How Stress Affects Your Body & How You Can Reduce Stress Naturally
Stress affects all of us from time to time. Our fast-paced and demanding society can put a lot of pressure on us, and for many, this pressure creates stress that we deal with on a daily basis.
Stress from work, business, relationships, parenting, health, current world issues and so much more can easily make us feel overwhelmed. It’s important that we learn how to manage and reduce our stress so that we can continue to handle our responsibilities and live a happy, meaningful life.
In this article, we’ll explore what stress is, what causes stress, how it feels, how it affects the body, and how we can manage and reduce our stress.
What Is Stress?
Stress, as defined by the Mental Health Foundation, is “the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure.” Stress is our body’s response to pressure. It is often triggered when we experience something new, unexpected or that threatens our sense of self, or when we feel we have little control over a situation.
We all deal with stress differently, and our ability to cope with stress can depend on many factors, such as our genetics, early events in our life, our personality and our social and economic circumstances.
What Causes Stress?
There are many things that can lead to stress: grief, the loss of a loved one, a divorce or separation, losing a job, money problems, family demands, work, trying to balance your responsibilities.
Even positive life changes can be sources of stress. Things like moving to a bigger house, getting a new job, gaining a job promotion, going on a holiday vacation or hosting a special event can all be sources of stress.
According to a survey, the most common causes of stress for most people are:
- Financial problems
- Personal relationships
- Inconveniences of daily life (misplacing keys, running late, other minor setbacks)
It is important to note that nothing inherently causes us to feel stressed, but stress comes from ourselves and how we choose to relate to the circumstances in our lives. When it feels like there is too much going on or too much to handle, we can allow this to overwhelm us and cause us stress, or we can choose to relax with all of the chaos and find confidence in the fact that we are doing our best.
When we can relax and know we are doing our best, it helps us find peace in the fact that we are doing what we can to manage what is in our control, while also allowing ourselves to accept the things we cannot control. Sometimes something as little as shifting your perception of a situation can make a dramatic difference in whether it causes you stress, or whether it serves as a reminder to relax, do what you can, and not worry about the things you cannot control.
What Are the Signs of Stress?
When you are stressed, you might feel:
These feelings can sometimes produce physical symptoms, which may make you feel even worse. Stress also affects our behavior, and may cause us to act differently. When stressed, you may:
- withdraw from other people
- lash out at people
- be indecisive or inflexible
- have problems getting to sleep or staying asleep
- experience sexual problems
- be tearful
- smoke, drink alcohol, take drugs, or eat food more than usual
Stress can also produce physical symptoms such as:
- heart palpitations
- shallow breathing or hyperventilating
- aches and pains
If stress becomes long-lasting, it may begin to seriously impact your physical and mental health. If overstressed, may notice that your sleep and memory are affected, your eating habits change, you feel less inclined to exercise, or you lose motivation and excitement for life.
Research has also linked long-term stress to numerous health issues, especially gastrointestinal conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or stomach ulcers, as well as conditions like cardiovascular disease.
How Does Stress Effect the Body?
Whenever we encounter stress, our body creates a natural stress response that is designed to help us handle the stressor that we are facing. This stress response starts in the brain. Your hypothalamus releases stress hormones that trigger your body’s “fight or flight” response. This causes your heart to race, your breath rate to increase, and prepares your muscles for action.
This response was designed to protect your body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly. However, when the stress response keeps firing, day after day, it could put your health at serious risk—this is why stress management and stress-reduction practices are so important.
Stress affects your body in the following ways:
Nervous System—The central nervous system (CNS) is in charge of the body’s “fight or flight” response. The hypothalamus, a part of the brain that has a vital role in controlling many bodily functions including the release of hormones from the pituitary gland, initiates the stress response, telling your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones rev up your heartbeat and send blood rushing to the areas that need it most in an emergency, such as your muscles, heart, and other important organs.
Respiratory & Cardiovascular Systems—During the stress response, you begin to breathe faster in an effort to quickly distribute oxygen-rich blood to your body. If you already suffer from a breathing problem like asthma or emphysema, stress can make it more difficult to breathe. Under stress, the heart also pumps faster. Stress hormones cause blood vessels to constrict and divert more oxygen to your muscles, helping you have more strength to take action, but it also raises your blood pressure.
Digestive System—The rush of hormones, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate can also upset your digestive system. Stress can increase stomach acid, which makes you much more likely to have heartburn or acid reflux. Stress can also increase your risk of getting ulcers or can cause existing ulcers to act up—though it doesn’t cause ulcers itself (a bacterium called H. pylori often does). Stress can also affect the way food moves through your body, leading to upset stomach, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.
Muscular System—When stressed, your muscles tense up to protect themselves from injury. They tend to release again once you relax, but if you’re constantly under stress, then your muscles are likely to stay tensed. Tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body aches.
Sexuality & Reproductive System—Stress is taxing on both the body and mind. People under constant stress often lose their desire for sex. Short-term stress can cause men to produce more of the male hormone testosterone, but if prolonged, stress can cause a man’s testosterone levels to drop. This can interfere with sperm production and cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. For women, stress can affect the menstrual cycle and can lead to irregular, heavier, or more painful periods. Chronic stress can also magnify the physical symptoms of menopause.
Immune System—Stress stimulates the immune system, which can have a positive effect for immediate situations, such as helping to avoid infections and heal wounds. Over time, however, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to foreign invaders. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and the common cold, as well as other infections.
Ways to Manage & Reduce Stress
Stress, especially chronic stress, can have a very negative impact on your health. It is important that we learn how to manage and reduce our stress in order to stay physically and psychologically well.
- Recognize When Stress Is a Problem
It’s important to be able to connect the physical and emotional signs you are experiencing to the pressures that you are faced with. Pay attention to physical warning signs such as tense muscles, tiredness, headaches or migraines.
Consider what it is that is causing your stress. It can be helpful to sort your causes of stress into three categories—issues with a practical solution, things that will get better with time, and things you can't do anything about. Take control by taking small steps towards the things you can improve, and accepting and relaxing with the things that you cannot.
Make a plan to address the things you can change. This could involve prioritizing your essential responsibilities and commitments, setting yourself realistic, making a list of reasonable and actionable goals, and making a schedule to manage your time. Practice getting rid of things that are not essential and saying no to the things that you cannot take on—this will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Without realizing it, most people breathe short and shallow breaths into their upper diaphragm. This limits their oxygen supply and also produces a more anxious mental state. When we are stressed, we are almost always breathing in this rapid, shallow way. A great way to reduce your stress naturally is by practicing deep breathing.
Simply take a moment to pause, slow down, and intentionally take slow, deep, and relaxed breaths. Do this for several minutes each day, and also use it as a method for calming your stress when you are experiencing it. You can even practice deep breathing while being active or taking care of your responsibilities.
Meditation is an excellent way to reduce stress. Having a regular meditation practice can help you stay more calm and centered in your daily life, can make you less reactive to stressful situations, can help you better recognize triggers of stress, and can help you change your perspective around what causes you stress.
There are many different forms of meditation practice, but one of the most common is mindfulness meditation. To practice:
- Simply sit down in a chair or on a cushion
- Close your eyes
- Observe the flow of air through your nostrils as you breathe in and out
- Keep your attention only on your inhale and exhale and the sensation of air moving through your nostrils
- If your mind wanders or you become distracted by thought, simply recognize you got distracted, and kindly bring your attention back to your breathing.
The practice is that simple. We simply sit and observe our breath, and whenever we get distracted, we notice it and kindly come back to our breathing. In doing so, we are training ourselves to stay present to what we are observing, and we are changing the habit of distraction to one of attentiveness. This naturally calms our minds, helps us relax, and helps us experience life in the present more fully.
It may seem simple, challenging, or even boring, but learn to find relaxation in these moments of silence and stillness, and notice that with regular practice, your well-being and peace of mind continues to expand.
Regular exercise is an excellent way to manage and reduce stress. Not only does the exertion of energy help you feel good, it can drastically improve your health and well-being. Exercise helps to increase the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.
It also reduces the negative effects of stress. Exercise can provide stress relief for your body while imitating the effects of stress, such as the flight or fight response, and helping your body and its systems practice working together through those effects.
Exercise can also act as meditation in motion. It is easy to forget the irritations and problems of the day when we are fully engaged in any physical activity. Daily movements and physical activity can help you shed your daily tensions. You may discover that focusing on a single physical task, and the resulting energy and optimism that you experience, can help you stay calm, clear and focused in everything you do.
Regular exercise can also increase self-confidence, improve your mood, help you relax, and lower symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. All of these benefits of exercise can ease your stress levels and help you have more control over your life.
Sleep is a powerful stress reducer. Having a regular sleep routine calms and restores the body, improves concentration, regulates mood, and sharpens judgment and decision-making. You are much better able to cope with stress and solve problems when you're well-rested.
You can handle stress much better when you are as healthy as possible, so eating nutritiously is a great defense against stress. According to Matthew J. Kuchan, Ph. D., a senior research scientist “Eating a healthy diet can reduce the negative effects of stress on your body. A healthy diet builds a solid, more enduring foundation for your body by reducing oxidation and inflammation and by helping to reduce weight gain."
Take A Break
Something as simple as taking a break can be a great remedy for stress. While it isn’t always possible to do so, it is great to take a break when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. This can be something as simple as a 5-minute break, a break for a day, or even taking a few days or a week depending on your circumstances. Give yourself a break if you are stressed, it can make a world of difference.
Make Time for Hobbies
Sometimes we get too caught up in our daily routines and responsibilities, and begin to take life a little too seriously. We forget to enjoy the things that bring us joy and make life worth living. Make time for the things that bring you happiness. Creating some art, playing a sport, going for a walk, swimming at the beach, spending time with loved ones—whatever your hobby is, make time for it when you can to spark joy in your life. This can help you feel better and also help you better manage your stress.
Sometimes we just need to get out of the city and take a break from our regular routines to spend a day in Nature. In Japan, this is actually prescribed as an effective remedy for stress, anxiety, depression and other mental and emotional ails.
The practice is known in Japan as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. It is a practice of simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
We all know how good being in nature can make us feel. The sounds of the forest, the scent of the trees, the sunlight playing through the leaves, the fresh, clean air — these things give us a sense of comfort, they ease our stress and worry, and they help us to relax and to think more clearly. Being in nature can restore our mood, give us back our energy and vitality, refresh and rejuvenate us.
Build Supportive Relationships
Close friends or family can offer help and practical advice that can support you in managing your stress. Joining a club or a course can help to expand your social network and encourage you to do something different. Activities like volunteering can change your perspective and can also have a beneficial impact on your mood.
- Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Try to keep things in perspective and don't be too hard on yourself. Look for things in your life that are positive and write down things that make you feel grateful. Intentionally focusing on what you appreciate and feeling the emotions of gratitude and joy that comes from this can significantly improve your feelings of well-being and can reduce your stress.
Best Zuma Supplements for Reducing Stress
L-Theanine acts as a precursor to dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the second largest brain chemical by volume and plays a vital role by inhibiting the brain’s ability to access adrenaline.
L-Theanine also prevents the body from elevating cortisol levels and stimulates relaxing alpha waves in your brain, allowing for reduced stress, better focus during the day, and better recovery while you sleep at night.
Our Liposomal Curcumin Tonic is a proprietary formula that uses the most potent anti-inflammatory natural ingredients with a liposomal delivery system to improve bioavailability. Curcumin, the active ingredient in Turmeric Root, has been researched in over 10,000 clinical studies and is one of the most beneficial natural compounds for health and longevity. Curcumin been linked to treating anxiety, depression, and more due to its ability to boost serotonin and dopamine levels.
Amino acids are known precursors for specific neurotransmitters. Studies on amino acids show that they may influence neurotransmitters involved in stress and anxiety, and amino acids have often been used as a nutritional supplement for treating anxiety, depression and other psychological conditions.
Trace minerals, also called micro minerals, are essential minerals that the human body must get from food. Unfortunately, due to poor agricultural practices, many of our soils are now depleted in minerals, and we are no longer receiving the nutrition from food that our ancestors once did. For this reason, it is recommended to supplement with trace minerals to ensure one receives these extremely important nutrients. When the body is deficient in minerals it is much more prone to stress, and also takes longer to recover from stress. Enhancing your nutrition is a great way to better manage your stress levels.
Stress affects everyone. Some people deal with stress more than others, and some even experience stress on a daily basis. When we are stressed, our body releases hormones that causes a specific response. This response is intended to help us get through stressful situations, but if we experience stress frequently, it can begin to impair our health and well-being.
It is important that we learn to manage and reduce our stress whenever possible. There are numerous physical and psychological factors that can influence our stress levels. If you are experiencing stress, following the tips in this article can make a great difference in your mental health and well-being. Don’t let yourself be a victim of stress. There are things in your control that can help you reduce stress and live a more happy, fulfilling, and stress-free life.