Who can identify feeling stressed and overwhelmed some days? I think we all recognise those days when there are a million things to get done at work, nothing seems to be going right and everyone wants your attention. You feel your heart rate rising an recognise that wow you’re stressed! Chronic stress is not good for our bodies. I know when I’m stressed, I pick up all the bugs that are going around, I can’t sleep properly and i generally feel horrible. Short term this is bad enough, but there are also long term effects.
When we’re faced with stress, a complex hormonal cascade occurs and our bodies release cortisol which then prepares our body for the “flight or flight” mechanism. Glucose is made available for our muscles, insulin production is inhibited so we can use the glucose rather than store it. Cortisol narrows our arteries that supply blood to the body and the hormone adrenalin increases our heart rate which means our blood begins to pump at a faster rate and more forcefully around the body. This makes us ready to “fight” or “flight” our stressor. Great when we’ve got a dog chasing us, but the effects of prolonged, high levels of cortisol are not good.
High levels of cortisol over the long term can lead to increased blood sugar levels. This may increase the risk for Type 2 diabetes.
Elevated cortisol can lead to an increase in fat where it’s least wanted – the health affecting visceral fat around the middle (internal abdominal fat). Cortisol releases fat from storage and relocates it to visceral fat stores. Another way cortisol is involved with weight gain is through it’s effects on blood sugar. When there is high blood glucose and low insulin, this leads to cells that are crying out to be fed with some glucose! Signals from the brain then tell us we’re hungry – and can lead to over eating. Unused glucose is then stored as body fat.
And to make matters worse, studies have shown that cortisol can increase cravings for high calorie foods.
The good news is there are things we can do to lessen the impact of stress on our health. This year I’ve been paying more attention to de-stressing
I’ve just started yoga this year and I always feel amazing afterwards. You become more aware of your breathing, your body and how you feel. The stretching and muscle workout feels great, but also the deep breathing involved really helps you relax and de-stress. Yoga causes chemical changes within our bodies to help us relax. According to Web MD, there is a decrease in catecholamines, the hormones produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Lowering levels of hormone neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline creates a feeling of calm. Other research suggests that yoga boosts the hormone oxytocin. This hormone is associated with feeling relaxed and connected to others.
2. Deep belly breathing
When I first read about deep belly breathing I didn’t get it – I thought that breathing was breathing! But it turns out most of us shallow breath – and don’t promote the full exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen. Deep belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing gets oxygen right to the bottom of our lungs where there are many small blood vessels that are important in carrying oxygen to cells. This type of breathing enhances full oxygen exchange and slows the heart rate and can help stabilize blood pressure.
How to deep belly breath – Place your hand on your stomach and take a deep breath of air in. You should feel your stomach rise. Then let it out. Breathing like this for 10 minutes in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere really helps slow your heart rate and relax.
3. Changing perception
It can be easy to let things get on top of you, but it’s sometimes important to take a step back and look at the big picture. I can be terrible at letting the little things get on top of me, but if I take a step back to think about it, it’s actually not at all that stressful – I’ve just got to work through it.
What are your top ways to beat stress?