What is stress? If you look it up in the dictionary, it is defined as “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation (Merriam-Webster, 2019).” Acute stress is not inherently a bad thing. Good stress (called eustress) helps one to get things done to avoid potential disasters. For example, if a bear is chasing you in the woods, your stress response would say “Run!” However, chronic stress can lead to a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, depression and anxiety (Medlineplus.gov, 2019). How does this happen? When one is stressed, something called adrenaline and cortisol is released into the blood. Your fight-or-flight mechanism fires resulting in your blood pressure rising, heart rate increasing, and pupils dilating. This gives you a short burst of energy so your body can avoid or fight the stimuli causing the response. However, if this bodily mechanism repeatedly fires over a long period of time, this wears out the body resulting in a greater risk of disease.
So, what can be done to help with stress? If you are experiencing excessive stress, the first thing to do is to recognize the stressor. Therefore, ask yourself, “What is the stressor?” Is it a stressor that should have passed? Sometimes dealing with certain stressors can be easy as fixing or avoiding the problem. However, if the problem cannot be easily fixed or avoided, see below and the chart above for some ideas to help naturally deal with stress. However, if the problem persists or worsens, it might be a good idea to seek professional assistance.
The chart above is a good illustration of some ways to manage stress. Some ways to deal with stress can be with exercise, and nutrition. If interested in herbal supplementation, ashwagandha is a proven method of helping to cope with stress and anxiety. As always with any herbal supplement, talk to your health care provider before starting on something, to prevent any interaction with medicine you may be currently on.
Exercise: It has long been known that exercise can help relieve stress. It helps by causing a surge in dopamine (the “feel-good neurotransmitter). According to the American Heart Association (2019), exercise can help release stress and calm you, improve your mood and help you think clearly, and lower your blood pressure.
Nutrition: When under stress, many people turn to calorie dense, nutrient deficient “food.” This does more damage to the body and compounds the problem. Eating nutritious and healthy food helps to keep the body healthy and reduce the effects stress can have on the body. Stress also increases the bodies demand for nutrition; therefore, it is important to feed the body the proper “fuel.”
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. That means it helps the body to adapt to stress and maintain balance within the body. Studies have shown that taking ashwagandha supplements reduces stress levels and reduces cortisol levels as well (Chandrasekhar, Kapoor, Anishetty, 2012)
Stress and anxiety can be debilitating, however, there are things you can do to help and control it. Talking to friends and family can help with stress as well.
As always, live healthy and remember: Prevention is the best form of treatment. Stress may not always be able to be prevented, however, you do have tools to help you prevent that stress from turning into high blood pressure or a heart attack.
Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 34(3), 255–262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022
Stress and your health: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2019, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003211.htm
Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2019, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stress
Working Out to Relieve Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2019, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/working-out-to-relieve-stress