Today, modern science is finding more and more that the brain and body are indeed connected, and this brain-body connection can have a direct effect on physical health. Stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional conditions can lead to physical symptoms like chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, and even cardiovascular problems to name a few. However, since mental health affects physical health, you can use mindset, stress relief, and relaxation techniques to help reduce stress and increase the frequency of feeling positive emotions.
What Causes Stress?
Stress is a very real emotion that prompts a chemical reaction inside the body when you feel anxious, frustrated, or depressed. You can experience stress in a variety of situations, and since everyone perceives stress differently, what stressed you out may not be stressful for someone else. Commonly, though, many people experience stress related to big changes, traumatic events, adapting to new situations, and more.
When you experience a stressful or traumatic event, your adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol, which prompts the instinctual "flight, fight, or freeze" response in the brain. This response increases your heart rate and blood pressure, and experiencing chronic stress can lead to additional issues with physical health.
How Can Stress Affect the Body?
Stress, and the cortisol it releases, can have a wide range of effects on your body, including fatigue, muscle and body aches, headaches, digestive problems, sleep disruption, nervousness, and reduced immune function. This is because cortisol release can impact your body systems, including your respiratory, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal systems. Constant stress can also lead to additional and prolonged emotional and mental health issues.
Some stress can actually be a good thing. Small bursts of cortisol during challenging situations (like completing a last-minute job at work or responding to a child who's hurt) can help motivate you to perform. While not all of the stress you experience is inherently bad, chronic stress has the potential to be harmful over time.
The Connection Between Mental Health and Physical Health
Mental and emotional health can have lasting effects on your overall physical health. When you are constantly feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, frustrated, or nervous, your body continuously releases cortisol and small doses of adrenaline. When you experience this reaction on a continuous basis, it can lead to adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue happens when you are constantly stressed, or in flight-fight-freeze mode, and your adrenal glands don't have enough time to replenish these hormone stores to keep up with how quickly they're depleted.
Over time, this hormonal response can lead to additional physical health issues, including:
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Gastrointestinal issues, such as GERD and acid reflux.
- Low libido.
- Insomnia and sleep disorders.
- Hair and skin problems, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, and permanent hair loss.
With chronic stress, these health issues can lead to more complications, including the risk of heart attack and stroke. However, when you lower stress and the cortisol reaction in your body, you can reduce the negative effects they have on your physical health.
Ways To Reduce Stress and Improve Emotional Well-Being
Reducing stress can be challenging, even during normal times. With the current crisis and social distancing recommendations, many people are experiencing higher levels of stress than normal, but there are many ways you can reduce your stress levels, lower your cortisol response, and increase your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. First, it's important to practice mindfulness and focus on being aware of what you're feeling. Reflect on the events or situations that are most stressful for you, and make a plan to practice some stress relief and relaxation techniques, including:
- Deep breathing.
- Regular exercise.
Deep breathing exercises are an excellent starting point to slowly lower your stress levels. To use this technique, breathe deeply and slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Do this for 10 to 20 seconds, or however long you need to calm the feelings of stress and anxiety when you experience them. Use deep breathing anytime you feel anxious or stressed.
Meditation is another stress-relieving technique that combines deep breathing with mindfulness. When you practice meditation, sit with your eyes closed, focus on your breathing, and let your body relax as you mentally "let go" of the negative emotions you feel. Mediation can be challenging when you first start out, but you can use guided meditations to practice with until you're able to get into a relaxed state on your own.
Regular exercise can reduce cortisol levels and can promote overall relaxation. Yoga is a great way to get exercise and continue practicing your deep breathing techniques, as it relies on breath and breathing patterns for many yoga poses and styles. Combine your exercise routine with a healthy diet that incorporates whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and any natural vitamins and supplements you take.
Keep a journal where you can record your feelings and reflect on them. You can use your journal for writing about the times you feel stressed out and what you're doing to relieve your stress. Keep track of your day-to-day emotions and mindset, and record the stress relief and relaxation methods you use and which ones work best for you. This can help you get control of your emotions and boost your mood as you learn and develop your abilities to calm yourself during stressful experiences.
Communicate with loved ones and people you trust, such as your physician or a counselor. Talk about what you're going through and express yourself. Having a support system is important and reminds you that you're not alone, which can help you relieve your stress and anxiety. Talking through your emotions with someone you feel comfortable and safe with can boost your mood and reduce stress and anxiety.
Chronic stress and mental health issues can be challenging to cope with. If you're curious about your hormonal balance and health, contact the biostation and ask about our diagnostic and hormone therapy services so you can learn about your unique physiology and how to find the best long-term stress relief methods for you.