We have an inbuilt lifesaving response to stress: at the first sign of any kind of threat, our brain kicks into survival mode. It helps us jump out of the way of a speeding car or rush away from a burning building. But what happens when the same response is invoked to situations which are not real threats?
Stress can be both positive and negative. Positive stress is when we are enjoying something, even if it’s strenuous or time consuming, or when we are excited about something and looking forward to it. Positive stress excites us, it energises us and can be a powerful stimulant.
For the purpose of this article, our focus will be on negative stress. Negative stress is when you are constantly worried about something or continuously dread doing something, going somewhere or meeting someone. Any kind of fear or phobia will also stress you out. This kind of stress can lead to all kinds of problems like sleep disorders, weight loss/gain, indigestion, and many other degenerative diseases. The most common symptoms of negative stress are
- Acceleration of heart and lung action
- Paling or flushing, or both
- Constipation or lose bowels
- Tightness in chest or constriction of blood vessels
- Dilation of the blood vessels for muscles
- Relaxation of the bladder
- Auditory exclusion (loss of hearing)
- Tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision)
- Hair thinning
Chronic stress suppresses the immune system and leaves the body prone to all kinds of infection. It’s important to recognise stress at the earliest, and take measures to remove it. Although, it may not always be possible to entirely remove factors responsible for negative stress from your life, it is always possible to manage it. Here are some effective tools for stress management.
Hydration: When we are stressed, our brain produces more cortisol, which in turn dehydrates our body; likewise, when our body is dehydrated even moderately, our brain will produce more cortisol. The less water we drink, the more vicious this cycle becomes. Additionally, as our brain is 85% water, it needs this life giving element for optimal functionality. It makes sense to drink more water to enhance our brain’s function, decrease cortisol, and even raise our vibration! Aim to drink water throughout the day, and drink more when stressed. It will instantly calm you down, and even give you precious extra moments to process the situation to face it better.
Daily 20 mins walk in fresh air: Going out for a walk has multiple benefits. Your lungs get extra oxygen, which helps remove harmful pathogens and toxins. You get to soak up more sunshine, which has the power to rejuvenate and re-energise. Plus, you get to be with yourself, in nature, which always helps to get a better perspective on whatever is bothering us and, calm the nerves.
Healthy eating: One can’t emphasise more on the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet. Try to include more vegetables, pulses and legumes in your meals. A plant based diet can not only provide all the nutrients required to nourish your body, it can also help you detox. When the body is healthy, it has better immune response and is more capable of fighting and responding to stress than a malnourished body.
Bedtime routine: Having a relaxing bedtime routine is vital to good sleep, which in turn, can help reduce stress. Sticking to a fixed sleep schedule and making sure that you get 8-9 hrs of shut eye each night, can do wonders to your physical and mental wellbeing. When we sleep, our body and brain get time to repair and heal from within, as well as better process all the impressions gathered during the day, which help us clear our thinking and respond better to stress.
Light exercise: A healthy body harbours a healthy mind. And when the mind is healthy, it can avoid stress altogether or at the least, manage it much better. Alongside eating a balanced diet, some light moderate exercise will help you stay fit. Exercise is known to release dopamine, the reward hormone, which can help you feel better and more satisfied with yourself and your situation. You can also try yoga. Some yoga postures like Surya Namaskar is a full body work out, which can also help tone and lubricate the muscles.
Aromatherapy: The use of oils for healing and treatment of various conditions has been prevalent for many millennia. Essential oils of Clary Sage and Basil can not only help relieve stress, they are also known to boost brain functionality. While Lavender oil can help induce sleep, you can use Rose, Geranium Rose, Bergamot or Jasmine oils to uplift your mood and calm your nerves. Just add a few drops of your favourite oil into a diffuser or mist around your bedroom or work space.
Massage: A good oil massage can do wonders to relieve stress! When done right, a massage can directly remove tension from your muscles, and open the pores, thus helping you relax. If there is no time for a full body massage, get a specialist head massage done with a blend of essential oils like Lavender oil and Olive oil. There are many points on our head which when massaged, can instantly calm our frayed nerves.
Spending time with family/friends: We humans are social animals. Being around people we like, feeling loved and needed is one of our most basic needs. Spending time with our near and dear ones, sharing a laugh with them, playing with them, eating with them, all of these help take our mind off whatever is stressing us. Also, all problems and fears feel bigger in our heads. But once we voice them, discuss them with someone, we can get better perspective and a better grip on the situation.
Herbs/Tea infusions: There are many herbs and other natural ingredients which can effectively help us relieve and manage stress. Green tea and Camomile tea, for instance, are highly anti-oxidant and are known for their calming properties. Herbs such as Ashwagandha and Lemon Balm have been used since ancient times as brain and body boosters and stress relievers. But it’s important to consult your doctor or a qualified practitioner before you take any herbal remedies.
Control of Breath: Conscious, controlled and rhythmic breathing, as practiced in Pranayama, has numerous health benefits. When we are focused on taking deep, long breaths, it can instantly calm us down. It quietens our mind and helps us connect with our inner self. Deep breathing and meditation can help reduce long term effects of stress and help reduce the chronic inflammation and oxidation of cells, caused by it.
While the above advice and tools can help you manage your stress better, its best to consult a doctor if you are unable to control your stress levels or the symptoms become acute. Life is a gift, don’t let stress spoil it.