Prior to learning ways to manage stress, particularly harmful stress, it is important to understand what stress is.
Stress is a reaction to any demanding or threatening
stimulus that interrupts our physical and/or mental balance. It can trigger a “fight-or-flight”
response that causes hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to surge
throughout the body. It is part of life.
Stress is a powerful influence on health and fitness, and accounts for more than 75 percent of doctor visits. Sources of stress include: your job, relationships, illnesses, noise, heat or cold, finances, physical pain or discomfort, poor nutrition, or weather.
Stress is cumulative over days, weeks or months. A vicious cycle may develop such as an inability to sleep because of any of the above factors. Unfortunately, the lack of sleep is not only a stressor, it is also a symptom of stress. The combination reduces the ability to recover from daily stressors in our lives. Stress may cause headaches, which are stressful in themselves.
People who are chronically stressed are frequently ill or have other health problems; and because they tend to push themselves, they maintain even higher levels of stress.
There are positive stressors such as going off to college, moving, starting a new job, purchasing or building a home, holidays, or getting married.
There are three types of stress: physical, chemical, and mental-emotional.
Physical stresses are strains or exertions on the body such as exercise or pain.
Stress may also be caused by chemicals in the environment that can affect your immune system, heart rate, and breathing. Too much sugar, a vitamin deficiency, caffeine or side effects from drugs are also forms of chemical stress.
Mental and emotional stress affects your learning, perception, and decision making. The emotional state involves things such as pain, or moods (anxiety or depression), and decreased motivation. Stress may be caused by internal factors such as worry, negative self-talk and thinking.
Stress can increase your heart rate, cause your stomach to feel knotted up, lose energy, create sensitivity to light, induce asthma and allergies, reduce sex drive, lead to heart disease, create memory and digestive problems, impair judgment, and increase depression. Stress has been linked to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcers.
Signs of stress may include cold or sweaty hands, heartburn, diarrhea, increase or decrease in appetite, feelings of being overwhelmed, suicidal thoughts, nightmares and disturbing dreams, nervousness, fidgeting, irritability, reduced productivity, constant fatigue, erectile dysfunction, and increased substance abuse.
High cortisol levels encourage the body to burn more sugar than fat, so belly fat tends to become an issue for overly-stressed individuals.
Not all stress is bad; but it is stress none-the-less. In an emergency, stress can be life-saving – giving you a surge of strength, speed, energy, and focus. However, chronic stress can occur when the levels of cortisol and adrenaline do not return to a normal state, and every system of the body can be adversely affected if these levels are maintained.
When the body is stressed, it releases cortisol and adrenaline from the adrenal glands. Unless these chemicals are reduced, high and prolonged levels can become dangerous.
Many people whose adrenals are over-worked experience sugar and caffeine cravings, and may fall asleep easily but wake in the middle of the night with difficulty getting back to sleep.
Anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants don’t address the root of the problems; therefore, the real culprit causing the problem (stress) goes untreated.
The good news is that there are ways of coping with stress before it becomes chronic and destructive. It is important to consider ways to manage stress such as those noted below.
You can use these suggestions to relieve stress. There is such a wonderful variety that it is easy to incorporate them into your lifestyle.
Practice Calming Your Mind With Muse
The Headspace meditation and mindfulness app for your phone or online helps to reduce stress and improve sleep. Use exercises specifically tailored to help improve your mind when Running or Cycling, as well as for sports-related topics like Motivation or Rehab.