Chronic Stress and 2 New Ways to Help Manage ItJune 24, 2019
Breathing For Stress Relief
Stress or being busy is something that is glamorized in North America. Everyone runs around very busy, doing things that they believe they have to do, leaving very little time for life, and doing things that they enjoy. This way of living leads to the feeling of stress and anxiety.
It’s not uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed after a long day, but some believe that it’s unavoidable and can’t be relieved without seeing a counsellor or practitioner all the time. This is not the case! If you are feeling stressed out, it’s important to remember that everyone has these moments and you can often relieve it and become much calmer with a few relaxation techniques you can perform from your desk or in your home.
What Is Stress?
Stress is the reaction of the body to any change. That means any positive or negative change in your life induces stress on your body, hormones and organs.
We experience stress from our environments (i.e. driving in traffic), our body’s (i.e. frustrating symptoms) and our thoughts (i.e. circling thoughts, worrying).
The thing about our body is that it doesn’t know the difference between different types of stress. So whether you’re thinking about an argument that you had with your partner yesterday or whether you’re being chased by a bear – your body sees it as stress and releases stress hormones.
Acute periods of stress are not a bad thing (thankfully), and our body is well-equipped to handle this. Under an acute stressful situation, cortisol and adrenaline are released from the adrenal glands to begin the fight or flight response. This allows us to run away from the bear back to safety.
What our body is not well-equipped for is living the way we do – under chronic stress. Chronic stress means that our cortisol is higher than it should be, for longer than it should be.
Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Stress
Under stress for long periods of time, we will develop symptoms. The elevated cortisol creates symptoms and changes the balance of our other hormones.
Signs of chronic stress:
- Headaches, dizziness
- Muscle tension and pain
- Digestive concerns (diarrhea or constipation, pain, bloating)
- Chest pain, heart palpitations
- Sexual dysfunction (infertility, low libido)
Chronic stress can also lead to weight gain or weight loss (depending on how you deal with it), and it can affect sleep.
How Can We Treat Stress?
One of the best ways to relieve stress is with deep breathing. It seems too simple to work, but it does.
Deep breathing can also be called diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing, abdominal breathing and paced respiration. When you breathe deeply, air comes in through your nose, fills your lungs and your lower abdomen rises.
In Western culture, it may seem unnatural to breathe deeply like this because your abdomen will stick out, which is considered unattractive. Most adults walk around holding in their abdominal muscles, and restricting their breathing up into their chest.
Deep abdominal breathing allows for complete oxygen exchange, and for oxygen to reach the lower portions of the lungs. Recent studies have shown that diaphragmatic breathing reduces cortisol output, and improves concentration on tasks.
Stress Reduction By Breathing
Here is a technique you can try to help relax that can be done almost anywhere:
- Sit or lie down comfortably.
- Place one hand just below your ribs and the other on your chest.
- Breathe deeply through your nose, allowing your belly to push outwards. Breathe out through your lips, allowing your belly to go in, helping to push the air out.
- Repeat this up to ten times. Do it as slowly and calmly as possible.
Reduce Stress, Improve Sleep
Here is another type of relaxation exercise that can help you relieve the stress built up in your muscles. This technique is great for doing while you’re lying in bed and relaxing just before falling asleep.
- Lie down on the floor, face up.
- Begin by taking deep breaths (see above for a suitable breathing exercise).
- Breathe in, tensing the muscles of your feet, then breathe out, releasing the tension.
- Work your way up your body: breathe in and tense another muscle in your body and breathe out to relax it.
- Do this for every muscle group in your body.
When You Need More Help With Stress Management and Stress Symptoms
These stress relieving techniques are a great way to calm yourself when the pressures of everyday life are beginning to get to you. This happens to everyone! What’s important is knowing when you are stressed out and how best to treat it. Of course, when the stress is becoming too much and too overwhelming, it may be a good idea to see a physician about it who can advise you on any therapy options you can take.
If you’re finding that your stress symptoms aren’t manageable, or have been going on for too long, there are many more options available for treatment. Testing your stress hormone, cortisol, can give a lot of insight into how your body is dealing with stress.
For more information on stress and how to best treat it, contact us at Bay Wellness Centre.