Manage Stress: Foundations of Health
Learning how to manage stress can be a very powerful and impactful tool in healing and restoring your overall health. Stress affects all aspects of your body, whether it be physical, mental or otherwise, and leaving it unchecked can have unwanted consequences. Learn how stress can negatively affect your health and how you can take steps to limit stress in your life.
Effects of Stress
When you are stressed, your body goes into the sympathetic mode, making it difficult for your body to digest and absorb nutrients from your meals. Sympathetic mode puts your body into a “fight, flight or freeze” state. When you are in this state, your body prioritizes these actions by pumping blood to the heart and muscles so that you can fight or run, but at the same time, it decreases the flow of blood to the rest of your body (including your intestine and stomach). As a result, your body suppresses your digestive system, which can cascade into different effects like being tired. It’s good to note that your body doesn’t differentiate between life threatening stress and having-to-meet-a-deadline stress; your body reacts the same regardless.
How to Manage Stress
To heal, you need to switch your body’s mode from sympathetic to parasympathetic. Parasympathetic is the “rest, digest and repair” mode, where your body can nourish itself and heal. This is the mode you want to be in when you are eating and sleeping, so that your body can perform these functions optimally; otherwise, you won’t be able to recover and nourish your body fully.
An easy way to do this is by using various breathing techniques. We would recommend a simple one like the Square breathing technique – imagine following the outline of a square with your breath:
- Inhale slowly for 4 seconds
- Hold that breath for another 4 seconds
- Exhale slowly for 4 seconds
- Hold that breath again for 4 seconds
Once you have a handle of this sequence, continuing this kind of breathing for a few cycles (try 5-10 cycles, you can do more if you want to).
Slowing and regulating the breath helps calm your body, ease it into the parasympathetic mode and is also a great way to help with anxiety.
One of the best ways to help relieve and manage stress is by physically active. Being active gives you a great outlet to channel your emotions and allows you to express them in a healthy way. If you’re feeling really frustrated or angry, doing more intense activities like contact sports can be helpful in blowing off steam. If you’re feeling really emotional, dance can also be a beautiful and artistic way to express that channel those feelings. Feel free to read our blog on how to make physical activity part of your routine so you can use it to help manage daily stress.
Another way to help manage stress is by journaling – this activity can help reduce the stress from your mind. As humans, we’re able to express ourselves in words, unfiltered. Expressing how you are really feeling and not having to censor yourself from saying certain things can be very liberating, especially if you struggling to express yourself plainly throughout the day – that can be stressful in itself. Journaling lets you be you, all of you, without the fear of judgement.
Lastly, there are herbs that you can use to help your mind and body cope with stress better. These herbs are referred to as adaptogens in the botanical world, though they will all generally help you with stress (some of them are more effective than others, especially depending on your body’s constitution and how you are currently dealing with stress).
Some herbs are good for long term use, while others are better for short term use. The herbs for short term use tend to use your nutritional and energy stores to help you get through the stressful situation, which can be good, if you have those stores built up. The ones for long term use tend also tend to be very nutritive for the body, which is why you can use them for the long term. We recommend talking to a trusted health provider with herbal knowledge to determine which herb is the best one for managing stress.
This foundation is an awesome start in working towards your health goals, but if you have other underlying conditions, this is a good first step.
Check out our complete Foundations of Health series:
Adapted from a blog post by Dr. Charmagne Sia Lu, B.Sc. ND, Naturopathic Doctor