The effects of stress on physical and emotional well-being are tremendous.
Stress affects everything, from our immunity to mental stability to energy production to sex and relationships. If prolonged stress occurs, it can negatively affect all of the systems in our body.
When we experience a sudden stress stimulus, the result is an increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, decreased digestion and increased blood glucose for energy.
For example, when I got to work this morning, I realized that I forgot to unplug my hair-straightening iron. Cue my fears of burning my apartment building down — and cue my stress response. My heart rate sped up immediately, my breathing became short and shallow as I reviewed the timeline of the morning. My digestion of my oatmeal came to a halt, and I had a sudden burst of energy as I hightailed it back home to unplug the iron.
This system is known as the sympathetic nervous system, also known as our fight-or-flight response. It’s our body’s natural reaction to stressful situations and meant to kick in to help us avoid danger. However, if we remain in a constant state of fight or flight, we ultimately suffer from decreased energy levels, decreased immune response and a weakened memory.
Stress is unavoidable. How we deal with stress, however, can lessen its truly problematic effects.
Here are 5 easy ways to get started:
1. Meditation: Five minutes per day — or even one minute — is a good place to start to shift our body into relaxation mode.
2. Breathe: Find a quiet place, close your eyes and focus on how the breath moves in and out through your nose. Take five really deep breaths, and prolong the exhalation. On the exhalation, imagine the negative thoughts leaving your body and attempt to center yourself.
3. Diet: Aim for whole foods, plant-based, and low in sugar. Try cutting the alcohol, and limit caffeine intake for a few days and take note of the effects.
4. Exercise: The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week to optimize cardiovascular health. You can try adding in yoga, dance, boxing or anything that gets you moving.
5. Sleep: Shoot for seven to eight hours per night. Sleep is when our body repairs and restores itself, so it is important to get enough to allow ourselves to rejuvenate.