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Apr 3, 2023
Understanding the Impact of Stress on Our Body and Mind, and How to Manage It
April is Stress Awareness Month, a time to reflect on our experiences of stress and take measures to manage it effectively. Stress can affect anyone, anywhere, at any time. It's a natural response to any situation that is challenging, uncertain, or potentially harmful. In short bursts, stress can be useful, as it motivates us to take action, focus on what's important, and protect ourselves from harm. However, when stress becomes chronic, it can have severe physical, emotional, and mental effects.
When we feel anxious, it's not just a mental state – it can also manifest itself physically. Common physical symptoms of anxiety include a racing heart, sweaty palms, flushing, and shortness of breath. Anxiety can also show up psychologically, leading to excessive worry, irritability, and fatigue. These symptoms can take a toll on our overall well-being and even lead to behavioral changes, such as isolation, avoidance, and withdrawal.
Fortunately, there are scientifically-backed ways to help calm our nervous system and reduce stress levels. One effective technique is deep breathing. Slow, deep breaths activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps calm our body's stress response. A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that practicing deep breathing for 20 minutes per day for 30 days significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression in participants.
Another effective stress-reducing technique is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness involves being present in the moment and accepting our thoughts and feelings without judgment. Studies have found that mindfulness meditation can reduce stress and anxiety levels by changing the way our brains respond to stressors. In fact, a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that mindfulness-based interventions significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression in participants.
In addition to deep breathing and mindfulness meditation, physical activity is another effective way to reduce stress levels. Exercise releases endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that exercise can be as effective as medication in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression.
It's also essential to practice self-care and prioritize activities that bring us joy and relaxation. Whether it's taking a warm bath, listening to music, or spending time in nature, engaging in activities that help us unwind can significantly reduce stress levels. Studies have found that even just spending time in nature can lower cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress.
If you're experiencing more severe symptoms of anxiety, it's crucial to seek support from a mental health professional. A therapist can help you develop coping skills and strategies to manage stress and anxiety effectively.
During Stress Awareness Month, take time to reflect on your stress levels and take measures to manage it effectively. It's important to recognize the signs of stress and take action before it becomes chronic. By practicing deep breathing exercises, regular exercise, meditation, and mindfulness, we can calm our nervous system and manage stress. By taking proactive steps to manage stress, we can improve our physical, emotional, and mental health and live a happier, healthier life.
- McEwen, B. S. (2017). Neurobiological and systemic effects of chronic stress. Chronic Stress, 1, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1177/2470547017692328
- Black, D. S., & Slavich, G. M. (2016). Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 13-24. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.12998
- Ziemann, A. E., Allen, A., & Dahdaleh, N. S. (2018). The effects of acute stress on the brain and peripheral nervous system: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Neural Plasticity, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/6434643
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2018, August). Exercising to relax. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax
- Pizzorno, J., & Murray, M. T. (2017). Stress management. In Textbook of natural medicine (5th ed., pp. 65-78). Elsevier.
- Rueda-Clausen, C. F., & Boushel, R. (2018). Cardiovascular and cerebrovascular effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction in older adults with mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 62(2), 753-763. https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-170990
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 3). Coping with stress. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Stress effects on the body. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body
- Chrousos, G. P. (2009). Stress and disorders of the stress system. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 5(7), 374-381. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrendo.2009.106
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