Stress--and the effects that it wreaks on our bodies--is often underexaggerated and oversimplified. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2010 concluded that a whopping 44% of Americans reported experiencing higher stress levels than they did five years ago. The list of causes for this increase goes on and on, with everything from higher job expectations to lower number of days off and "rest" days to recuperate. But stress (a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances) comes from more than the emotional and mental pressures that we face on a day to day basis.
Our body reacts to stress on an environmental and physical level, too. Factors such as weather, light, loud noises, crowds, injuries, and even "jet lag" are all examples of environmental or physical stressors, and all of them impact your body. Even if you don't know it. Our bodies are constantly dealing with stress and learning to adapt to handle it.
This is where our adrenal glands come in. Made up of two parts (the adrenal cortex (outer) and adrenal medulla (inner)), these glands sit on top of your kidneys and are responsible for the production of hormones such as cortisol, aldosterone and adrenaline. These hormones help your body prepare for and tackle whatever obstacles it faces, whether it be the pressure of a long to do list, or the fear of a life or death situation.
But what happens when the stress you are experiencing never stops? If your adrenal glands are overly stimulated for far too long, they can begin to weaken. This is called adrenal fatigue, and can have lasting negative effects on your body and energy cycle. Products such as Mt. Angel Vitamins' Adrenal Support can support the adrenal glands in their response to stress, but the source of the stress itself can only be alleviated through lifestyle changes and healthy habits. And since stress is present in so many different ways in our lives, it is important that we embrace ways to keep our bodies and minds relaxed and in check.
Are you feeling the stress of a hefty to do list, relationship strain, or even a distracting environment? Here are four ways to regain that sense of tranquility in the moment.
1. As you are feeling stressed, practice deep breathing.
No, we are not implying that you need to roll out your yoga mat, cross your legs and meditate on your mantra in order to practice deep breathing (though those things may definitely help). Put what you are working on down, or simply take a step back in your mind from the 'stressor' at hand. Focus on taking long, deep breaths. Count to 3-5 seconds with each inhale in, and with each exhale out. Visualize filling your lungs completely with air slowly, and feel your chest expand. This increase in oxygen to your brain stimulates your nervous system and promotes feelings of calmness and relaxation.
2. If you can, physically step back from the situation and take a walk.
If you are in a place where it is safe to walk away for a little bit, do so. Take a walk around the block. If you are at work and you feel constantly stressed, don't take your lunches and breaks at your desk. Use that time to walk away from the situation, get some fresh air, and get a little exercise too. Exercise--even as simple as walking--releases those feel-good endorphins and reduces stress hormones.
3. Make a list or just write it down.
Are you feeling overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time to do it? Write it all down. Make a list of every task you have on your plate, get them all on paper, and then go back and number each one in terms of priority. Not only does this help you visualize what the priorities really are, but it also keeps you from having to remember it all. Or, maybe you are feeling frustrated with an individual who consistently stresses you out. Write them a letter, get it all on paper, and then throw it away. Really. One of my favorite things to do when I am feeling frustrated with someone is to write an email venting all of my emotions, but put no address in the "To" line. When I am done, I simply delete the draft. I don't have to worry about wording my frustrations nicely, but I also don't have to worry about accidentally sending the email and adding to the tension. It is a win-win!
4. Look at the big picture.
The dog is barking, the dishwasher is broken, there are bills to pay, and your boss needs 218349020239 things done by noon. All that may make it seem like your world is on fire and spiraling downward. If you don't even know where to start and you can feel your heart starting to race, look at each individual "need" and ask yourself its importance. Does it affect my safety? Does it dictate life or death? And will I look back a year from now at this issue and think it was as big of a problem as I do now? Unless you are currently hanging off the ledge of a 900ft cliff over a raging river of hungry crocodiles (in that case, you have every right to stress), these problems probably aren't worth the negative effects that stressing over them will do to your body. Take a deep breath. Pick the most important issue. And tackle that one first. Your body will thank you.