Mental and emotional stress is a major driver of a variety of health challenges and body ailments. Yes, a certain degree of stress is necessary for us to challenge ourselves, perform better, and strive for the optimal. But we experience mental stress at an early age – having to do better than our peers, needing the right grades to get into the right schools, wanting to outperform in sports, wanting to make the right friends – and it keep accumulating as we face further financial, societal, familial pressures as we grow older.
You probably discount the effects of this mental stress as just a normal part of life, but without proper management, it can lead to or exacerbate health problems and pain. Managing your mental stress needs to be at the forefront of your health promotion activities.
Below are 10 easy ways to help you reduce the stress in your life.
1. Understand How Your Body Deals with Stress
Your stress response is fundamentally a series of interactions that occur in a specific division of your nervous system known as your sympathetic nervous system.
Think of your nervous system as the master POWER system of your body that controls all of your internal body functions.
Your brain, through your sensory system, perceives a “threat” and then makes a number of changes to your internal physiology.
- Your heart rate goes up.
- Your blood pressure increases.
- Your muscles tighten for action.
- Your blood sugar increases.
- You sweat more.
- Your breathing becomes rapid and shallow.
- Your body will drift towards a state of inflammation.
At the same time,
- Your digestion gets interrupted.
- Certain brain functions slow down.
- Your immune system temporarily becomes less active.
This is all occurs in the blink of an eye, through your nerve system.
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This is why, when you are under stress, it is very common to feel muscle tension, stiffness, ache, headaches, shortness of breath, anxiety, fear, and general discomfort. It is also common to become sick more often due to your immune system being depressed and because your inflammatory state increases.
2. Decide that Stress Management is Important
Mental stress is a real thing and long-term exposure to mental stress will have a long-lasting negative impact on your health. Prolonged stress can cause heart disease, hypertension, and high blood pressure. As stated above, stress depresses your immune system.
Long-term exposure to stress is linked to strokes, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, ulcers, diabetes, muscle and joint pain, bad posture, miscarriage, allergies, alopecia, and even premature tooth loss.
Stress is real and, over time, it can be dangerous. And we’re not advocating that you join a stress management group immediately or that you do something extremely drastic (unless it’s necessary of course), but to recognize that your stress has to be managed and to implement small steps in dealing with your stress. Simply admit that your mental stress is affecting you, and decide to do things to change it.
Do things every day to reduce your stress.
3. Sleep Well at Night
Sleeping is your body’s natural way to recovery, recuperate, and heal. If you are not sleeping well, many aspects of your health will be affected. You will also succumb to the negative effects of mental stress more easily. Insomnia can be extremely frustrating, and the frustration and anxiety caused by this problem can snowball as we are lying in bed fretting about the difficulties the next day will bring due to the lack of sleep. It becomes a vicious circle, which can affect our ability to cope with stress the next day.
According to the Stress Management Society of the UK, the more tired you feel throughout your day, the more prone you are to stress related dysfunction. This is common sense. We need rest to be healthy.
Sleeping well is so important that we wrote a whole blog post on it. Read more on sleeping tips here.
4. Practice Deep Breathing
One of the best things you can do to manage stress and restore balance and harmony to your life, is to breathe deeply and intentionally on a daily basis. Make this a priority as well.
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Deep, slow, and focused breathing stimulates rest and relaxation on your nerve system. This practice can improve the chemical balance of your body internally as well, by reducing the inflammation present in your immune system. Breathing exercises can help you feel less stress, reduce your muscle tension, and kick start your healing by activating your nervous system in just the right way.
5. Stay Hydrated
The human body is approximately 70% water. When you do not have enough water, your energy levels will be lower and you will feel more tired.
There is, in fact, a chemical reason why you get more stressed. When you are even mildly dehydrated, cortisol levels in the body increase.Cortisol production is triggered by your stress physiology and when you are dehydrated, your body recognizes that dehydrated state as being stressed. Your body calculates: dehydration equals stress.
How do you balance these chemicals in your brain? Drink more water.
So if you’re looking for a simple way to unwind from your stress-filled life, try drinking a glass of water – it will help you to cope better with stressful situations.
Stay tuned for the next 5 tips to reduce your mental stress!