With all of life’s demands, challenges, changes and expectations you’re confronted with on a daily basis, stress has become an inevitable part of life. While some stress is OK, even healthy in a way that can motivate change and growth, it becomes an issue when the stress experienced turns chronic or long lasting, with effects on both our physical and mental health.
What exactly is stress?
Although we all experience stress differently, when we use the term stress, it sums up feelings of anxiety and tension associated with being under pressure, or having difficulty coping with the demands placed on your shoulders. Our bodies are designed to cope with stress, what we experience as stress is often the reaction or response to the demands placed on us.
What causes stress?
Although it is personal to each person experiencing it, stress is a kind of strain on the body in response to a triggering agent called a ‘stressor’.
The Australian Psychological Science Association conducted a wellbeing survey in 2015 and found the top 5 causes of stress in Australia include:
- Personal Finances
- Family Issues
- Personal Health
- Trying to manage a healthy lifestyle
- Issues with the health of others
Stress signals to look out for
As stress can affect the relationship we have with between our mind-body, we have 3 categories of signs to look out for:
- Tension in the shoulders and neck
- Clenched jaw or teeth grinding
- Weight gain, especially around the abdomen
- Mood swings
- Inability to relax
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Unhealthy Eating Habits: Eat more or less than usual
- Unhealthy Sleeping Habits: Sleeping more or less than usual
- Decreased energy levels
There is hope.
There are a lot of things you can do to combat stress naturally. You may not be able to get rid of stress completely with the ebb and flow of life but instead, find ways to better manage it, minimizing the toll it may take.
6 Tips to manage and minimise your stress:
1. Exercise: There are clear physical benefits to exercise such as improved heart health, weight loss, etc, but movement has mental health benefits also. Exercise produces endorphins – chemicals that make you feel good, decreasing tension, improving mood and sleep, leading to overall reduced stress.
2. Meditate: Regular meditation helps improve emotional reactivity – the way you respond to stress, giving it the capacity to lower the hormone cortisol released when we are feeling the tension. Try out the Apps Calm, Headspace or Waking Up for guidance on how to start a consistent practice.
3. Experiment with Aromatherapy: Lavender essential oil has specifically been found to improve mood and calm down your nervous system, alleviating stress. This is due to the olfactory nerve, which travels from your nose to brain, giving you your sense of smell. That nerve sends signals to parts of the brain that affect your emotions and mood (as well as memory). Some essential oils to try include Ylang Ylang, Clary Sage, Bergamot or Frankincense.
4. Yoga: Yoga has been used in India as a form of mind-body medicine for nearly 4000 years. While yoga is great for the body, it is even more beneficial for your mind as it moderates the nervous system, balances hormones and regulates nerve impulses. Three factors that can reduce stress levels bringing you back to a calmer state.
5. Tea over Caffeine: The act of sipping a hot cup of tea sounds relaxing as it is, with studies that have found black tea and green tea to lower cortisol levels. Find tea mixes with herbs like chamomile or lavender and that will add stress-relieving properties.
6. Take a step back. When stress overwhelms us, our body responds by placing us into flight or fight mode. If experienced long-term, this takes a toll on the body. Sometimes it’s difficult to know how to respond in ways that are healthy. Thus, by taking a step back, we are able to give ourselves room to reflect and be still. To come back to a normal state of peace and hear what it is that we need.
7. Try Adaptogens: Adaptogens are a herbal supplement which are named after their ability to help you adapt to stress. Supporting the adrenal gland, these are the glands that produce and release the stress hormone, cortisol. Some effective adaptogens include Ashwaganda and Asian Ginseng. Be sure to always seek medical advice before taking supplements to understand its full effect on your body.
Stress is a reality in which we will face now and continue to. The best defence against stress is taking a holistic approach that combines several of these strategies in order to feel your best.