Although there have been many medical advancements in the area of mental health, treatment can still be a challenge. Stress is one of the leading problems that can result in lack of sleep, inflammation and the progression of illness – both mental and physical.
The prevalence of chronic stress in the working population is around 33% according to a 2015 study. Shockingly, the high levels of burnout and depression were outweighed by 64% of the participants showing signs of anxiety disorder, according to the Hospital Depression and Anxiety scale (HADS).
In this article, we'll take a look at five easy, fun ways to lessen the impact of chronic stress. The stats show that at least a third of people could benefit, so read on to learn how you could, too.
How Does Stress Relate to Physical Illness and Inflammation?
In this article we’ll discuss the underlying biological stress response mechanism, how it works, as well as how stress relates to inflammation and illness.
Most importantly, we’ll discuss what to do to balance out the stress response and optimise health.
The body physically responds to perceived threats the same way it responds to actual threats. Therefore the very act of observing a stressful situation can hurt us on a physical level.
The way this works is that our bodies activate stress hormones and inflammatory chemicals in an attempt to protect us.
From an evolutionary perspective, the stress response that we have to a “perceived threat” made sense, however these out-dated mechanisms can make us seriously ill in a modern world.
Perhaps due to the exponentially fast rate of modernisation of the human lifestyle, our bodies have not managed to update these out-dated pathways.
Sleep Disturbance and Stress
Sleep disturbance often develops when the central nervous system perceives a threat as chronic, exaggerating the effects of stress.
This makes sense if there were predatory animals nearby, however in the modern environment these perceived threats are normally interpersonal stressors.
A temporary increase in stress hormones as a protective mechanism is useful, however if prolonged, hormones like cortisol and inflammatory cytokines are bad for overall health.
Psychological stress leads to physical manifestations of inflammation and can result in depression. Pro-inflammatory cytokines (like IL-6) can create changes in our behaviour such as experiencing a low mood or fatigue, and can lead to social-behavioural withdrawal.
The inability to distinguish between real and perceived threats can produce deleterious effects on overall health – driven by systemic inflammation.
Not All inflammation is Bad
Inflammation is given a bad name – however the inflammatory response is essential for healing. The problems occur when we have ongoing perceived threats.
Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is an inflammatory cytokine essential for a healthy acute immune response. IL-6 is also naturally produced during normal nocturnal sleep and regulates the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA axis), the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and inflammatory pathways humans.
IL-6 is an important part of the immune system that is normally activated at night. Inflammatory cytokines are also produced in response to infections and tissue injuries, playing an important role in the healing of the body when released at the right time, for example at night or as a response to an infection or wound.
On the other hand, if IL-6 is released during the day it can lead to systemic inflammation and disease. To retain homeostasis, it is important to keep cytokines at bay by reducing stress and sleeping at the correct times.
The good news is that there are five easy steps that we can take to balance the stress response and optimise our health. Let’s dive in to our Top 5 Fun Ways to Reduce the Impact of Chronic Stress.
1) Get “Quality” Sleep
OK, this point is not particularly “fun”. But all the same, the emphasis on quality is really interesting. I’m sure that you have heard that we need 7-9 hours’ sleep as adults. But where does that information come from? More importantly, is it scientifically accurate?
Perhaps. But recent research suggests that quality sleep is more important than the number of hours.
A 2010 study suggests that contrary to popular belief, 8 hours is not the optimal amount of sleep for an adult. Researchers studied 1.1 million women over 67 years of age and measured how the length of sleep impacted lifespan.
According to this particular study at least, the optimal sleep range is 5-6.5 hours, not 8 hours.
Another study found that both prolonged or reduced sleep increased the risk of pneumonia.
Depending on life conditions and age, these figures may differ. Assess what amount of sleep works best for you, bearing in mind that 6.5 and not 8 hours might be the exact amount of sleep required to enhance life and live longer.
We should state, all the same, that there is no conclusive guidance on how many hours is best for health.
Preliminary results from the world’s largest sleep study, for example, have shown that those who sleep on average between 7-8 hours per night “performed better cognitively than those who slept less, or more, than this amount.”
If you’re looking for some help, incidentally, take a look at these natural supplements to improve sleep.
2) Get Your Blood Flowing
According to the NHS, we should do 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week. That works out at about 21 minutes each day.
Exercise helps the body to cleanse itself of free radicals that contribute to oxidative stress.
Why not reduce anxiety and increase happiness by exercising in the great outdoors? Getting out in nature has been scientifically proven to increase self-esteem and boost confidence.
3) Go on Holiday
This point is definitely fun, and music to my ears.
Did you know that it’s scientifically proven that going on holiday is great for your health and longevity?
The 2017 Helsinki Businessmen Study concluded that fewer holidays through midlife resulted in poor health outcomes in later life.
The study also showed that there was a 24% decrease in the chance of developing metabolic syndrome if you go on holiday just once a year.
Better still, going on more holidays activates the parasympathetic nervous system and boosts health even further.
4) Participate in Fun Activities
It’s official: having fun is scientifically proven to reduce stress.
Higher levels of positive psychosocial states were found in participants of a 2009 study when taking part in enjoyable activities.
Studies show that if you’re having fun, then you’ll live longer.
So go on holiday and have fun! It’s good for your health.
5) Boost Nutrient Reserves
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can impact your ability to respond calmly to stress by improving brain function, boosting the immune system and lowering blood pressure.
Physical, environmental or emotional stress increases the body’s requirement for nutrient intake because vitamins and minerals get used up much faster during stressful situations.
Two of the most important nutrients that get used up quickly when we are in a stressful situation are vitamin C and magnesium.
Because green vegetables are plentiful sources of many of these nutrients, not to mention other beneficial phytonutrients, they are often recommended as natural stress relievers.
But can eating green vegetables really reduce stress? According to research, yes.
One study showed that for every extra vegetable you add to your plate, your overall stress levels are reduced by 5%.
This is why a supplement like Green Vibrance might make a major difference to your stress levels.
Ultimately, as hopefully we’ve indicated, all forms of stress physically impact the body and should be kept to a minimum.
Although we recommend that you take care of yourself by following our 5 fun ways to reduce the impact of chronic stress, there are many other lifestyle changes you can make to lessen the burden of stress. Your choice of vocation, for example, or the people you surround yourself with.
You can also tap into the power of plants to relieve stress, among them peppermint, jasmine and chamomile.
Written by best-selling author and integrative nutrition health coach Rowanna Watson, who has a passion for natural health. Rowanna is an expert in all areas of holistic health, plant-based nutrition, detoxification and personal development.
When experiencing times of high stress, it’s a good idea to supplement with high-quality, brain-healthy nutrients. #nutrition #diet #brainhealth