Content by: Deanna Niceski - Accredited Exercise Physiologist
- Australians admit that stress affects 72% of their physical health and 64% of their mental health.
- The three main causes for stress in Australians are financial concerns, health issues and family issues.
- 51% of Aussies do not seek proper help for stress.
- 35% have significant levels of distress in life.
By the sounds of it, we are a pretty stressed out nation, but contrary to what you might think not all stress is bad.
Short Term Stress; The good one
Yes, it’s true, some stress is good for us. Weird right? I mean all we ever hear is how bad stress and anxiety is for the body, but it’s essential for adaptation, for maintenance of homeostasis (equilibrium and stability) and survival.
For example, exercise. When we challenge our body through movement, we put it through stress, good stress. By increasing our heart rate, blood pressure and energy expenditure we provide a positive stimulus that helps boost productivity. We also establish a level of resilience within ourselves, which helps us learn to deal with stressful situations, in turn making future experiences that are similar way easier to manage.
Dr Michael Genovese says eustress (short-term stress) helps us stay motivated, work towards goals and feel good about life. It can be brought on when faced with a fun challenge and without eustress our wellbeing can suffer.
Now I can’t talk about stress without introducing the main contributor, cortisol. Our stress hormone is required for tissue remodelling and supressing the onset of acute inflammation within our system. It works with our brain to control mood, enthusiasm and fear so when those triangle shaped organs at the top of our kidneys release cortisol we hope it’s for acute stress and not chronic. Once there is that shift between the two that’s when our danger alarm system sounds and negative changes in our body start occurring.
“The right volume and dosage of stress will help us achieve sustainable health, whereas too little or chronic stress can lead to disease.” - Derek Vandenbrink
Long Term Stress; Now it’s starting to be a problem.
This is when our system can start to derail and spiral. When we are distressed for long periods of time the high cortisol levels can interfere with our immune response. This can then prevent restful sleep, disrupt thyroid and reproductive hormones, cause muscle weakness and restrict our bodies ability to adapt resulting in degeneration of health.
Bear with me, I’m going to dive a little deeper. We have two nervous systems, sympathetic and parasympathetic. Both are important for our internal communication and physiological responses. Our sympathetic nervous system is our “flight or fight” reaction. When this system is excessively aroused and for a constant period, we see changes in respiration patterns, an increase in muscle tone and pain, increase in resting heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol, adrenaline and blood sugar. Pretty much, we want to avoid this.
So that’s where the parasympathetic nervous system comes into play. Say it with me WOOSA. Yep, this system is our rest and digest state, it slows our heart rate and calms our body. It’s the ying to the sympathetic yang, and we can’t have one without the other.
“When we are no longer in control, stress imposes a challenge that negatively affects our health.”
“Stress is necessary for adaptation” but how do we release it when it starts getting a bit too much to handle?
Take a deep breath in, hold, and out. Let your system calm and feel all the pressure in your body disappear.
2. Listen to music
Whether it’s Ziggy Alberts or Amity Affliction that gets you releasing some tension and feeling calm, plug in and let your body belong to the music.
3. Go for a walk
There’s nothing like a stroll to help with changing perspective and resetting your mood. Strut your stuff and take a lap.
Take 5 minutes to get in tune with yourself. Build awareness and escape the white noise.
5. Let’s talk
We all need to vent every so often. So, call over your bestie, whip out a cheese platter and talk it out.
6. Laugh it off
Patch Adams had the right idea, laughter is the best medicine and not taking yourself so seriously can work wonders.
7. Eat right
Gut health has a huge impact on our body. Many foods we eat can contribute to inflammation and harmful stressors so it’s important to look at what you’re putting in your mouth.
8. Sleep better
It’s a vicious cycle; our sleep is affected by our stress and our stress is affected by our lack of sleep. Find strategies that help you improve your sleep hygiene.
Ask your body where its holding stress and what needs healing. You may be surprised how much your body will talk to you.
10. Spend time with loved ones
Surrounding yourself with your significant other, family or friends can instantly help. Block out some time in your busy schedule and spend time with those you love.
“Stress management- critical to health longevity and positive adaptation.”
If none of these strategies work for you, you can always head to your local “Break Room” to smash things and feel good. Sometimes you just need to find your fit, each to their own.