It is no secret that stress is an epidemic in America today. People are met with any number of stressors throughout a day, whether they be traffic on their daily commute, worrying about financials, worrying about health issues, or just not having enough time in a day. Stress effects a vast number of people across the globe, and that number is sharply rising. The real question to ask isn’t why are we stressed (that is pretty obvious), but what does the stress do to us, and how can we help deal with the stress?
First, we can explore what stress does to our minds and our bodies. Our nervous systems in our body work on a fight-or-flight response, and it is one of our most primal instincts. Without getting too technical, this response releases adrenaline and cortisol into our bodies, which was originally used to help us survive. Over thousands of years, our need for fight-or-flight has changed, and we are now having these hormones flooding our brain and body, when we get angry sitting in traffic, or worrying about money, and sometimes we have trouble turning it off. There are many symptoms of this excessive exposure to these hormones, but here are some of the most common ones: headaches, heartburn, rapid breathing (unable to take deep breath), increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, decreased fertility, erectile dysfunction, decreased sex drive, tense muscles, stomach and digestive issues, increased blood sugar levels, decreased immune system function, increased depression, decreased sleep. Those are just some of the basic side effects of excessive stress, not getting into some of the more complicated ones like autoimmune disease triggers, stroke, heart attack, etc.
Just reading the last paragraph alone may have caused you to feel increased stress, so the most important thing, is how do we deal with all of this stress in our lives. We can start by trying to avoid some of the stressors in our lives. Leave the house earlier in the morning to not stress over traffic, try to manage finances so you can have a safety net, but it will be impossible for us to remove all of the stress in our lives.
One great stress reliever, is meditation. Meditation has been around for years, and is proven to reduce cortisol levels, stress hormone response, blood pressure, and heart rate. In today’s digital world, it is extremely easy to get access to thousands of different meditation sessions. There are numerous apps that allow you to do different length sessions. You can do a 5 minute meditation at your desk, or a 30 minute session on your drive to work. We have such busy lives, sometimes all we need is just a minute to step away from everything. Think of it like a little vacation for your mind. Although your body isn’t doing anything during meditation, you will find that as your mind relaxes, so will your muscles, and you have decreased aches and pains.
Another great way to relieve stress is through exercise. Exercise releases another type of hormone into your blood system called endorphins. These hormones generally make you happy (think of when people talk about a “runner’s high”). The great part about this is, it can be any type of exercise you like. It can be Pilates, yoga, running, swimming, crossfit, powerlifting, spinning, or even just walking around the block.
We live in a busy, and fast paced world, and we are going to experience stress. It is vital to our health to properly deal with these various forms of stress. If you are unsure where to start, try having a consultation with a Physical Therapist. A Physical Therapist can assess your body, and help you find an appropriate exercise outlet for you, as well as teach you how to be mindful of your body and how it is being effected by stress. If nothing else, remember the quote from the Indian mystic and sage Meher Baba, more notably famous by Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t’ Worry, Be Happy”!