Stress Management: Your Life in the Balance
At some point in our lives, most people will experience stress. Although it may be regarded as more of an emotional response, your body reacts to stress by releasing hormones that produce the “fight-or-flight” response. As a result, your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure go up, your muscles tense, and you sweat more.
Occasional stress is normal. Unfortunately, chronic stress can lead to a range of health problems. These include digestive conditions, headaches, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, cancer, and sleep disorders. It can also worsen asthma and, over the long term, result in depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. According to the American Psychological Association, around seven in 10 adults (72%) have experienced additional health impacts due to stress, including feeling overwhelmed (33%), experiencing changes in sleeping habits (32%), and/or worrying constantly (30%).
There is no medication or magic bullet to cure stress. Using alcohol or drugs to dull the effects of stress can make the problem worse and interfere with sleep. The good news is, however, that humans have the unique ability to reset their stress. This relaxation response helps slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, decrease oxygen consumption, and lower your level of stress hormones. Here are some recommendations you can use to reset your stress level.
Relaxation techniques often combine breathing and focused attention to calm the mind and the body. They include progressive relaxation, guided imagery, biofeedback, self-hypnosis, and deep breathing exercises. Use these techniques to calm yourself during moments you feel stressed. The goal in all these activities is to consciously produce the body’s natural relaxation response, characterized by slower breathing, lower blood pressure, and a feeling of calm and well-being. A 2019 review of three studies, with a total of 880 participants, found evidence suggesting that diaphragmatic breathing exercises may help to reduce stress. Promising positive changes were also seen in mental health self-evaluations and in certain physical measures, such as cortisol levels and blood pressure.
Meditation and mindfulness practices aim to help a person maintain focused attention and develop increased awareness of the present, resulting in reduced anxiety and depression, and improved sleep. A 2022 study found that people who practiced mindfulness had a significant reduction in perceived stress and anxiety levels, as well as an improved balance of some key mediators of inflammation. Use meditation and mindfulness to improve stress management and promote balance long term.
Yoga may also provide some stress reduction benefits. A 2020 review of 12 studies of various types of yoga for stress management in healthy adults found beneficial effects of yoga on measures of perceived stress.
If stress impacts your work life, relationships, or health, talk to your health care provider. Learning new ways to respond to this stress can yield significant rewards in your quality of life.