Stress is a common condition that affects millions of people in the United Kingdom. While most people assume that stress is a normal part of daily life, it can actually be quite dangerous if not addressed. It can even contribute to a number of other illnesses including obesity, anxiety, depression, and heart disease.
As a chiropractor in a busy London chiropractic clinic everyday I treat patients whose health is impacted by the effect of stress. If you are suffering stress the good news is that there are proactive things you can do to help combat the negative effect it can have on your health and wellbeing.
In this post, I will share some information about stress and provide several techniques that can be used to reduce your stress levels.
What is stress?
Stress is a physiological and psychological reaction that occurs whenever you encounter a threat that you perceive to be very dangerous. The threat can be real or imagined, physical or mental.
Under normal circumstances, the stress response is designed to help you avoid potentially life-threatening situations, like spotting a tiger in the wilderness. An acute stress response is often called the flight or fight response, because it prepares your body for immediate action (running or fighting).
The stress response makes your more alert, gives you more energy, and shuts down certain biological processes that are seen as being unnecessary in a dangerous situation. Some of the major changes it makes to your body include:
- The release of stress hormones
Your body will release hormones including cortisol, adrenaline, epinephrine, and noradrenaline. These so-called “stress hormones” will make you more alert, improve your reaction time and trigger additional physiological changes.
- Heart rate increases
One of the first changes caused by the release of stress hormones is that your heart rate and blood pressure will increase. This change prepares your body for immediate action.
- Breathing changes
Your breathing will become rapid and shallow.
- The bloodstream is flooded with glucose
The release of epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol cause the liver to secrete glucose into the bloodstream. This release of glucose is designed to give you a sudden burst of energy.
- Brain activity changes
Certain regions of your brain become more alert.
- Muscles become more tense
Your muscles become more ready for action. This is the reason why stressed people often have very tense back muscles.
- Certain bodily functions get deprioritised
The body will reprioritise any functions that are not necessary for fighting or running away. This includes changes to your metabolism, digestion of food, and reproductive system.
While having your body respond this way can be very useful if you are in real physical danger, it can be dangerous to your health if you are continually in this state. Chronic stress can lead to some serious health problems including diabetes, headaches, high blood pressure, heart disease, chest pain, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory problems, slow healing, and poor reproductive health.
How to reduce stress and feel better
Fortunately, there are a variety of techniques that you can use to reduce stress. Here are 7 of the best.
#1 — Get more sleep
The body uses the time you spend sleeping to perform a range of important biological functions. They include the removal of waste from the body and the forming of new neural connections in the brain. Sleep is also used to repair your body and rebalance your hormones (including your stress hormones). Adults should aim for between 7.5 to 8.5 hours per night.
#2 — Improve your diet
Foods that are high in sugar, salt, caffeine, and unhealthy fats can worsen stress because they over-stimulate the body. Choose a diet that is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meat, fish, nuts, and legumes.
#3 — Use some relaxation techniques
Spending more time relaxing can reduce your stress levels significantly. However, it needs to be the right kind of relaxation. Instead of plopping yourself in front of a computer or television, attend a yoga class, have a massage, or practice tai chi.
#4 — Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a mental state where your attention is focussed on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. It can be practiced in a number of ways including mindfulness meditations, mindful eating, mindful drawing and so on. When you are in a mindful state, your stress levels will dramatically decline. The effectiveness of mindfulness is backed up by plenty of research, which has shown it can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression levels.
#5 — Spend more time with friends and family
The simple act of spending time with friends and family is a great way to de-stress. Look for more opportunities to spend time with the people you love.
#6 — Exercise regularly
Regularly exercising is an important part of staying healthy. Exercise can also reduce your stress levels by stimulating the release of endorphins, using excess glucose in the bloodstream and reducing muscle tension.
#7 — Visit a London Chiropractor
By regularly visiting my London chiropractic clinic, MotionBack, you can address painful musculoskeletal conditions that are triggering your stress. I can ensure that your joints are correctly aligned and that your posture is good. I can also recommend lifestyle changes that can improve your health and reduce your stress levels.