It is normal to feel stressed out and anxious when facing challenging situations in life. However, it is important to recognize when you start feeling overwhelmed by stress before it begins to interfere with your physical and psychological well-being. Stress and anxiety have many harmful effects on the mind and body.
Acute stress can trigger numerous adverse physiological responses, including the release of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), increased blood pressure and an accelerated heartbeat. In turn, chronic stress and anxiety can have profound and negative physiological effects on the body, such as impairments of the nervous, cardiovascular, immune and endocrine systems. In addition, increased levels of stress and anxiety can have detrimental effects on our psychological health, leading to sleep disturbance and depression.
While a little stress can serve as a motivator, too much of it will make your mind and body pay the price. Fortunately, there are also many ways to manage stress and anxiety, which make it possible to cope with them in a positive and proactive manner. Here are some tips to tame the stress and anxiety beast:
Eating a healthy diet can help to cope with high levels of stress and anxiety. Nutritionists suggest eating foods high in complex carbohydrates, drinking plenty of water, and limiting your intake of caffeine, junk foods and alcohol in times of elevated stress. Since stress affects adrenal gland function, whose function is influenced by blood sugar levels, experts suggest eating a breakfast that includes some protein and eating some fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels steady. In addition, since chronic stress can reduce our immune function, eating the vitamin and antioxidant-containing fresh fruits and vegetables also helps boost the immune system.
2. Exercise/Increased Physical Activity
Exercise is a great stress buster. It can take your mind off your worries, and make you focus on the movement involved in the physical activity and provide an effect similar to that of meditation. Exercise helps to fight the adverse effects of stress and anxiety on the body by boosting our immune system function, releasing endorphins (the “happy” neurotransmitters in our brains), and reducing the levels of stress hormones in the body. In particular, regular exercise has been proven to reduce depression and negative mood by increasing self-esteem and cognitive function. Other great benefits of exercise include improved sleep, increased energy levels, weight loss, reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular system function.
3. Practice Yoga and Meditation
Both yoga and meditation have been demonstrated to have positive effects that help the body and mind cope with stress. Not only does yoga increase muscle strength and flexibility, but it also helps to improve our psychological health. Since yoga encourages relaxation and self-awareness, it has a calming effect on the body. Research studies have shown that practicing yoga can help to reduce blood pressure, lower the heart rate, decrease irritability and lower stress hormone levels. Likewise, meditation is a powerful tool to fight stress and recent scientific studies have discovered that mindful meditation techniques are effective in treating anxiety. Mindfulness and meditation give us the ability to recognize and manage our negative feelings related to experiencing stress and anxiety, and to manage them effectively.
4. Cultivate a Support Network
One of the most effective ways to deal with stress is to create a strong social support network around us. A social support network is comprised of friends, family members and our peers. There are many benefits to building a solid network of friends and loved ones, since it helps to create a sense of belonging, increase our self-esteem and feeling of security. In addition, social support networks can help prevent depression and generally protect our mental health. Finally, having this type of support helps us become more resilient to stress, and to become more adapted to the adversity and challenging situations life throws at us on a daily basis.
5. Adopt a Positive Attitude
The power of positive thinking cannot be overstated in dealing with stress and anxiety. Positive thinking does not by any means imply ignoring all the negativity around us. Instead, positive thinking is meant to approach negativity and adversity in a productive and effective manner. By keeping negative thoughts in our minds, we reinforce the feelings of helplessness and anxiety, therefore allowing the stress to get the best of us. On the other hand, people who keep a positive attitude are better able to cope with stress since they tend to embrace challenges and accept change as a part of life. In fact, many scientific studies have already shown us that people who practice positive thinking are more resilient to stress. Optimism and a positive attitude highly correlate with better mental health, decreased anxiety, better quality of life and a longer lifespan.