What is stress and 3 FREE tools to Manage it

Stress is stress is stress. The body doesn’t know the difference between chemical, emotional, or physical stress. But don’t worry I have some things to help you manage them and it won’t cost you any money. It will only cost you some time.

First, what is stress?

Stress is your body’s reaction to a change which requires an adjustment or response. These reactions come in the form of physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is normal. It’s healthy. It’s apart of life. Stress is positive but for many of us, it’s become well not so positive as you haven’t given yourself any relief or relaxation between stressful events.

So how does this work?

The autonomic nervous system regulates all of our unconscious actions. Think of autonomic as automatic. This system automatically takes care of things so you don’t have to think about it. Things like breathing, digestion, heart rate, urination, etc. There are two divisions within the autonomic system. The first is the sympathetic division, this is our fight or flight response. A good way to remember is to always have sympathy for the fighters and flighters. The second is the parasympathetic division, this is our feed and breed, rest and digest response. Both are integral to maintaining balance within the mind and body. The mind and body like balance. It’s a good place to be when our mind and body are balanced. When we are off balance though when we start to see some issues.

Many of us spend most of our day in fight or flight or in a sympathetic state. Daily our brain is encountering what it perceives as threats from every which direction. The fight or flight response is stimulated when the brain and body encounter a situation in which it deems as a potential threat to our survival. Back in caveman and woman times, this was something along the lines of a sabertooth tiger and other scary predators. Today there aren’t many sabertooth tigers running around, well not here in Ohio, not sure about where you’re at but we still have situations where our brain perceives them as a threat. These fall in line with chemical, emotional, and physical stressors. Things like work, traffic, coworkers, bills, friends, family, the foods you eat, exercise, I think you get the point.

When a threat is perceived our body will always react the same way as our ancestors did, it doesn’t know the difference when this response is to stimulate two hormones are released; cortisol and adrenaline, both which are important to maintaining balance within the body. Problems start to arise when we have to much of them floating around in our bloodstream. Adrenaline most of can relate to, think of driving and almost getting in an accident your heart rate increases, breathing increases, we utilize carbs more, our appetite is suppressed, and blood is send away from our organs to our muscles in order to prepare them to throw down or Forrest Gump your way out of the situation (if you don’t understand the reference run Forrest run!)

Cortisol, on the other hand, is released once the “threat” has passed. It tells the body it’s time to replenish energy. Causing most of us to crave snacks in the form of high sugar and high fat. This in turn increases sugar into the bloodstream, enhances the brains use of glucose, and it increases. Cortisol is important though otherwise our bodies wouldn’t make it. It’s involved in regulating blood sugar, metabolism, reducing inflammation, and even memory formulation. It has a cycle where it’s higher in the morning and lower at night. Problems begin when we are continuously stressed and the body releases extra cortisol.

High levels of cortisol are related to the following:

  • weight gain
  • high blood pressure
  • muscle weakness
  • fatigue
  • weak immune system
  • difficulty healing wounds
  • thinning skin, easy bruising, and flushed face
  • headaches
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

3 free Tools to combat your stress and 1 that is an investment

Perception

It’s how we perceive a situation. We are aware of what is going on. This falls in line with being present in the well present moment. Let’s say you wake up late. Now you’re rushed. Your body automatically goes into fight or flight and it sets the tone for the entire day. Traffic happens to be slower, every driver is making you mad because common, 75 in the fast lane is to slow, everybody at work is getting on your nerves, traffic is slower yet again on the ride home, your significant other didn’t wash the dishes, you’re just stressed how and everybody was against you today. But let’s step back and look at things.

Out of this whole situation what was in your control and what wasn’t? The thing in your control is one waking up on time and two how you respond to the situation. You can’t control other drivers on the road, so why get upset about how they drive, maybe you’re the one driving poorly. Why get annoyed with your coworkers, maybe they are having a rough day also, traffic well you can’t control it, the dishes, well maybe your significant other had a long day to. The world wasn’t out to get you you just made a choice to view it in such a way.

Ask yourself, is this traffic really worth stressing about and wasting mental time and energy on or are there other things within which I could be spending my time on? Earlier I stated your body subconsciously doesn’t know the difference when it comes to dealing with a stressor but consciously, you do. Know traffic isn’t something you can control. How you respond to it is.

Change your perception. Change your life.

Breathing

What if I told you your body already has a built-in stress-reducing, pain decreasing anxiety get rid of mechanism and you have complete control over it?

You would probably tell me I’m full of it because it sounds too good to be true. But it’s something so simple and overlooked many of us take it for granted. You probably guessed it by the heading of this section. Breathing is one of the only functions which is controlled automatically which we can actually control consciously. Controlling our breathing has the potential to help you manage your stress, boost your immune system, improve your mental game, control your energy output, and even improve your decision making. The rhythm of your breathing alone has a direct effect on neural activity that enhances memory recall and emotional judgment. It’s even starting to be used as treatment in a multitude of mental health issues from panic disorder, anxiety, to depression. Another study shows that breathing decisively influences autonomic and pain processing and, can actually reduce our perception of pain.

All of this by learning to control your breathing through proper breathing mechanics and techniques.

One of the best ways to go into a parasympathetic state is through 4-7-8 breathing. This is where you inhale for 4 seconds through the nose, HOLD the breath for 7 seconds, then exhale through pursed lips (like you’re trying to blow up a balloon). Do this 2x day for a total of 5-10 breaths. Especially before you go to sleep. Intently focus on each part of the cycle. So, for those 4 seconds you’re focused on the inhale and slowly counting to 4.

Green exercise

This is something won’t even cost you time but, it will cost you leaving your phone at home. You can do it trust me. Green exercise is physical exercise done in natural environments. This involves things like gardening, biking, running, hiking, walking, camping, skiing, and even yoga, etc. Being present and in nature has a multitude of positive effects on the mind and body such as decreased tension in the body, reduction in confusion and anger, decrease in cortisol and adrenalin. Exposure to the sun and being outside has been shown to increase serotonin which is mood-enhancing chemical where a deficiency in it has been shown to be a potential cause in depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even impaired cognitive function.

This like breathing is one of the most readily available therapies with no side effects besides feeling amazing. Studies have shown it brings you more in touch with yourself and helps to remind you of what is important in your life and, it’s definitely not the traffic you sat in.

Take your shoes off, get in the grass, marvel at the trees and plants around you, the clouds, the animals, and really take it all in. Your sensory organs are meant to perceive the world. Your senses essentially emerged from immersion in the world.

Most of you have nature deficit disorder! So get outside. Leave your phone at home and just be in the moment, be one with nature.

The conclusion from the study on green exercise and its benefits:

“To summarize, outdoor natural environments may provide some of the best all-round health benefits by increasing physical activity levels with lower levels of perceived exertion, altering physiological functioning including stress reduction, restoring mental fatigue, and improving mood and self-esteem and perceived health. Thus, exercise within green spaces and the great outdoors may be a useful natural medicine to address health challenges facing developed countries. Alongside the social aspect which some individuals crave, it may also increase enjoyment and adherence to bring about positive behavior changes in a large proportion of the population.”

The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all

Massage

While those first three are free this next one does cost some money. But change your perspective and view it as an investment in your health and well being. Massage therapy has been shown to be a means in which stress can be reduced significantly on both physical and psychological levels. There is considerable research that validates our experience.

In a study on the effect of trigger point therapy, there was a significant decrease in heart rate, systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure. Measures of oxygen consumption, blood pressure, and salivary cortisol levels were all lower after a 10 to 15 minute chair massage in controlled studies.

In a handful of other studies massage has been shown to alter EEG activity (brain waves) increase parasympathetic activity and decrease cortisol levels. This alone will calm the body and brain during stress. It can also improve attention, enhance the body immune response, and reduce anxiety. There are few safety issues or side effects when done by a trained therapist. Here in the state of Ohio we are licensed by the state and our license must be visible when you come to our clinic. I recommend adding a massage 1x a month to your health routine.

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