How Stress Affects Our Wellness

Stress can affect us in more ways than one. It can affect us mentally, physically, spiritually, and biologically. Stress likes to creep itself into our lives. We have all experienced stress in one way or another. A few examples can be our family, money, work, school, friends, or our health. We have all found ourselves in a chaotic state of mind while under stress. We have all experienced the physical toll it can take on our bodies, and the psychological toll it can take on our mental wellness. One of the most important things we can do to take care of ourselves is to manage stress, even if you can’t control the source of it.

The primary stress hormone is called Cortisol. Cortisol biologically runs through us in many ways. Stress is a part of our make-up and sometimes it isn’t a bad thing. This can motivate us, keep us alert, and challenge us. However, more times than most, it can negatively affect our bodies, our brains, and our wellbeing. It can make us sick, and it can force us to experience depression or anxiety. A lot of the physical affects can include high blood pressure, chest pains, lack of sleep, so on and so forth. A lot of negativities happening there relating to stress and I can guarantee we have all experienced this at some point, if not right now as you’re reading this.

The problem is not the stress, and I cannot stress that enough (play on words). The problem is how YOU respond to it and manage it. It’s hard not to get overwhelmed, especially in today’s world. It is EXTREMELY important that you take care of yourself by managing your stress. You must set some time aside to let yourself unwind, and to let yourself breathe and clear your head. Focus on your breathing, focus on the quietness. Then, once your headspace has cleared up a bit, you are able to organize and manage the stress that is causing you to be unwell. It isn’t the easiest task, and it takes practice, but here are some ways to manage your stress:

  1. Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. Working out is extremely beneficial because of your body’s hormones. Cortisol is a hormone. Our basic stress response, because of Cortisol, is similar to “fight or flight”. Our bodies believe we are facing a threat or immediate danger. Cortisol is released and it can raise our blood pressure and heart rate. The reason for this is because it is giving our body the energy to “fight”. A way to free ourselves from this is to EXERCISE and MOVE our bodies. When we exercise, especially while stressed, we are putting these hormones to their biological use. We are using these hormones as they are meant to be used, and exercising will drop these Cortisol (stress) levels. Not only that, but exercising is so important to our wellbeing in general. That is why it is so important to move.
  • In relation to exercise, relaxing our bodies and muscles are extremely important as well. When we are stressed, our muscles tend to tense up, and we can become tight and uncomfortable. Being tight and uncomfortable doesn’t help the levels of stress you are under; it is only making things more difficult. Even if you don’t notice. You can help loosen up your muscles by long stretching, yoga, a hot shower, or a massage. Feeling more relaxed physically can make you more comfortable in your body, giving you more clarity in your mind.
  • Breathe… One of the most useful tactics I use while under stress (apart from exercising) is breathing. Lay down flat on your back, or sit up comfortably, close your eyes, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Long deep breaths. Sometimes I will turn all the lights off, play some slow music, and just do some deep breathing. Set an alarm for 8-10 minutes and just escape for a little. Give yourself time to breathe and clear your head.

Now all of this does take practice, and the hardest part is knowing when to utilize these tactics when you feel stressed. In my opinion, use these constantly. Even when you aren’t stressed. Use these on a daily basis, and you may even notice yourself becoming less stressed about little things. You may notice yourself approaching stressful situations differently. You may notice that you can better manage your stress, or you can sleep better at night, or you’re eating better, or you feel relaxed.  We have all fallen victims to stress, but we don’t have to. Becoming overwhelmed is just too easy sometimes, that is why it is up to us to analyze this stress, manage it, and overcome it. The stress is not the problem, how we control stress…is.

-UDC Wellness Expert, Kate Curtis

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