I once read a figure that stated that 99% of all disease is related to stress. Now I am not sure how accurate that statistic is, but I think the true number is closer to that than we would like to imagine. The reality is stress is not just something that makes you uptight, anxious and even depressed, but it directly impacts upon your health in a very negative way.
In the modern-day Western world stress has become an unavoidable part of life, or so it seems. Everyone is working longer and harder than ever before, worrying about finances, relationships, their body and health, their friends, their family and upcoming deadlines. We all push ourselves harder and harder in the hope of being able to keep up this crazy balancing act, whilst simultaneously hoping to make it look effortless and make everyone else wonder ‘how we do it?’. It’s just crazy.
Back when we were just cavemen and women roaming the Earth, stress was designed to give us a burst of adrenaline every now and again when we needed it, for example if we were getting chased by a bear, so that we could get away. Then stress levels would return to normal and life would go on. Nowadays many of us live in a state of constant stress, our bodies never get the chance to relax. And this is bad for our health.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to sleeping problems such as insomnia, weight gain particularly around the abdomen, depression, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, poor digestion, heart disease, inflammation in the body, oxidation (oxidation leads to cell damage, hence ageing) and is even linked to cancer. The reality is a body that is too stressed is not a healthy body. If you think you might be too stressed, or even know that you are, take this great Mind Body Green questionnaire to find out.
So, stress is not good, it causes disease, but how can you decrease your stress levels and in turn improve your own health? Here are a few ideas that are natural ways to reduce stress and its effects on your body:
- Yoga – this would be my number one. Anyone who has ever experience post-yoga relaxation will attest to this. Yoga is a powerful stress-reducing exercise which combined with deep breathing and meditation helps to reduce not only stress, but feelings of anxiety, tightness in neck, shoulders and back and improves your mood. It is simple and calming, so either try a few simple poses at home or find a studio near you where an instructor can guide you to a more relaxed state.
- Meditation/Deep Breathing – if you don’t have time for a full yoga class or you don’t know where to begin, then meditation is the key. Just find a quiet spot, sit down, close your eyes and breathe in and out slowly and deeply, feeling the breath in your stomach, not just your chest. Deep breathing is a pathological antidote to stress and even just a few deep breaths can relieve feelings of stress and anxiety. So next time you are feeling stressed, no matter where you are, take a few slow, deep breaths and feel the difference.
- Sleep – getting enough sleep can be difficult when you are busy and stressed, as stress often causes sleeping problems, but the paradox is that when you sleep your body processes and eliminates excess stress hormones, so the more quality sleep you have the less stress you have. To get a good nights sleep try creating a routine. Turn off your electronic devices, take a bath, sip on a chamomile tea, do a few minutes meditation and then slip into bed calm and relaxed for a nice slumber. Also, try a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow to aid sleep. Everyone is different, but between 7-9 hours every night is ideal.
- Take a Bath (in epsom salts) – taking a bath is a great way to relax sore, uptight muscles and reduce stress. Add epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) and you will be adding extra benefits, as magnesium helps calm your body and repairs muscles, plus is an essential mineral for good health.
- Take a walk (outside) – getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine and taking a stroll is a great way to reduce stress. Like all exercise, walking reduces stress levels and gives you time to think. Walk with a friend and you can have a little vent if need be, and they can do the same. Plus, the vitamin D from the sun will improve your mood and your health in general.
- Read up: for more ideas on how to reduce stress, check out this article, or just go to Mind Body Green where you will find a hundred million great ideas for dealing with stress.
Keep stress in mind as we head into the crazy festive season. You might have a to-do list a mile long, but don’t stress and take time to care for yourself.
Keep healthy, Erica xx