Stress is becoming more and more common in modern society but what does this word even mean? There are a myriad of different stresses and whilst depression and anxiety are becoming more acknowledged and further diagnosed as a mental health disorder, many find themselves saying daily ‘I’m just feeling so stressed”. As a general rule stress in this context refers to a feeling of being under mental or emotional pressure or strain, but how much is too much and can stress be a good thing?
Stress can be loosely put into two camps. Eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress) (As coined by a Canadian biochemist Hans Selye of McGill University in Montreal in 1936). Of course stress is a part of our lives and can actually help us in many ways. It is linked to our evolutionary ‘fight or flight’ reflex which, whilst we do admittedly no longer have to fight wild animals for resources on a daily basis, may still have already saved your life on a number of occasions. When this response is triggered the Hypothalamus (a small area of your brain) responds causing the adrenal gland to release a hormone called ‘cortisol’ which is sometimes referred to as the ‘stress hormone’. As the reflex is triggered, the body releases cortisol and prepares to use this to aid it in either the ‘fight’ or the ‘flight’. The reason this can cause problems for so many people, is that whilst your body is in this state, glucose levels rise and so do the levels of substances that help your body repair damaged systems. As your body focuses on these essential areas for fight or flight, non-essential systems get shut down. Your body essentially needs the threat to be over before the hormone levels can return to normal. If they don’t, then the excess cortisol can start wreaking havoc on your bodies systems and increase glucose levels in the bloodstream, contributing to illnesses such as heart attacks, strokes, digestive problems and depression. Elevated cortisol levels can also inhibit your memory and your ability to learn as well as inhibiting your immune responses and it can even lower your bone density or cause you to gain weight. With stress so prevalent in modern society some people, sometimes without even realising it, can be living in a constant state of heightened arousal with your fight or flight reflex constantly ‘turned on’.
How can I lower my stress levels?
There are a few simple ways you can help lower your stress levels and by doing so help to guard yourself against the wealth of problems and illnesses above. The more life gets on top of us the easier it is to let self-care be the first thing to go. Those with anxiety and depression may even believe they are not worthy of seeking help as they should be able to ‘just pull themselves out of it’. It’s simply not true! For serious bouts of depression and anxiety that are lasting for more than 3 weeks and affecting your ability to function on a daily basis you should always seek out advice from you G.P., but here at YOU we have a few ways in which we can help too! Taking some time for yourself is just as important as making sure you’re eating right and exercising. We tend to take care of either the mind or the body but how about trying a bit of both? Holistic massage offers a balancing experience, soothing the body, mind and spirit. We have some great aromatherapy oils, all expertly blended in house, that can help combat stress, anxiety and depression. As you relax during the massage, your breathing slows and deepens and your heart rate slows too. As your heart rate slows, you will naturally produce less cortisol as the production of the hormone can be a fear response. In fact, the Mayo Clinic even recommends massage to patients as a way to cope with stress! (Click here to see the full list of stress busting tips!)
Exercise can also really help when triggered into a stress response. This is essentially giving your body the ‘flight’ response it was expecting and can help to bring cortisol levels back down to within a normal range. If you are using healthy exercise as part of combating stress do make sure you are warming up and down properly. It is important to take care of your body before, during and after exercise and Sports Massage is an important part of any athlete’s training routine, helping to prevent and treat those pesky injuries which of course can produce more stress!