What is stress?
We all experience stress on some level, and for many of us, it can be a daily struggle. How we experience stress and deal with it can have huge impacts on our life, quite literally. It is an emotional response to our environment, which can have serious side effects on your physical and mental health. Essentially, stress is a series of hormonal and neurological interactions, involving multiple systems in your body, which affect your brain and behaviour. The “stress hormone”, which plays a major role in all of these systems, is cortisol. Cortisol is released in the brain with events such as waking up, exercising and during periods of chronic and acute stress. We’ve all heard that stress is “bad for you”, but that's not the whole story.
Make stress your friend
When you can change your mind about stress, you can change how your body responds to it. The bad thing about stress is not the stress itself, but rather how you think about it. Research shows that the way you think about your stress can actually change your body’s response to it. Thinking of your stress symptoms, such as your heart pounding or breathing faster, as positive and helpful, rather than negative and harmful, changes the physical responses. When stress is viewed as helpful, blood vessels stay relaxed, and your body has a similar reaction as what can be observed when experiencing moments of joy and courage. So, how you think about stress truly matters most. Kelly McGonigal explains this research in depth in her revolutionary Ted Talk: How to make stress your friend.
Oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone", makes you crave physical contact, such as hugging, and primes you to do things that strengthen social relationships. Oxytocin is also part of your stress response, and is there to motivate you to seek social support. Interestingly, it also acts on your body by protecting your cardiovascular system. Oxytocin receptors on the heart actually strengthen your heart by repairing the cells. It’s pretty amazing to discover that social support physically heals the heart. So how do we combat stress? When facing life’s toughest challenges, human connection is the answer.
It is important to remember that stress is also there to make you aware of a challenge ahead. What you need to ask yourself is, is this a challenge that you want to, or need to take on? Sometimes it's not as simple as taking a vacation from your job or taking an extra day a month or even cutting back on your hours at work. What makes an even bigger difference is how you choose to use that time. Whether you're a busy mother, care-taker, in the work-force or student, we are all exposed to stress. Time appears to vanish and we just don’t seem to have enough of it. Laura Vanderkam explains in her Ted talk, that’s not always about the time we have, but rather how we choose to use it. We can't create more time, but perhaps we can learn to prioritize for a happy and healthy life.
Prioritize moments of relaxation
Some of the easiest things we can do can start off by just simply stretching. Yoga is a great way to re-align the body, spirit and mind. There's no need to go to an expensive studio, you can always roll out you're yoga matt and download a free app onto your computer or phone and voila! Check out Yoga with Adriene. We’ve tested it, and we like it! It’s great when all you have is a few minutes to practice in the comfort of your home.
Aromatherapy is always a great way to create a relaxing environment. If you like essential oils, it's as simple as just taking in a nice big breath with the oil under your nose and soon your mind frame will begin to change. Putting a few drops of Lavender, Chamomile, or Geranium essential oils to the bottom of your shower will give you a full on essential oil steam bath and will help you relax. You can also dab some on your wrists and feet to help you as well or put a few drops onto a handkerchief and have it with you throughout the day. If you want a few more tips and a nice meditation video you can always check out the Mind,Body,Green site.
Last but not least, add a little rhythm to your life. Music is the key to an upbeat life! Research shows that the salivary Cortisol levels cease to increase when listening to certain types of music. A few examples of relaxing music that you can easily find on YouTube are: Marconi Union: Weightless (not recommended while driving), Airstream: Electra and Dj Shaw: Mellomaniac (chillout mix). To find more examples you can always visit MUO.
A healthy mind for a healthy life
When we get home from work or just life, we need to pay attention to our bodies and our minds. They belong to us and health is a precious thing. Learn to appreciate your mind, appreciate your body and trust yourself that you have what it takes to take on all of life’s challenges, big or small. Stress is not the enemy. A positive mind and a little love can conquer just about anything.