Most of us accept that stress is just an everyday part of our lives—until it becomes habitual. What most people don’t realize is that there is a direct link to stress, mental disease and critical illnesses like heart disease.
Our body’s stress response, also known as our “fight-or-flight” response, is a naturally occurring response originally most helpful in the days when we used to be hunters and gathers. This response provided the rush of adrenaline needed to fend off the real danger of a predator that may be lurking just beyond the bush.
The Long-Term Impact of Stress and the Illnesses That Stress Can Cause
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
How to Beat Stress
It is possible to cause stress simply by thinking about or anticipating future episodes or encounters that might be stressful. In a recent study where 35 Chief Medical Officers (CMO) of U.S. hospitals were assessed for their level of stress it became clear that the self-creation of stress was one of the main drivers of stress in their daily jobs. One CMO stated “I’ve realized that much of my stress is self-inflicted from years of being hard on myself. Now that I know the problems it causes for me, I can talk myself out of the non-stop pressure.”
Most have heard of the “Peter Principle” of psychology: Managers rise to their own level of incompetence. This happens everyday where superiors often promote ambitious, hardworking and well-trained professionals into increasing levels of responsibility.
People don’t stop rising when they are happy because we are wired to believe that more is better. More money, more power and more authority we equate with success whereas less of these tend to be seen as signs of failure. Instead we continue onwards and upwards even if that means finding other ways to “cope” such as cynicism, bitterness, drugs or alcohol.
We all have a bliss zone and the stress begins as soon as you step outside of it. The teacher who is now a principal and misses daily learning with students; the journalist that loved to travel but is now a manager and must stay in her hometown. Intuitively we think that promotions lead to greater satisfaction but if you’re not careful this can lead to rising to your level of misery at work.
Take deep breaths when you feel stress and anxiety rising
Focused breathing is part of what’s known as the relaxation response, originally developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson, and can be one of the best, easiest and most cost-effective ways to reduce stress. Taking a series of deep breaths will directly impact your stress levels.
Specifically deep breathing alters your metabolism, makes your heart beat slower, decreases your blood pressure, and your levels of nitric oxide are increased. According to doctor Benson abdominal breathing for 10 to 20 minutes each day will reduce anxiety and reduce stress. This happens because deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.
Eat a healthy diet
You’ve heard that we are what we eat but let’s explore exactly how that works. Of all the possible things that you can do to ease stress, what you eat is the one thing that you have the most control over. Food also significantly impacts your mood and levels of stress. Here are a few of the key foods that can keep your stress levels at ease:
- green leafy vegetables: Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain folate, which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, helping you keep calm.
- turkey breast: turkey has tryptophan and is most commonly known for the food coma that happens on Thanksgiving. This amino acid also helps to produce serotonin, the natural chemical that regulates hunger and produces feelings of happiness and well-being. Other foods high in tryptophan include nuts, seeds, tofu, fish, lentils, oats, beans, and eggs.
- yoghurt: according to a 2013 UCLA study, the probiotics in yoghurt have been shown to reduce brain activity in areas that handle emotion including stress.
- Salmon: Salmon is an excellent way to keep the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline low. The secret is the omega-3 fatty acids that counteract the negative effects of stress hormones. In fact based on a study funded by the National Institutes of health, Oregon State University medical students who took omega-3 supplements had a 20% reduction in anxiety. One 3-ounce serving of cooked wild salmon can have more than 2,000 milligrams of omega-3s, double the daily intake recommended by the American Heart Association for people with heart disease.
What do you do today to deal with stress and how do you know that it’s working for you?