In the US, stress is a $300-billion health crisis. Experts associate that high cost with an increased risk of health hazards. More than that, excessive stress levels can also reduce life expectancy.
Stress isn’t always a bad thing; in fact, it’s essential during dangerous situations. However, always being under stress can affect virtually all aspects of your health. It can be detrimental to your mental, physical, and financial well-being.
That’s why, as much as possible, you should strive to live a stress free life. It’s easier said than done, yes, but there are many ways that you can keep your stress levels at bay.
To that end, we created this guide to help you “declutter” your brain and relieve yourself of stressors. Read on to discover how to live better and enjoy optimal health by combatting too much stress.
Put More Pep Into Your Step
In one survey, over half of adults said they felt good about themselves after they exercised. More than a third reported being in a good mood after exercising. Another 30% said they felt less stressed.
Exercise is key to living a stress free life because it boosts your overall health and well-being. If you’re healthy, you have fewer things to worry about and health-related costs to spend money on. Rising healthcare costs, in turn, are major stress triggers for two-thirds of US adults.
Besides, many scientific studies prove that exercise is an effective stress-buster. Below we’ll take a look at some of these many science-backed benefits of physical activity.
Triggers the Release of Mood-Regulating Chemicals
Exercise triggers the brain to release neurotransmitters like endorphins. Endorphins, in turn, are chemical messengers that interact with the brain’s opiate receptors. As a result, they help reduce pain, boost pleasure, and heighten feelings of well-being.
Moreover, physical activity encourages the brain to produce dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters also play major roles in mood regulation.
For example, regular exercise can boost your brain’s serotonin levels. Scientists say this hormone regulates happiness, mood, and anxiety. By contrast, serotonin deficiency may result in anxiety, depression, and stress disorders.
Decreases and Stabilizes Stress Hormones
Adrenaline and cortisol are two of the primary hormones associated with stress. The brain triggers their release each time you face a stressful or frightening event. These are chemicals crucial to your body’s “fight or flight” mode.
Adrenaline is a hormone that allows you to react to emotionally-disturbing events. It causes your heart rate, blood pressure, and energy to surge.
Cortisol is actually the primary stress or “fight or flight” hormone. It curbs functions it considers non-essential to fight-or-flight situations. It also heightens the heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations.
With that said, always being under stress can cause your stress hormones to be on overdrive. This sustained activation can disrupt many of your body’s other processes. As a result, you may be at a higher risk of problems like anxiety, depression, and heart disease.
Fortunately, physical activity can help reduce and then stabilize these stress hormones. Moreover, experts say that it trains and enhances the body’s ability to react to stressors. So, the more “trained” it is, the better it can respond to stressful events.
That should be enough reason to include regular exercise in your daily regimen.
Can Help You Sleep Better
In the US alone, about a third of adults say they experience insomnia symptoms. Of these individuals, between 6% and 10% meet the criteria for the sleep disorder.
Stress is one of the leading contributors to insomnia. Insomnia, in turn, makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep and also results in poor sleep quality. People with this sleep disorder also experience even more stress while they’re awake.
Exercise can help you fall asleep faster. Moreover, regular physical activity enhances sleep quality. So, aside from its stress-busting effects, exercise can also help you get more and better ZZZs.
Expand Your Airway
Stress can make it harder for you to breathe and can make you hyperventilate. Always being under stress can also make you more prone to shallow breathing.
In either case, your body won’t get enough oxygen and, instead, retain more carbon dioxide. Moreover, shallow breaths boost blood pressure and also speed up the heart rate. The higher your BP and heart rate are, the more cortisol the body produces.
What’s more, shallow chest breathing can raise your anxiety and tension levels.
That’s why you’d want to make it a habit to take deep, long breaths for optimal health. Studies found evidence that deep breathing can counter the negative effects of stress. It also helps enhance cognitive performance, including focus and attention.
Also called diaphragmatic breathing, deep breathing lets you fill your lungs with air. It fosters a complete oxygen exchange, which, in turn, pushes out more carbon dioxide. It also helps curbs blood pressure while also slowing the heartbeat.
You can practice deep breathing any time of the day or whenever you feel the effects of stress. For example, you can make it one of the first things you do right after waking up. Give yourself five to 10 minutes to focus on nothing else but taking slow, deep breaths.
Reward Yourself With Restful Sleep
People with insomnia report feeling more stressed out than those who sleep well at night. That’s one of the top reasons you should sleep for at least seven hours every night.
After all, it’s during sleep wherein your body generates certain cytokines. These are signaling proteins that help counter diseases, infections, and inflammation. They also “inform” the body about injuries or infections.
So, if you deprive yourself of sleep, you’re robbing your body of its ability to rejuvenate. This can then heighten your risk of developing detrimental health conditions. The sicklier you are, the more stress you’ll build up and face constantly.
Besides, not getting enough sleep can make you more irritable. It can also affect your attention and impede your concentration. All these can further add to your growing levels of stress.
One way to improve your sleep habits to avoid stress is to cut your smart device usage. The blue light these gadgets emit can lower your body’s melatonin production. Melatonin is a crucial sleep hormone that prepares your body to go to sleep.
At the very least, you should stop using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop two hours before you head to bed. This is also a good practice to apply if you watch TV at night.
You can also apply deep breathing techniques while in bed. This way, you can counter distractions or anxious thoughts that may be making it hard for you to fall asleep.
Lastly, do your best to have dinner at least three hours before bedtime. This gives your tummy enough time to digest your meal. Your body can then focus on prepping itself to go to sleep.
Be More Selective of Things You Can Control
According to one survey, job workload is the main stress factor for 46% of working US adults. More than one in four workers also say their stress comes from “issues” with people they work with. Another 20% report feeling stressed as they try to juggle their work-personal life.
Fortunately, jobs, finances, and relationships have many aspects that you can control. For example, you don’t always have to say yes to extra work that’s not even part of your job description. If you always accept such jobs, you’ll end up having too little time to take care of yourself.
If your workplace stress is due to certain co-workers, you may want to try limiting your contact with them. You definitely want to stay civil, but you don’t have to spend more time than necessary with them. The same goes true for other people or things in your life that make you feel overwhelmed.
Anchor Yourself in the Present
Mindfulness is a practice that helps you live in the moment and be more aware of what’s present. It can help you counter the effects of negative thoughts about the past and the future. By grasping what’s currently “in front” of you, you may be able to tame your stress and anxiety.
Let’s say you committed a mistake at work. Rather than berating yourself, you may want to extract a lesson from that past mistake. You can then apply what you learned by avoiding that error when carrying out your present work.
But Take Time to Prepare for Tomorrow
According to experts, anxiety can stem from having an unclear future. Uncertainty, in turn, is upsetting, as it can make you feel powerless. These emotions can then heighten your feelings of stress.
The greater a person’s intolerance to uncertainty, the higher their risk of anxiety. This bias to uncertainty also heightens a person’s likelihood of developing depression.
While you do want to live in the moment as much as possible, you should also take the time to plan ahead. Making small preparations, such as what to wear, eat, or bring tomorrow, can already help.
For starters, planning gives you something to do at the present moment. This then eliminates “idle” time, which you could otherwise spend feeling anxious.
Carrying out your plans, such as prepping breakfast, is also a form of physical activity. So, it also expends energy, which can then help you fall asleep faster and get better ZZZs.
Moreover, making preparations can help you reduce things you need to do by the morrow. Instead, it gives you more breathing time, especially in case you oversleep a bit. Since you’ve already prepared, say, your breakfast or clothes, then you don’t have to do things in a hurry.
Reap the Stress-Busting Benefits of Healthy Food
Healthy comfort foods, such as dark chocolate and oatmeal, can help relieve stress.
Studies found that cocoa in dark chocolate can enhance mood and cognitive functions. It’s also in this way that dark chocolate may help people with high levels of anxiety. Oatmeal, in turn, can trim stress hormone levels while boosting serotonin supplies.
Complex carbs, such as whole-grain bread, also help trigger the release of serotonin. These are better than simple carbs, as the body takes more time to digest them, so you feel fuller longer. It’s also in this way that they can help you counter stress eating.
Fruits rich in vitamin C, such as citrus, can also curb stress hormones. Moreover, this vitamin helps enhance and strengthen the immune system. The better your immune functions are, the less likely you are to get sick, so that’s another worry off your mind.
Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and tuna, can also keep stress hormones at bay. Moreover, their nutritional makeup can help avert heart disease and even depression.
Supplement With the Right Nutrients
Speaking of food, were you aware that about a third of folks in the US are at risk of anemia or vitamin deficiency? One in four people is also at risk of at least one vitamin deficiency.
Unfortunately, even just lacking in one nutrient can already result in impaired health. For example, vitamin C deficiency can lead to a higher risk of infections. A lack of vitamin D can contribute to rickets and osteomalacia.
As if that’s not enough, stress can also deplete nutrient concentrations in the body. So, if you already lack certain nutrients, stress can further reduce your supplies.
All that should be enough reason to make more healthful dietary decisions.
You can also have your doctor assess you for any specific dietary deficiencies. In this case, you may have to take supplements to help you get a steady supply of nutrients you lack. Here’s a guide where you can learn more about mood-boosting, stress-busting supplements.
Enjoy a Stress Free Life With These Techniques
As you can see, a stress free life is achievable with something as basic as regular exercise. Making the right dietary and personal decisions can also help you counter stress. Even just taking deeper, longer breaths can already melt away your tensions!
So, as early as today, be sure to implement as many of these stress-busting techniques as you can. In doing so, you can enjoy better sleep tonight, which can further help you feel less stressed.
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