There’s no doubt that the current social, political and economic climate is taking a toll on Americans’ stress levels. We can watch the news for just five minutes, and we’re be left feeling uncertain about what will happen next and how it will affect us. Combine this with our own personal pressures, responsibilities and schedules, and it’s no wonder we’re anxious!
Although short-term stress can actually help enhance performance and productivity, long-term stress can lead to numerous health problems. In fact, the six leading causes of death in our country – heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide – as well as immune deficiency, memory loss and obesity, have all been linked to stress.
We may not have control over the many stress factors in our lives, but we can control how we react to them. Negative thinking increases stress on the adrenal gland, which in turn increases the release of Cortisol. This hormone has a negative impact on the body, resulting in high blood pressure and reduced immune response. Conversely, happiness and gratitude trigger the release of endorphins, our bodies’ natural pain and stress fighters.
In addition to thinking positively (which can be easier said than done), consider taking these steps to arm your body against the negative effects of stress:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. We should eat when we’re stressed—it’s our bodies’ natural reaction to want to store calories to face whatever challenge is causing the stress in the first place. The key is to eat what our bodies really need. Junk food puts stress on the body. Why add physical stress to a system already dealing with emotional and mental stress? Eating nutrient-rich, whole foods and avoiding excess starchy carbs, sugars, alcohol and caffeine will keep your immune system strong and your blood sugar balanced so you can withstand the daily stress thrown your way. Super foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, fish and whole grains are packed with stress-fighting and mood-boosting nutrients like folic acid, B vitamins, omega-3 fats and magnesium.
- Exercise. Physical activity and stress relief go hand in hand. Not only does exercise release endorphins, but it also gets your mind off everyday problems and redirects it to the activity at hand. Getting your lymphatic system moving also aids in detoxification and immunity.
- Sleep it off. Many people don’t get the minimum amount of sleep they need each day. Not only does it decrease productivity and contribute to weight gain, but it also keeps your immune system from combating stress. You might consider reducing your caffeine and sugar intake to encourage a better night’s sleep.
- Take time to unwind. Many people rely on practices such as prayer, meditation or yoga to help wipe away the day’s stress. Even just taking a few deep breaths or doing a few quick stretches can sometimes make a difference. For me, taking a relaxing walk outdoors or getting a soothing massage can often do the trick.
- Acupuncture and Massage. As millions will attest, acupuncture encourages the natural functioning and healing of the body. Massage therapy is also an effective way to relieve the tension that can contribute to disease and illness.
- Try natural remedies. Several herbs, amino acids and supplements can help your body release endorphins and fight stress. Examples include valerian, skullcap, L-theanine, Gaba and L-Tryptophan. Visit your local health food store or homeopathic pharmacy, or contact me for suggestions.
There’s no denying that life is crazy and stressful, so go do something to de-stress today…your immune system will thank you!