perfectly normal reaction to external events and a very intelligent survival technique. Healthy stress is meant to protect us!

Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as heavy traffic, work demands, and a busy family life. Imagine a bear is chasing you. You want your legs moving, and for that, you need cortisol and adrenaline, which are released as part of our fight or flight response, which is signalled by the sympathetic nervous system. Now, imagine a bear was chasing you for a whole week; just imagine the havoc this would wreak in your body! Because your body cannot distinguish between a bear or a work deadline, the same cortisol and adrenaline hormones will be released in these instances.

Your body is constantly trying to get to a state of balance. However, if the stress reactions are too strong or triggered too often, your body will remain on high alert, building up resistance and tolerance to coexist with continuous stressors.

Some of the adverse effects this extended release of stress hormones can have on your body are:

 

• Reduced ability to fight and recover from illness due to lowered immunity (ever noticed that after a very stressful week at work or home, you end up with a cold?)
• Increased blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, and risk of heart attack
• Increased fat storage and disrupted hunger cues
• Mood issues (like anger and depression)
• Lack of energy and sleep issues
• Accelerated ageing

 

The good news is that once we understand how stress affects our bodies and minds, we can learn techniques to counter the stress response and complete the stress cycle. This can be done through:

 

Movement

Exercise is 'your first line of attack in the battle against burnout. Taking a brisk walk shortly not only deepens breathing but also helps relieve muscle tension. Movement therapies such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus, all of which can induce calm. Ideally, we would move for 20 to 60 minutes each day, not only when stressed.

 

Breathing

Breathing is a very effective way of activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep, slow breaths down-regulate the stress response—especially when the exhalation is long and slow. There are so many different breathing exercises in the Mena Living membership, so I'd encourage you to experiment with them, but a simple, practical exercise is to breathe into a slow count of five, hold that breath for five, then exhale for a slow count of ten, and pause for another count of five. Do that three times—just one minute and fifteen seconds of breathing— and see how you feel.

 

Social Support

It's suggested that people who enjoy close relationships with family and friends receive emotional support that indirectly helps sustain them during chronic stress and crisis. Even if you don't have anyone close, you can rely on at the moment, casual but friendly social interaction is the first external sign that the world is a safe place. So wish your barista a nice day after getting your coffee, offer a smile or a compliment to someone, and this will send similar signs of safety to your brain.

 

Laughter

Laughing or crying are very effective ways of closing the stress cycle. Genuine laughter with friends is good for the soul and also helps strengthen relationships. Crying can be a very cathartic and relieving experience and not something we should apologise for or avoid (unless you feel you're not in a safe space to express yourself).

 

Get Creative

Do something creative that gives you joy or makes you find meaning. Engaging in creative activities today produces more energy, excitement, and enthusiasm tomorrow. Spending time on things we love to do creates a context that tolerates and encourages big emotions. Feeling fulfilled and finding meaning in our lives also supports our resilience and shows us that there is more to life than those things that stress us.

 

Remember to practice these steps routinely, not just when you are feeling stressed, to help you navigate those feelings more proactively in the future.

 


Vera Powles is a biomedical scientist and founder of Mana Living, an online platform designed to help women take back control of their health, develop positive habits, and create a maintainable, healthy lifestyle.

Inspired by Vera's work in DNA repair, the platform takes a holistic approach to health, targeting the six pillars of wellness: sleep, stress, diet, exercise, emotions, and spirituality. Content includes tips on how to get a better night's sleep, yoga routines that can be practised at home as part of a busy routine, healthy plant-based recipes, and proven habit change strategies that help individuals cope better with stress and balance emotions.

While we live longer as a society, the amount of time we live without disease is in decline, and our quality of life is decreasing over time. Vera developed Mana Living to address what is impacting our health, extend the quality of our years, and offer a goal-focused solution to wellness that will allow us to continue to enjoy what we enjoy.

Membership to Mana Living costs just £14 a month, and more information is available here. 

Female CEO readers can receive the first month of membership completely free by using code WELCOME100.  

 

 

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