Are you over stressed? What if I told you 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress? Alarming, isn’t it? April is Stress Awareness Month; a great time to evaluate your current stress level and discover new ways to lower your overall stress. The more stress a person experiences, the more anxiety they will experience and vice versa. While medications tend to be common there are also natural solutions for stress, anxiety and low moods that may be beneficial.
We all experience stress in our lives; some more than others. Certain personalities are predisposed to higher stress, but regardless of your personality, stress, to a certain extent, is inevitable.
So What, Exactly, Causes Stress?
Our bodies experience what is called The Stress Response, a series of physiological changes that occur within the body that give us the feeling of being “stressed out.” These reactions include the “fight-or-flight” mechanism and can be beneficial in certain situations.
The stress response and “fight-or-flight” response begin in the brain. Let’s say you find yourself face-to-face with a lion (highly unlikely, but let’s use this as our example). Your eyes, ears, or both, send information to the amygdala which can interpret images and sounds. A rational person would perceive this as a dangerous or threatening situation and when the amygdala recognizes something as dangerous it will immediately send a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This same response can also occur in circumstances that are less intense than my lion example.
In short term stress situations, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system; the system that mobilizes the body’s fight-or-flight response. Long-term stress keeps the sympathetic nervous system activated which in turn activates the HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary-Adrenal) system. This system consists of hypothalamus, pituitary gland and the adrenal glands.
If a situation is continued to be perceived as dangerous or threatening, the hypothalamus will release corticotropin-releasing hormone. This travels to the pituitary gland which results in the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH makes its way to the adrenal glands and the adrenal glands release cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” When our bodies no longer perceive something as dangerous or threatening, cortisol levels fall and we experience less stress. To learn more about cortisol levels and the popular supplement Cortisol Manager, read this post.
Many things can trigger the stress response in our bodies. I gave the example of coming face to face with a lion as a trigger, but there are more realistic examples of stress that occur in our day to day lives too.
Types of Stress
Stress can be broken down into two major categories: acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is the more common version of stress. It typically comes in small doses and is short term. Examples can include exams, getting a speeding ticket, or heading into a job interview. The response to acute stress is typically more intense and more immediate. Typically, an episode or two of acute stress will not cause long term health problems for people. However, if the acute stress is severe it can cause heart attacks, mental health issues and panic attacks. Acute stress can also be thrilling and exciting. For example, crossing the finish line of a marathon or trying the more challenging ski slope are both sources of acute stress.
Chronic stress, however, is never thrilling or exciting. Chronic stress is the stress that people experience day after day that can contribute to a negative quality of life. Chronic stress occurs when a person is unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Like I mentioned, 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. 73% regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress and 33% feel like they are living with extreme stress.
So what are the top causes of stress?
- Job pressure
- Poor Nutrition
- Media Overload
- Sleep Deprivation
Furthermore, people who experienced physical symptoms listed the following as their more common symptoms:
- Fatigue 51%
- Headache 44%
- Upset stomach 34%
- Muscle tension 30%
- Change in appetite 23%
- Teeth grinding 17%
- Change in sex drive 15%
- Feeling dizzy 13%
Stress and Personality Types
Your personality may also play a role in your stress level. What one person perceives as stressful another person may not even be phased by. This all boils down to differences in personality.
You may have heard of “Type A” and “Type B” personalities and how they differ. A person with a “Type A” personality tends to be more rushed, ambitious, driven, time-conscious, rigidly organized, impatient and sensitive. A “Type B” personality is more relaxed, less time-conscious, reflective, and generally experiences less stress. You’re probably aware of what type of personality you are but if you’d like to find out more click here.
Natural Methods to Support a Balanced Mood
Some of the most basic natural ways to support your mood involve making better lifestyle choices. What does this mean?
- Exercising. Most people need between 30 and 45 minutes of exercise at least 4 days a week. Yoga can be especially helpful for stress relief but a difficult cardiovascular workout can also help relieve stress.
- Diet. It’s no secret a healthy diet is important but increasing your fruit and vegetable intake may help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety. Decreasing caffeine intake is also recommended as is limiting simple carbohydrate and fatty meat intake. You may be tempted to eat sweets or greasy food when you’re stressed but that will actually make you feel worse. Aim for healthy, real food, not a variety of desserts!
- Keep a journal. Write down your thoughts, especially if your past thoughts are causing you stress or anxiety. The simple act of actually writing down anxious thoughts or worries can help a person process and deal with the negative thoughts better. Keeping a journal may also help put these thoughts in perspective.
- Deep breathing & meditation. There are many deep breathing exercises you can try when experiencing stress or anxiety. Click here to learn more.
There are also many supplements that may help maintain a normal mood.
Supplements to Support a Balanced Mood
- L-theanine. L-theanine is still being researched, but it may support a sense of calm and focus.
- Hops. Most commonly associated with beer, this bitter herb has tranquilizing or sedative effects. It’s often used to promote sleep but could be a good option for those who are occasionally unable to fall asleep due to their anxiety and worry.
- 5-HTP. 5-Hydroxytryptophan works in the brain and central nervous system. It supports the normal production of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that can affect appetite, sleep and mood.
- EPA. EPA is a fatty acid that is found in coldwater fish. It’s typically combined with DHA in fish oil and can be used for a variety of conditions. Recent research suggests that EPA may also provide support for the brain, helping to maintain a normal mood.
- B-Complex Vitamins. Proper nutrient intake is essential. Vitamin B6 and B3 may support your body’s natural ability to conserve tryptophan and convert that tryptophan into serotonin.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine” vitamin. Some research suggests that vitamin D may help support normal neurotransmitter function, which in turn may support a balanced mood. It’s not uncommon to be deficient in this vitamin, especially during the winter months. To learn more about the signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency click here.
Anxiety or an unbalanced mood can seem overwhelming but it’s important to remember that you are not alone! If you find yourself still experiencing symptoms of stress or anxiety you may want to seek professional help from a counselor or therapist.
Do you have any other natural recommendations? Leave a comment below!