We are living through unprecedented times. For the first time in 100 years, the world is at a standstill because of a highly infectious virus that doctors and researchers are struggling to defeat. Many of us are experiencing the death of loved ones, job loss and social isolation.
A survey by the American Psychological Association found that the coronavirus global pandemic has severely altered every aspect of our lives and could cause long-lasting negative mental health issues.
Scary! We know.
The stress we’re all experiencing during this crisis can have a seriously harmful effect on your overall health. People who suffer from chronic stress often have persistent headaches, suffer from insomnia, are depressed and feel fatigued + irritable. During this time of high stress, we want to give you some tips on how to better manage your stress + get back to feeling like you.
A mini-science lesson on stress hormones …
To understand why you feel terrible when you’re stressed, we need to explain how stress works in your body. Let’s say you’re in a potentially stressful situation, like you’re walking home with bags of groceries and suddenly the handle of one of the bags snaps, spilling your produce on the street (not earth-shattering, but definitely not fun).
Your hypothalamus, a part of your brain that releases hormones, begins to set off alarm bells through your nervous system. The nervous system has two parts — the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. If your body was a car, the sympathetic nervous system would be the gas pedal, activating the ‘fight or flight’ response by releasing a surge of adrenaline. That’s why you sometimes feel like your heart will jump out of your chest when you fall or get a fright. Adrenaline gives you a boost of energy by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.
When the brain believes the stressful situation has passed, it begins to take the foot off the gas and starts tapping the brake, AKA the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system releases cortisol (the stress hormone), which helps calm the body down. Cortisol spikes your blood sugar and releases substances to repair tissue.
Once the perceived danger has passed — you’ve picked up your mangos and shifted them to another bag — your hormone levels go back to normal. But let’s say you’re always a little stressed out. Your body is perpetually in a response state, pumping out adrenaline and cortisol, which is not good. People who suffer from chronic stress often experience:
- Anxiety and depression
- Fatigue and irritability
- Heart problems
- Weight gain
- Memory loss and concentration problems
Ways to find stress relief
Fortunately, there are many ways to relieve stress. While there are many pharmacologic options available, which require a prescription from a doctor, those can have serious side effects. Many natural methods have been found to have similar effects as medication, as well as being a generally healthy option for managing and preventing stress.
- Exercise. Moving is a great way to release negative energy in your body and shed a few pounds. Exercise reduces your adrenaline and cortisol levels and stimulates the production of endorphins, your body’s natural painkiller and mood elevator. Really any type of exercise can do the trick, so whether you’re into running, jazzercising or weightlifting, you’ll be helping to reduce your stress levels.
- Writing. Studies have shown that writing about your feelings — positive and negative — can improve your mental and physical health. Research has shown that writing about negative feelings can lead to fewer doctor visits, fewer symptoms of ill health, and less time off from work due to ill health.
- Acupuncture. Like exercise, acupuncture stimulates endorphins. When the acupuncturist inserts the needles at certain pressure points, it helps to release energy that sends a wash of good feeling throughout the body. Studies have found that acupuncture had a positive effect on people with moderate to severe depression, and lowered the depression scale, a measurement tool to determine the severity of depression.
- Herbs. Many herbs contain healing properties that work to relieve stress in the body. Herbs like chamomile, ashwagandha root, white peony root and lavender have long been used to reduce stress and balance mood. Run the World, which contains ashwagandha root, white peony and many other curative herbs can help manage stress.
- Aromatherapy. Researchers are studying the effects that scent has on our bodies. But preliminary studies have found that aromatherapy can reduce the perception of stress and decrease cortisol levels.
- Meditation. Research shows that mindful meditation can reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.