6 Stress Relieving Techniques
Stress-relief is an often overlooked method of staying healthy, but it is just as integral to maintaining your health as taking medicine is to treat a cold. Stress management in menopause is especially important, as the menopausal transition can increase the impact of stress hormones on the body.
Why Is Stress So Powerful?
Chronic high levels of stress hormones behave in a similar way to foreign toxins in the body. Stress impacts the health and regulation of your body’s cells. Stress hormones fundamentally change the health of your cells. Studies have shown that chronic stress damages mitochondria, the cell organelles that generate most of a cell’s energy needed for cell function. High stress can actually cause cellular activity to deplete, damaging mitochondria and altering the functions of those cells.
When cell functions become altered, they don’t perform as effectively, which can influence the regulatory processes of other cells and systems in the body. Let’s look at the effects of stress on the immune system as an example.
When the body undergoes stress, the immune system’s ability to fight off pathogens/antigens is drastically reduced. Stress hormones can suppress the number of immune cells that get released in the body to fight off infections. This includes immune cells like lymphocytes, neutrophils, macrophages, and so on. Why is the release of these cells lowered? Because stress fundamentally alters the function of those cells’ mitochondria. When the mitochondria can’t produce enough energy to maintain proper cell functions, immune cells can’t perform their tasks as effectively. This leads to antigens spreading in the body causing infections and illnesses that can develop into serious diseases.
Alright, so the point here is, stress is bad. However, we deal with it every day and it’s not something that’s going to disappear completely from human behavior. So, how do we find ways to keep stress’ impact on our health to a minimum?
Ways to Manage and Relieve Stress
Stress relief and stress management techniques can help women better control the impact of stress on their bodies and help them maintain their health, especially as they age and transition through menopause. So how can women better manage their stressors in their day-to-day lives? These are six stress-relieving and stress-managing techniques that you can use to help maintain your health in response to stressors.
Exercising on a regular basis can actually help your body better control stress hormone levels. When you exercise you naturally reduce levels of stress hormones and stimulate the production of mood-stabilizing hormones in the brain. This can not only help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety but it can also help women improve their sleep quality at night, maintain immune health, and improve the body’s resting metabolism.
It’s recommended that women engage in 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise at least four times a week, if not everyday. It’s also recommended that women focus on more than just cardiovascular exercises (i.e., jogging, biking, pilates, other aerobic exercises). Women should also focus on weight lifting exercises and resistance exercises to help promote muscle health and bone health, as both are significantly affected as women get older.
Eat Less Sugar
Diet has a significant impact on stress hormones and the overall stress response. The typical American diet has more health repercussions that most people know. The average American diet consists mostly of refined sugars, saturated fats, refined grains, excess sodium, and not enough people consume fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fatty acids. Which means that most Americans are not getting enough nutrients from food to maintain their health. It also means that people are feeding their body the things that make stress worse.
Sugar is one of those foods. Sugar weakens the body’s response to stress and increases feelings of anxiety, panic, and depression. Sugar, especially refined sugars, suppress something called the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA). The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis is the direct relationship among the hypothalamus, the pituitary glands, and the adrenal glands. The relationship between the brain (the hypothalamus) and the producers of stress hormones (the pituitary and adrenal glands) is impacted by sugar intake.
Researchers at the University of California conducted a study in 2015 that looked at the effects of sugar on the HPA axis and the body’s overall response to regulating stress. Sugar consumption only temporarily suppressed stress hormone levels before causing them to skyrocket. When this occurred, the increase of stress hormones caused high strain on the heart, causing blood pressure to rise and increase the risk of hypertension and other heart conditions.
Drink More Water
Some studies have shown that dehydration increases levels of stress hormones. When the body is dehydrated, the heart tries to pump blood more quickly to make up for the decrease in blood volume. Blood volume is better regulated when enough water circulates through the body. This helps maintain blood that gets pumped by the heart. So when blood volume decreases due to dehydration, it puts a strain on the heart as it tries to increase blood pressure to maintain effective circulation. When blood pressure increases, the HPA signals the release of stress hormones into the body. This increases feelings of stress, anxiety, and even panic.
Staying hydrated by drinking enough water is crucial to keeping proper blood circulation and preventing spikes in blood pressure. It’s suggested that women drink up to 12 cups of water a day, about 96 fluid ounces. Staying hydrated can help lower stress hormones and helps release mood-stabilizing hormones.
Spend Time Outside
Sunlight, although dangerous to the skin for prolonged periods of time, can help you lower stress hormones. Exposure to sunlight has been observed to increase levels of the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. As sunlight passes through the retina of the eyes, it triggers the brain to produce and release serotonin. This helps relax the muscles, lower neural activity, and stabilize mood. So as part of your daily stress relief, spend 10 to 15 minutes outside. This will help you boost serotonin levels.
Sometimes the best thing to do to relieve stress is to temporarily remove yourself from a stressful situation. Everyone needs time to themselves, to recharge, to take a step back. That’s okay! No one has the momentum to keep going at 100 percent efficiency all day, everyday. Taking small breaks throughout the day is an excellent stress relief technique.
Taking 15 minute breaks a few times a day has been proven to not only help improve mood and reduce stress levels, but it was also shown to boost creativity and problem solving when individuals resumed their regular work schedule. This helped them to be more productive in their work lives and more creative in their personal lives. It helps improve problem-solving to let the mind rest for a moment. So if you’re having a particularly stressful day, remember to take a break every now and then to keep that brain healthy.
Complete Small Tasks
As much as we may hate being productive, especially when fatigue is high, completing small tasks can actually help relieve stress. When we set a goal to finish a small task and achieve it, we actually alter our brain chemistry to enjoy engaging in productivity. By setting a small goal that we know we can achieve easily, we create an achievable milestone that fulfills our brain’s desire to problem-solve. Once we finish a task, our brain releases mood-stabilizing hormones that reinforce the desire to be productive.
So what are some small tasks that you can do every day and help relieve stress? Organize your desk, or whatever area you do the most of your work at. Taking five or ten minutes to organize your dedicated work area can give you a temporary break from focusing on other sources of stress. It also helps you to be more productive in your work life by giving you a clean space to work in, which can also help improve serotonin levels.
Stress Relief Is Possible
By using these stress relieving techniques you can better manage your stressors and support your health. Stress impacts your body in significant ways and can raise serious health risks. So remember to implement stress management into your daily life as a way to help support your health. For more information on the impact of stress, especially on menopausal health, download the MenoLife app for symptom tracking and daily insights into your personal health needs.