Every year since 2007, the American Psychological Association has conducted a nationwide survey on the topic of stress. The researchers evaluate stress intensity, common sources, popular management strategies, and relative physical responses. It comes as no surprise that the 2020 survey reflected a season full of challenges, disruption, and widespread impact. As our world shifts into a phase of healing, it is important to recognize, understand, and help those dealing with the acute and long term effects of stress.
Stress begins in the brain in an area called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus signals the nervous system and the kidneys, triggering a release of hormones known as cortisol and adrenaline. This causes immediate physiological changes such as increased heart rate, faster breathing, muscle tension, and alertness. This purpose of this response, commonly referred to as “fight or flight,” is to help the human body respond to life threatening situations.
While stress is an important component of the human survival mechanism, it can also be triggered through other situations such work, finances, grief, relationships, or school. While it is normal to experience stress occasionally, chronic elevation of stress hormones can have negative impacts on the body. Stress has been shown to reduce pain tolerance and increase muscle tension. In addition, long term stress is negatively linked to respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and reproductive issues.
While stress is a natural part of life, the way it is managed can significantly affect how the body responds. Here are a few tips to help cope with stress while maintaining optimal physical and mental well being:
- Aerobic exercise: Research has shown that regular aerobic exercise elevates mood, reduces anxiety, and improves concentration. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, running, or biking.
- Sleep: According to the American Psychological Association, adults who sleep fewer than 8 hours per night report higher stress levels than those who sleep at least 8 hours.
- Relationships: Positive social interaction has been shown to increase the release of the hormone Oxytocin, which helps to naturally reduce anxiety and calm the nervous system.
- Mindfulness: Multiple studies have suggested that meditation improves symptoms of stress-related conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fibromyalgia.
- Music: A study performed on surgical patients indicated that those who listened to self-selected music before, during, and immediately following their operations had reduced blood pressures and increased feelings of calmness during the procedures compared to those who were in silence.
- Deep Breathing: Breathing practice is widely accepted as a non-pharmacological treatment for various stress related disorders including anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
If you have further questions related to stress management techniques, feel free to reach out to the Physical Therapy team at Warm Springs Holistic Health for more information.