Many of us are struggling with stress in our lives. Before we learn of the lifestyle changes you can make to take control of your stress and anxiety, I want us to first look at what stress is, and what it does in the body.
What is Stress
Mental or physical demands can cause stress. When the demand increases, you start to feel the pressure of life, making you feel stressed.
Stress is normal up to a certain degree, it keeps us motivated to do the things we need to do. It is also a survival tool which we’ve been using for thousands of years to overcome challenges and dangerous situations.
How Stress works in our body
When we are threatened, the hypothalamus, a small region in the brain, alerts the body by a combination of nerve and hormonal signals. The adrenal gland situated at the top of the kidneys is stimulated to release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenalin results in an increased heart rate and blood pressure as well as boosts our energy supply. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone. It increases the glucose (sugar) level in the blood as well as the use of glucose in the brain, and it enhances the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Cortisol suppresses the growth process as well as the digestive- and reproductive systems; while it alters the immune system responses.
Physical changes include an increase of strength, stamina, speed, reaction time and focus on preparing us for either a fight or flight response.
When Stress results in Anxiety
Anxiety is when stress continues after the threat is gone, the body fails to return to normal. Anxiety is stimulated when we are unable to identify our stressors in life and when we fail to maintain balance in our lives. This feeling can be triggered by nervous or frustrating situations that make us angry and anxious.
When stress interferes with our everyday life our bodies are constantly in emergency mode. Stress in your life can make you have anxious thoughts which occupy the mind with excessive worry. The body reacts the same to danger whether it’s real or imagined. The prolonged exposure to this response can cause major damage to our health, mood, productivity, and our relationships. Our quality of life is affected.
When your emergency stress system is activated regularly, it becomes easily triggered and harder to shut off. Psychiatric conditions such as depression are associated with anxiety.
What Chronic Stress does to your body
Chronic stress disrupts every system in our body. It can suppress our immune, digestive and reproductive system. People suffering from stress or anxiety are more likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes and it speeds up ageing. It also affects the brain leaving us more vulnerable to suffer from anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and other mental health issues.
Symptoms of Stress and Anxiety
We often fail to recognise that we are suffering. It creeps up without notice and we become familiar with the feeling, it becomes normal. It is important to be aware of the common symptoms associated with stress and anxiety in order for us to address them.
- Stomach pain
- Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
- Increased heartbeat or palpitations
- Muscle tension
- Dry mouth
- Diarrhoea or Constipation
- Loss of sex drive
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Frequent colds and flu
- Panic or nervousness
- Loneliness and isolation
- Irrational anger and moodiness
- Irritability, anxiety and agitation
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Fear of being crazy, and not in control of your actions
- Memory problems
- Weak concentration
- Negative, worried and
- Poor judgment
- Change of appetite, eat more or less
- Frequent urination
- Isolation from others
- Procrastinate or neglect responsibilities
- Abuse substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
How Stress affects the systems in our bodies
Central nervous system
The Central nervous system (CNS) controls our fight or flight response. As mentioned above the body releases adrenaline and cortisol when we are threatened. When the threat is gone, the hypothalamus tells the system to return to normal. When the CNS system fails to do so, or if the stressors don’t go away, the fight or flight response continues. This will then lead to the above symptoms.
During the fight and flight response, our respiratory rate increases to distribute oxygen-rich blood to the areas that need it. Stress can make it harder to breathe when a person suffers from a breathing problem like asthma.
Our heart rate also increases during stress. Stress hormones cause blood vessels to divert oxygen to our muscles to improve our strength and our blood pressure also rises. As a result, the heart is overworked when we are stressed for prolonged periods increasing the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
During the fight or flight response, our liver produces more blood sugar (glucose) which boosts our energy. During chronic stress, our bodies can’t keep up with the breakdown of glucose which may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. An increase in the respiratory and heart rate may result in an upset in the function of the digestive system. This may result in diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, and stomach ache. Stomach acid increase results in acid reflux or heartburn. Stress is not the cause of ulcers but it can increase the risk of developing ulcers.
When we are stressed our muscles tense up for protection, and releases once we have relaxed. Under chronic stress, the muscles don’t get a chance to relax and may cause pain in our neck, back, shoulder, and other parts of the body including headaches. This is often when we turn to pain medication for relieving, which may result in other imbalances in the body.
The reproductive system function is affected during stress. Prolonged stress can lower our desire as our bodies are exhausted. In men, prolonged stress can lower the testosterone levels which decreases sperm production and fertility as well as cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. In women, prolonged stress affects the menstrual cycle leading to irregular, heavier or more painful periods. It also increases PMS and magnifies menopause symptoms.
Our immune system is stimulated in immediate situations of stress to help heal wounds and fight infections. However, when stress hormones are present in the body for too long they will weaken the immune response to foreign invaders making us more susceptible to viral infections such as colds and flu. Our recovery time after illness or injuries is slower when suffering from chronic stress.
The causes of Stress
Any demand that makes us feel pressured and situations which cause stress is known as stressors. This can include positive as well as negative events. Stress can occur during or after particular life event and usually goes away. Anxiety is also caused by the pressure of having to perform, such as writing an exam or talking in public.
Pessimistic thoughts about life as well as worrying about what may or may not happen can cause stress.
Our diet can also lead to stress or anxiety if we are don’t get the nutrients our bodies need, for example not getting enough vitamin B12.
Drugs and medication containing stimulants can increase the symptoms of stress and anxiety. These include caffeine, illicit drugs (like cocaine) and alcohol. Drug side effects or withdrawal from a drug such as nicotine, thyroid medication, asthma inhalers, decongestants, antidepressants, cold remedies, ADHD medication, diet pills, and amphetamines can also lead to symptoms of anxiety.
Perception on life
The degree of stress is also affected by your perception of the stressor. Something very stressful for one person might not be so stressful to another.
Adrenal tumors (very rare) may also cause anxiety as they overproduce the hormones responsible for regulation of stress.
Disorders related to Stress and Anxiety
When not managed, stress and anxiety can lead related disorders. These include:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterised by uncontrollable worrying. It can be a worry of something bad that may happen and sometimes we’re unable to identify the source of the worry.
- Panic Disorder is characterised by panic attacks. This is when a person experiences extreme fear, heart palpitations or chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, jitters, and a complete loss of control.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition where a person suffers from anxiety or flashbacks after a traumatic experience.
- Social Phobia is characterised by intense feelings of anxiety in a social environment such as interacting with others.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterised by repetitive thoughts and requests, the compulsion to complete certain ritual actions, a passion for cleanliness, obsessive tidiness, and thoughts of control.
How to manage Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are normal from time to time but needs to be managed. There are different strategies for us to use to make it more manageable. We must learn to notice and acknowledge the response our mind and body has when in stressful and anxiety-producing situations. This way we learn to anticipate our reactions to make them less disruptive.
Alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety with the following lifestyle changes:
1. A Healthy Diet
Food is medicine, food affects our ability to handle life’s stressors as well as improve or worsen our mood. Eating a well-balanced diet containing macro- and micro-nutrients such as carbohydrates (complex), proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals helps us cope with stressors. For example, it is important that our diets consist of nutrients to stabilize our blood sugar levels, and antioxidants to fight oxidative stress. Adequate water intake is essential.
Nutrients which help with stress and anxiety include:
- A, eliminates toxins that deplete energy levels
- B1, improves our mood and nerve function
- B3, regulates sleep patterns
- B6, promotes a healthy nervous system and is essential for optimum production of serotonin, a mood enhancing brain chemical.
- B12, improves our mood by promoting the production of feel-good brain chemicals
- Pantothenic acid controls the adrenal gland which plays a crucial part in the stress response and is necessary for the production of anti-stress hormones
- Folic Acid decreases homocysteine levels, which is responsible for an increase in depression
- C, boosts the immune system
- D, controls calcium absorption
- E, improves oxygen absorption in brain cells as it’s a powerful antioxidant
- Calcium helps us relax
- Chromium stabilises blood sugar levels
- Magnesium reduces stress and is crucial for nerve function and relaxation of the muscles
- Selenium increases the effectiveness of vitamin E
- Zinc improves brain function and resistance to infection
Foods to avoid is:
- Fast-releasing carbohydrates as they cause fluctuation in blood sugar levels which affects our moods and energy level as well as stimulate the release of cortisol.
- Processed food, try to eat foods closest to their natural form instead.
- Stimulants such as caffeinated soft drinks, sugar, coffee, alcohol, nicotine and other chemical drugs which put a strain on the body. Be mindful when using substances like alcohol and drugs to cope with stress and anxiety as they can lead to substance abuse and addiction which worsen the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
2. Regular Exercise
Exercise improves circulation, sending more oxygen through the body, which improves its function and aids detoxification. It also lifts our moods and distracts us from our worries. Walking, running, dancing, swimming, yoga, pilates and other rhythmic exercises are particularly effective. These help us to be mindful while exercising by paying attention to the physical sensation you experience while moving.
3. Sleep enough
When we feel tired we think irrationally which increase our stress levels. However, stress and anxiety can disrupt our sleep patterns. Therefore, it’s important to find methods to improve our sleeping habits so we can become less stressed, more productive and emotionally balanced.
4. Stimulate your senses
Relieve stress with your senses – sight, smell, taste, touch, sound, and movement. Find a sensory input that relaxes you, for example, going outside to feel the breeze, see nature, hear birds sing, or walk barefoot on grass. Stroking animals also help us feel less alone and loved. Aromatherapy is a great way to stimulate our smell as they have a therapeutic effect on the brain. Everyone reacts differently to sensory inputs so it’s important to experiment and see which works best for you.
5. Relax a little
Activate the body’s relaxation response through techniques such as meditation, yoga and deep breathing. Through these techniques, we learn to control how much stress affects us by eliminating it from our lives. Relaxation is an opposite response to stress so we rewire our bodies to be relaxed instead of stress. When these techniques are practiced regularly they boost feelings of joy and serenity as well as reduce our everyday stress levels. They improve our ability to stay collected and calm when stressors present themselves.
6. Do what you love
It’s important to spend your time doing something that leaves you feeling fulfilled. Be it a hobby or a sport, do something that makes you feel at peace with who you really are.
7. Connect to others
We all have a sense of belonging, and this belonging can only be filled when we are apart of a community. Sharing your time with people who share the same beliefs, principles, and values than you do will encourage you to be the truest version of yourself. This will make you feel good. Stress relieving hormones are triggered when talking with another human, and the feeling of not being alone can really help lift our moods.
8. Recognise stressors
It is helpful to start recognising the stressors which cause you to stress and become anxious. Keeping record of your feelings and reactions towards stressful situations can help us learn what to avoid and how to control it.
9. Be aware of your thoughts
We are often our worst enemies when it comes to our thoughts as our imagination can be the cause of our stress. Our minds are very powerful and our thoughts manifest into our reality.
Herbs are wonderful tools to use when suffering from stress and anxiety as the body recognises that herbs come from nature which is the oldest and gentlest form of healing. Alter your mental/emotional and physical state with psychotropic herbs as they interact with our body chemistry. This makes it possible to treat stress and anxiety with herbs. People who prefer using herbal remedies to treat their stress and anxiety over the use of prescription medication claim that botanicals work just as well as synthetic medication.
Benefits of herbal treatments for stress and anxiety:
- It restores balance in the body
- Center our thoughts by calming our anxious thoughts and stop us from anticipating the worst
- Soothes the response to stress in our body
- Decreases our sense of worry, apprehension and irritability
- Supports our body systems while coping with stress
- Helps to regulate our sleeping patterns
- Herbs are not addictive
- They have less side effects
This blend can be used when feeling restless and irritable as it helps you relax and unwind after a stressful day. It promotes comfort and sleep, lifts the spirits and restores energy in tiredness or nervous exhaustion. It may be used to relieve anxiety or stress related symptoms such as headaches, migraines, palpitations, insomnia, neuralgia as well as digestive cramping and inflammation for people who carries stress in their stomach. Additionally this blend is rich in healing properties which can assist with fevers, colds, flu symptoms, congestion and hay fever.
A mixture of aromas – sweet, and rich, with an herbaceous, floral heart and a soft balsamic, woody undertone.
Ingredients: Chamomile, Lavender and Organic Rooibos.
Visit our online shop to get your Serenity tea!
It restores your emotional balance, expands your sense of security and inner peace. This heart-center oil helps manage overwhelming emotions. It induces a deep sense of relaxation which promotes sleep and dispels nervous anxiety, fear, and depression.
These benefits are taken into the body through the scent molecules you breath in. The scent molecules carry calming properties which enters the brain through the olfactory nerve connected to your nose. The brain then sends the calming signals to the rest of the body.
Can be used as a perfume (a few drops on the wrist), massage oil, moisturiser or bath oil to get the effects.
It is a non-greasy light oil that penetrates the skin providing a long-lasting moisturising effect without clogging the pores. It creates a protective barrier which prevents moisture loss, improving your skin’s smoothness, elasticity, and softness.
Visit our online shop to get your Inner Peace Body Oil.
The content of this article as well as the tea mix and body oil is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease and consult with a professional health practitioner prior to the use of herbal medicines.
The medical and/or nutritional information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this Website.