It’s a stressful time for Americans and much of the rest of the world, with the Stress in Americaᵀᴹ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis survey showing that almost eight in 10 adults feel that the current global health situation has been a significant source of stress in their lives. The effects of stress can have many potential effects on long-term health, since chronic stress is strongly linked to various chronic diseases. If you are feeling like the pressure is getting you down, ensure you battle stress proactively every day to protect your physical and mental health.
How Does Stress Affect Your Body?
Having chronically high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the body can lead to a host of long-term health problems – including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. The body has specific ways of dealing with stress, one of which is to tighten muscles to the point where they start to break down and experience contractions. This can cause pain, injuries, and limitations in the range of movement. It can also cause difficulty breathing if anxiety manifests itself in the chest muscles. If stress manifests itself in muscular pain or contractions, massage therapy can help, as it releases hormones that counter the negative effects of stress.
The Importance Of Sleep
Many studies have shown that good sleep is vital when one is battling stress. In a 2019 study by University of California, Berkeley, researchers found that deep sleep can rewire the brain of someone with anxiety, leading to a state of greater calm. Another study (on teens) found that those who had poor sleep quality were more reactive to stress. Adults should ideally aim to enjoy seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night. This means they should wake up no more than once during the night, and fall asleep within approximately half an hour of getting into bed. Creating a calm, dark and silent resting space can help you achieve quality sleep, as can practicing relaxing exercises (such as progressive muscle relaxation) before bedtime.
Holistic Activities do The Trick
The past decade has also seen a plethora of studies on the powerful benefits that holistic activities such as yoga, Tai Chi, and mindfulness meditation can have on stress hormone levels. A 2014 study undertaken at Carnegie Mellon University, for instance, found that just 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation for three consecutive days significantly reduces stress. Another study by the same team showed that meditation produces important neurobiological changes that promote stress resilience.
Spending Time in Nature
If you have access to a park or other green area close to your home or work place, take a ‘nature pill’ every day. Studies have shown that spending just 10 minutes in a natural area can make people feel happier and buffer the effects of physical and mental stress. One University of Sussex study found that simply listening to the sounds of nature controls the ‘fight or flight’ response, enabling the brain to rest.
Stress is an inescapable part of daily life, and current times are certainly more stressful than average. It is therefore important to make stress relief an active goal. There are many ways you can achieve a more relaxed state – including exercise, healthy eating, good sleep, holistic activities, and simply spending time in nature. Apart from enjoying good sleep, aim to choose at least one of these methods a day, and if you can, try them all out to see which suit you best.