Managing Stress in Everyday Life
September 02, 2019 at 11:59 AM
We all know how we feel after a long hard day on the job dealing with endless tasks and pending deadlines, meetings and multitasking, and what seems to be an ever-increasing workload. Then we head home, sometimes to a grumpy partner, hyperactive children or pets, and personal commitments and household chores. Besides the mental and emotional exhaustion from all these activities, your body also starts to show the signs. Headaches, neck and shoulder tension, sore back, tight hips, cramped fingers and aching feet are just a few of the physical symptoms related to stress. Whether it’s sitting in rush-hour traffic or at the computer all day, or manual labour and working on your feet all day, these physical stress symptoms start to take a toll.
When we talk about being stressed what we generally mean is the way we feel mentally, physically and emotionally in response to external stimuli of some kind. It could be a big day of digging holes at work or it could simply be that the kids are home sick and you have to take time off work, leading to a backlog of tasks when you get back to the office. Either way, our bodies have hardwired responses to threats (or perceived threats) from our primitive caveman or cavewoman days. In those days when the saber tooth tiger was coming after you, you needed to either run from it or prepare to fight or defend yourself. The term ‘fight or flight’ was born in reference to the immediate stress response that occurs when danger is present. When this happens, adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) are released into the bloodstream and glucose is released into the muscles to allow for extra strength. This is our sympathetic nervous system going into overdrive to help save our lives.
The problem is that our sympathetic nervous system is now being activated by smaller and smaller stimuli due to our modern bodies and minds being over stimulated. It’s not just the big things like saber toothed tigers. Little things like spilling your tea on your shirt, getting cut-off in traffic, or your boss changing your project at the last minute can all add to our ever growing stress response. As a result, when our bodies go into red alert much more easily, these stressors can potentially lead to an increased risk of physical and mental health issues.
Stress is important for survival but if our bodies keep going into a stressed state over these small-scale stimuli, then it’s our bodies’ failure to cope, not the stimulus itself, which is the issue.
So what can you do to help gain control back and increase your body’s resilience to stress?
The best course of action is a combination of both physical and mental treatments. Below are some strategies that can help alleviate stress:
1. Exercise - Exercise reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators. Almost any type of exercise will help.
- If you have a sedentary job move every 30 mins. Work half the day standing up if you can (this is becoming easier thanks to sit-to-stand desks such as this one). Go outside for a walk at lunch time.
- Join a Pilates class, go for a walk, or hit the gym.
2. Unplug - A 2018 Newshub article found that the average New Zealander will spend 18 hours a week on their computer or phone. Digital detoxes, as they are sometimes called, can help reduce stress levels and encourage your body and brain to unwind, even short bursts such as putting your phone away during meals or on airplane mode while you sleep. Holidays are a great time to set your emails on out-of-office and refrain from checking your phone, which studies have found that we do an average of 80 times a day.
3. Practice Mindfulness or Yoga - Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines physical poses, controlled breathing, and relaxation or meditation. It has been found to help reduce stress and lower both blood pressure and heart rate. Mindfulness is a practice of intentional focus on the present moment and is often incorporated into other practices, such as yoga or meditation. Research has found that health benefits include reduced stress, improved mood, reduced pain, and improved brain function. To learn more about Mindfulness, click here.
4. Supplement with Vitamins and Herbs - Studies have shown that certain vitamins and herbal supplements offer promise when it comes to helping your body cope with the harmful effects of stress. Some supplements contain herbs that act as adaptogens - natural substances that can help your body "adapt" to stress as well as function better.
The top 3 vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements for stress reduction are:
- Vitamin B - Lack of energy and fatigue can contribute to stress. B vitamins, eight in total, have been proven to keep energy levels high as well as improve cognitive performance. Clinical data suggests that supplementing with a vitamin B complex can help keep your stress low and energy high.
- Magnesium - Magnesium deficiency is associated with high levels of anxiety and stress. This essential mineral increases the effects of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps relaxation and sleep. Low levels of GABA in the body can make it difficult to relax so magnesium plays a key role in regulating the body’s stress-response system.
- Adaptogenic herbs - Adaptogens are herbs that can help your body “adapt” to the stresses of life. These herbs assist our bodies in recovering from short- and long-term mental, physical or emotional stress. Some can also help boost your immunity and overall well-being. Research shows adaptogens can combat fatigue, enhance cognition, promote feelings of calm and ease depression and anxiety.
5. Aromatherapy - Aromatherapy is a treatment that uses scents, typically plant-based, to engage the brain’s limbic system, which deals with emotions and memory, and regulates our response to emotional stimuli. Aromatherapy has been found to help reduce stress by decreasing levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone.”
To learn more about how Auckland Physiotherapy can recommend the right supplements or aromatherapy aids, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darryl Reid is a Senior Physiotherapist, specialising in recurring spinal pains, sports injuries and chronic pain.