Stress is the biggest silent killer nowadays – it significantly increases the risk of several serious diseases and conditions and the risk of premature death as well.
How does stress affect our bodies?
When under stress, the body releases cortisol which is essentially a fight-or-flight hormone. Cortisol increases your heart rate and boosts your blood flow, resulting in a high influx of oxygen and a temporary shutdown of parts of your immune system in order to reduce the inflammatory response of the body. In cases of chronic stress, the body can’t handle the constant high levels of cortisol, which can affect your blood pressure, immune system, memory and other organs and functions. This can also increase the inflammation in your tissues, leading to an increased risk of cancer.
Among the host of diseases and conditions related to stress are polycystic ovary syndrome. This condition is caused by excess androgen in the body (male sex hormone) which can affect your menstrual cycle and cause fluctuations in your weight. Stress also makes the body produce other hormones such as ACTH, which stimulates the production of cortisol and adrenaline in the adrenals. ACTH also promotes the secretion of androstenedione which is responsible for polycystic ovary syndrome in women.
Stress can increase the amount of male sex hormones in women
According to studies, insulin resistance and stress are two major factors for polycystic ovary syndrome. Women who are chronically stressed are at a higher risk of the condition as their hormones react intensely to a stressful situation. Sometimes, polycystic ovary syndrome can be a result of poor diet, physical inactivity and excess consumption of sugar and carbs.
Stress is also related to weight gain. Studies have shown that stress may be the reason for your inability to lose weight. Chronic stress can lead to excess belly fat, which is the most dangerous type of fat on the body and also the most difficult to get rid of. Stress also affects the way your body accumulates fat. Several studies have shown that it stimulates the production of betatrophin in the body, a protein that block the enzymes that break down body fat.
The way you manage stress could neutralize its effects
According to scientists, the way we manage stress can reduce its effect and prevent numerous stress-related problems. Scientists use the term “resilience” for the way we react to a stressful situation. The best way to escape the dangers of stress is to stop being stressed shortly after the danger has passed. If the stressful reaction continues, so do the harmful effects of stress.
Some experts think that resilience can be learned if we know how to listen to our body. According to one study in which Special Forces soldiers were put in a machine that scanned their brain while wearing face masks, the physical response can be prevented if we observe the panic signals our body sends. The soldiers were completely aware of the situation, but chose not to react.
The same study was repeated with normal citizens later, and the results were quite similar. However, some subjects with low resilience had different results – the face masks they were wearing were suffocating them, and whenever they were unable to breathe, they experienced high activity in the parts of the brain that observe signals from the body. They didn’t pay attention to the situation – they just overreacted when the breathing became harder.
The scientists concluded that these brain responses undermine our resilience and make it harder for the body to return to a calm and relaxed state. However, spending a few minutes a day on focused breathing can help you manage stress and negate its effects.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil who you can see in the video above, the 4-7-8 technique is ideal for reducing stress. The numbers in the name indicate inhaling to the count of 4, holding the breath to the count of 7 and exhaling to the count of 8. Once you master the exercise, it’s pretty easy. Many people who tried it have reported incredible results, so there’s no reason not to try it.
The way you’re breathing also plays a role in your stress management. If you’re suffering from chronic stress, you are probably breathing high in the chest which stimulates the stress response. Whenever you’re under stress, you begin breathing quicker and your heart rate increases, which raises your blood pressure as well and the production of stress hormones. This rapid breathing is highly dangerous and can contribute towards the breathing-related stress state of your body. Dana Santas, a professional yoga instructor, suggests 2 exercises which can help you manage stress through breathing.
- Sit on a chair or lie on your back on the floor, then relax the shoulders and put your hands on the lower part of your ribs. Inhale deeply and feel the ribs going forward, then move your hands away and exhale while squeezing your core. Rest for a few seconds, then repeat the exercise until you relieve the tension.
- Breathe through your nose to the count of 5, then exhale as if you’re sighing relief to a count of 7 in order to calm down your body and brain.
Using energy psychology to reduce stress
Besides the breathing exercises, you can also try other stress management techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which can reprogram your body’s reaction to stress and reduce the risk of serious health problems. This technique has been compared to acupuncture. It is performed by applying pressure with your fingertips on the energy channels in your body and alters the way you respond to stress. You can see more about the technique in the video below.
Tips and other stress-reduction methods
You can also prevent stress by trying to sleep well overnight as poor sleep is one of the main factors for chronic stress. Here are some other methods that can help you relieve your stress and relax:
- Regular exercise
- Having fun
- Social interaction
- Spending time in nature