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Coping with Stress

Stress is an integral part of our life and everyone experiences stress from time to time. It can create an adverse impact on your physical, mental and spiritual health, and affect your personal relationships, career, and social life.

Improving your stress resilience could play a critical role in reducing the impact of stress on your health.

Impact of chronic stress

Prolonged stress is linked to several chronic disorders affecting nearly all the body’s organs and systems. Life’s stressors are known to take a toll on our psyche and body. In most cases, a chronic condition itself may become a source of emotional stress.

This two-way relationship between mental stress and diseases can create a downward spiral in your health that could become difficult to avoid and overcome.

Let us have a look at how mental stress affects critical bodily functions.

Circadian rhythm

The body’s sleep-wake cycle, also called the circadian rhythm, is affected by the exposure to light and darkness during daytime and night, respectively. The circadian rhythm can regulate our eating times, and even hormonal balance. Research studies have revealed that disruptions in the circadian rhythms, due to factors like shift work, and sleep disorders like sleep apnea could raise the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, and several other age-related diseases. Mental stress and poor emotional health appear to impair the circadian rhythm resulting in hormonal imbalances that can contribute to the development of a number of diseases.

Gut microbiota

Chronic stress could impact our general health through interactions with the gut microbiota. The gut-microbiota-brain axis has the ability to regulate the functions of the immune system. The lack of a healthy and diverse microbiota could affect the body’s stress responsiveness and trigger the development of disorders linked to immunological dysfunctions, inflammation, and oxidative stress.

Immune System

Chronic stress-linked immune dysfunctions could result in a decline in the efficiency of the body’s defence mechanisms against cancer and infections. Chronic stress is also correlated with an increased risk of recurrent respiratory infections including the common cold and influenza. Stress is also implicated as a major contributing factor in inflammatory conditions, like allergies and autoimmune disorders, and the conditions related to systemic inflammation such as diabetes and heart diseases.

The epigenetics

Exposure to mental stress or abuse early in life could alter stress resilience and responsiveness throughout life. The epigenetic changes that are induced by prenatal stress could also lead to hormonal imbalances and cause an increased risk of neuropsychiatric issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder in adulthood. The impact of stress on the various body systems and functions marks the need to adopt strategies to improve stress resilience.

What is Stress Resilience?

Stress resilience refers to the body’s ability to cope with stress as well as its ability to quickly and efficiently return to equilibrium or homeostasis after experiencing a stressor. Poor stress resilience may contribute to a cycle of chronic stress and increase your risks of long-term complications.

Strategies To Improve Stress Resilience

  • Eat Nutrient-Rich Diet

Choose low carbohydrate, high fiber foods and consume a diet full of fresh fruits, veggies, green leaves, and whole grains to improve your nutritional status and strengthen the body’s ability to cope with stress and inflammation. Choose organic produce whenever possible to avoid increased intake of toxic chemicals from pesticides and herbicides.

  • Sleep well

The body’s circadian rhythm is tied to the secretion of the stress hormone, cortisol. Avoid staying up late at night or getting up late in the morning as this upsets your circadian rhythm.  Avoid taking steroid medication in the evening as this can also elevate cortisol levels impairing sleep.

  • Exercise

Moderate exercise has been shown to improve in the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Simple exercises like walking and even other physical activities like swimming and dancing could help you build stress resilience.

  • Spend time with nature

Schedule at least 2 or 3 days a month to spend time with nature. Indulge yourself in pleasurable activities like hiking, swimming, walking, and gardening. This will help you connect with your soul and calm your senses.

  • Minimize screen time

Create a family environment wherein everyone puts down their gadgets and be in the present moment.

  • Schedule phone-free times

Resist the disturbing cultural norm and pressures to be instantly available all the time, at the expense of our health and even the actual people around us. You can answer those emails and respond to those text messages later.

  • Supplementation

While taking supplements may help relieve stress, support adrenal function and help protect our cells from damage, these should only be taken when prescribed by a qualified Naturopath.  There is a LOT of difference between quality products available only on prescription and highly inferior/synthetic supplements purchased over-the-counter, in supermarkets or on-line.  Taking poor quality or inappropriate supplements may exacerbate stress and poor health.  Please – NEVER self-prescribe.

Conclusion

A higher stress resilience may help you to free yourself from the cycle of stress and return to a relaxed, calm, and healthier state. It would greatly assist in relieving your symptoms and lower your risk of long-term complications linked to chronic stress. A high stress resilience may also improve your physical, emotional, and spiritual health while protecting you against a wide range of diseases.

Article courtesy:  Deborah Freudenmann BHSc