So many people are financially well off, enjoying the latest gadgets, cars, Sky TV and phones and yet they are time-poor and terribly stressed. Many more spend some of that money on therapy because earning it and spending it on material goods isn’t buying them time or happiness. Stress is a silent killer, a precursor to serious, life-threatening ill-health. Your life is precious, your body needs space and downtime or it will collapse and break.
This article will tell you how you can relax more, and how you can reduce stress and its damaging effects on your health.
The damage that repeated stress does to the body, including premature ageing
Allostatic load is the term which describes the damage to the body that results from repeated stress. No one wants this, so why do we allow ourselves to take on too much? Too much work, too much socialising, too much exercise,too much supporting others, too much pressure to achieve materially and professionally.
With allostatic load the body goes into a permanent stress state and rather than the fight or flight hormones surging and residing they stay in that constant state of release I talked about earlier.
The stress response is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system and helps us to adapt to our environments; the problem these days is that we never really switch off, certainly not like our ancestors would have done when darkness fell. This negatively affects your body’s ability to recover, repair and renew and over time can cause strain on organs and tissues, causing disease and illness.
Stress hormones are designed for use when you’re in a threatening situation that you need to escape from, not to be released constantly. When they’re released all the time you suffer from chronic stress, and chronic stress causes inflammation inside the body. A lot like stress-hormone-release, inflammation harms you when it’s happening all the time; it’s designed for acute healing, not as a standard state of being. Prolonged, chronic, inflammation leaves you susceptible to lifelong autoimmune disease such as arthritis, Crohn’s and psoriasis. Inflammation over the long term can encourage more serious disease too, such as heart disease and cancer. Type 2 diabetes can also rear its ugly head as sugar is constantly circulating in the bloodstream.
Have you noticed how people who have had hard lives look older more quickly? That’s partly to do with allostatic load and shortened telomeres, along with perhaps poor diet, smoking and drinking, and lack of exercise.
It’s a serious consideration for people seeking good health. You can have a great diet and exercise regularly (but not too much) but if you’re stressed and tired you are damaging your body. It’s also not a good state of mind to help you work out how to reduce stress.
How you respond to stress really matters
The amount of damage stress can do depends on your response to it – the way you handle it. Your ability to relax in stressful situations will help you avoid the negative health effects.
Positive people seem more able to fight the effects, simply because they sail through it and don’t let things defeat them or play on their mind. The more you bottle up emotions or think negative defeatist thoughts the greater your likelihood of stress-related illness. But the more you talk about your feelings (not British I know!) or let them go, the better it is for you body.
Support from other people is also a brilliant thing. The more social support you have the better you will cope. Love is one of the best things, giving and receiving it. Being in happy relationships with partners, friends and family helps you because you release more happy, calming chemicals. Walking and exercising in nature is a wonderful way of chilling too.
Late nights, stress, sugar, cortisol and tiredness
If you have a lot of late nights and a busy stressful life your body will be in a constant state of stress-hormone release. If you add over-exercising to that, the problem magnifies.
Stress and tiredness particularly increase circulation of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol raises blood sugar (instant energy for fight or flight) and cause an increase in stomach fat by moving fat from other parts of the body to the fat cells in the abdomen, which have more cortisol receptors.
Plus if you’re staying up late playing catch-up you get further away from your last meal, and start snacking. If you’re tired the snacking is worse because your brain will tell you it needs sugar.
Try to get earlier nights and to relax more. If you’re feeling wrung-out and exhausted take ten mins here and there to zone out. Take your breaks at work. Get outside into nature and just sit. Turn the computer off at 9pm, and the TV, read a book or just lie and do nothing…don’t be scared, this is how to reduce stress with small achievable changes.
Sleep and relaxation are vitally important, not just for weight management but for fundamental wellbeing. Give yourself a break. Don’t worry, be happy.
Go to bed earlier, repeat every day
If you have trouble relaxing or falling asleep try using an app such as Headspace, which helps you to switch off. It really is amazing.
It’s really easy to fall into the habit of going to bed late because we have so little time to ourselves that we stay up to get some recreation time. The trouble is it impacts the way we feel during the day and can ultimately affect our health. The article below has some tips about how to get to bed early; sounds elementary right? Sometimes you just need someone to tell you to get to bed 🙂 and isn’t it lovely climbing under that duvet, it’s got to be some of the best ‘me-time’ ever!
Playing catch-up with sleep is not how to reduce stress
According to research trying to catch up on sleep by lying-in at weekends doesn’t fully make up for lost sleep during the week. On top of that people tend to stay up later on Friday and Saturday nights, so still lose sleep time. More alcohol is drunk too, which affects sleep quality as well as causing abdominal fat storage, faster ageing and multiple other health fails.
A long lie in can throw the body out of sync with its circadian rhythm and leave us feeling as if we have a hangover. Better to get a little more sleep each night than cram it into one or two days.
Ask yourself “What have I done today to make me feel good?”
Have you done anything today to give mind and body a break, take time out and clear your head, clear the cortisol and adrenaline?
Why not take ten minutes right now to lie back and listen to some birdsong. Imagine you’re lying out in the a warm sunshine with your eyes closed and with nothing to rush for, if you open your eyes all you see are wispy clouds in the blue sky and skylarks enjoying the day……
Relax every day; set yourself a goal of taking ten minutes here and there every day, go and walk, sit or lie somewhere you find relaxing, close your eyes and clear your mind. Consciously relax all your muscles, just focus on slow, calm breathing and imagine breathing out your stress and worries with every exhalation.
Are you taking proper time out to eat your meals? Are you eating lunch away from your desk or in a more relaxed environment? Are you even taking a lunch break? And are you relaxing in that break?
Make some space. Eat mindfully. Take ten minutes whenever you can to walk, breathe, chill.
Food is nature’s medicine and tranquiliser
What you eat affects your mood and can make you hyper or more chilled. So if you have a busy, stressful life take a look at your diet and make a few changes to level out your ups and downs.
It’s common for people to eat too much sugar, both hidden and obvious. That makes the blood sugar roller-coaster, and gives you mood and energy swings. You give your body a big hit and it goes hyper, insulin rushes out to reduce dangerous levels of blood sugar then you get a low and feel tired and unhappy. You feel tired and unhappy so you eat more sugar – get the pattern?
The aim is to keep blood sugar levels as constant as possible. So eat unrefined, natural foods which release their energy slowly, such as oats, yoghurt, nuts, seeds, eggs and whole grains.
Certain foods have a calming effect on brain and muscles:
- Complex carbs such as whole grains release serotonin, which is a calming, relaxing chemical.
- Vitamin C is thought to counteract cortisol, which is a stress chemical.
- Vitamins B (there’s more than one) help nerve pathways and smooth flow of information to brain and muscles. They also affect heart function.
- Magnesium has the same effect as B vits, supporting nerve and muscle function and is commonly deficient, especially in stressed individuals.
- Omega 3 fats, found in oily fish can help curb inflammation brought about by stress. There’s a whole lot of inflammation going on in your body if you have an unhealthy diet and lifestyle. Omega 3 balance also helps nerve impulses in the brain.
The healing power of nature
The power of nature to heal your mind and reduce stress is phenomenal. Yet many people are at odds with the natural environment, they don’t go there and when they get there they don’t know what to do unless there’s a café or some man-made props. We’ve become a nation looking for manufactured entertainment.
This weekend seek out nature, go into it and just sit or walk quietly. Let it wash calmness over you. Listen to the sounds and breathe in the outdoor air. You’ll be surprised what a positive effect it has.
If you really can’t get out there and you live in an urban environment, lie down and listen to this birdsong:
At the end of their life nobody wishes they had spent more time indoors or working or dusting or worrying.