What is Stress?
Generally speaking, stress means pressure or strain; and life constantly subjects us to a multitude of pressures. Humans can experience stress on a physical level (ex disease), emotional level (ex grief), or on a psychological level (ex fear). As individuals, we vary in our ability to cope with stress. How you perceive a situation and the state of your general health are the two main factors that determine how you will respond to a stressful event. Take for example your first week back to school after a lengthy summer vacation. When you receive your first assignment, you’re motivated and ambitious; you finish ahead of time and give it 110%. After an exhausting semester, you may feel more inclined to procrastinate and turn in mediocre work. The stressful event is the same, the difference here is your perception and state of well-being.
What is the Stress Response?
The most familiar stress response is what has been coined the ‘fight or flight’ reaction which happens whenever we feel threatened. This stress response signals your adrenal glands to release several stress hormones, usually cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones increase your concentration, reaction time, and temporarily boost your strength. The same hormones also raise your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. After you have dealt with the temporary stress, everything returns to normal. The real problem is with chronic or long term stress. If you repeatedly face challenges and your body continues to produce stress hormones, there is no time to recover. Over time, these hormones build up in the blood and can manifest as a variety of health problems.
What To Do?
There are practical things you can do each and every day to achieve good health and mental well being. Yoga and regular exercise help to balance your mood and thought process. Meditation and time for personal reflection also help with mental wellness. What all of these activities have in common is the ability to produce alpha-waves in the brain. Alpha-waves are associated with a feeling of mental calmness and clarity.
Good quality and quantity of sleep are always important, but more so when under stress. Quality sleep includes a regular sleep schedule in a dark and quiet room. As for quantity, a minimum of 7-8 hours is recommended. Eating a well balanced diet will not only keep you energized, but also help to replace a variety of nutrients lost to stress hormones. Choose a whole food diet, rich in antioxidants, lean proteins, and whole grains. In addition, various natural products are available to help provide the body with additional support: During stressful times, choose a multivitamin with a high potency of B vitamins and minerals in a citrate form for easy absorption.