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Every day life comes at us fast. News reports bombard us with disaster around the clock. Work responsibilities mount and home-life pressures build. When situations like these result in feelings of being overwhelmed or uncertainty on how to deal with the situation, you are experiencing stress. Stress is the body’s way of responding to unexpected events. The body responds to physical and psychological threats or stressors by releasing hormones, primarily adrenalin and cortisol. This is often termed the “fight-or-flight” response. Heart rate and blood pressure increase, additional glucose for energy is released and the body is prepared to meet the challenge. In small amounts this stress reaction can be helpful giving you a needed boost to meet a deadline, for example. But in extended situations stress and anxiety can be detrimental to overall health.
Stress can affect just about every body system. It affects the digestive system resulting in a stomach ache or diarrhea. Cortisol increases appetite leading to weight gain. The immune system can be suppressed by chronic stress opening you up to increased infections and increasing the risk for autoimmune diseases. By-products of cortisol, acting as sedatives, can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and helplessness. This stress-induced depression can result in low sex drive, trouble sleeping, and appetite loss. Chronic stress affects the cardiovascular system by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, risk factors for heart disease or stroke. Researchers estimate that 75% to 90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress related conditions.
How can you control stress? Learning how to deal with stress or to avoid it completely is key to counteracting its negative effects. Learn what events trigger stress in your life and develop a plan to head it off before it starts.
1. Watch your schedule. If you are overstretched, cut activities out of your schedule.
2. Remember you are not perfect and neither is anyone else. Have realistic expectations for yourself and others.
3. Get plenty of sleep. Adequate rest is important for helping the body cope with daily stressors.
4. Learn to relax. Meditation and breathing exercises can help your body respond well to stress and anxiety.
5. Eat well and exercise. Experts agree that regular exercise helps the body cope with stress and counteracts many of its negatives effects.
6. Be conscientious of your mental outlook. If your attitude and outlook tend to be negative, strive to change them by learning to think optimistically.
A number of natural supplements are also available to support the reduction of stress and the results of its impact on the body. Since stress can increase the body’s need for vitamins and minerals consider adding a broad spectrum multivitamin to your diet. St. John’s Wort is one of the most popular herbs in America. Its calming effect helps relieve tension and anxiety as well as mild depression. 5-HTP is an amino acid converted by the brain into serotonin. Increased serotonin levels may positively impact anxiety, mood, appetite and sleep. It may also help alleviate depression. SAM-e is another substance which occurs naturally in the body and is shown to positively affect depression. Valerian, hops, and skullcap are all natural herbal supplements which help with relaxation. Chamomile, Lemon Balm, and Passionflower also fall into this category. Melatonin is a natural hormone necessary for good sleep. Relora, Cortislim, and Relacore, are all brand names for products containing plant extracts designed to counteract the effects of cortisol on the body, particularly weight gain.
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