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When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

Introduction

Take a deep breath. Hold it for a moment, and then exhale. Feel more relaxed? Breathing exercises are one way to relax. Here you will learn about different ways to relax your mind and body. Being relaxed can help ease stress. It can also relieve anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.

  • To relax means to calm the mind, the body, or both.
  • Relaxing can quiet your mind and make you feel peaceful and calm. Your body also reacts when you relax. For example, your muscles may be less tense and more flexible.
  • There are different ways to relax. You may find one or more ways help to calm you down and feel at peace.

How can you relax your mind and body?

There are lots of ways to relax. Some ways are designed to relax your mind and some to relax your body. But because of the way the mind and body are connected, many relaxation methods work on both the mind and the body.

You may want to try one or more of the following relaxation tips to see what works best for you.

Relaxing the mind

  • Take slow, deep breaths. Or try other breathing exercises for relaxation.
    • Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation
  • Soak in a warm bath.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Practice mindful meditation. The goal of mindful meditation is to focus your attention on things that are happening right now in the present moment. For example, listen to your body. Is your breathing fast, slow, deep, or shallow? Do you hear noises, such as traffic, or do you hear only silence? The idea is just to note what is happening without trying to change it.
    • Stress Management: Doing Meditation
  • Write. Some people feel more relaxed after they write about their feelings. One way is to keep a journal.
  • Use guided imagery. With guided imagery, you imagine yourself in a certain setting that helps you feel calm and relaxed. You can use audiotapes, scripts, or a teacher to guide you through the process.
    • Stress Management: Doing Guided Imagery to Relax

Relaxing the body

  • Do yoga. You can get books and videos to do at home or take a yoga class.
    • Stress Management: Practicing Yoga to Relax
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation. This process involves tensing and relaxing each muscle group. Progressive muscle relaxation can reduce anxiety and muscle tension. If you have trouble falling asleep, this method may also help with your sleep problems. When you relax your muscles, your body gets the signal that it is okay to fall asleep.
    • Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • Take a walk or do some other activity. Making time to do things you enjoy can also help you relax.
  • Get a massage or have someone give you a back rub.
  • Have a warm drink that doesn’t have alcohol or caffeine in it, such as herbal tea or warm milk.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Anspaugh DJ, et al. (2011). Coping with and managing stress. In Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 8th ed., pp. 307–340. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Freeman L (2009). Relaxation therapy. In Mosby’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Research-Based Approach, 3rd ed., pp. 129–157. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.

Credits

Current as of: August 31, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Patrice Burgess MD – Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD – Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD – Family Medicine
Christine R. Maldonado PhD – Behavioral Health

Current as of: August 31, 2020

Medical Review: Patrice Burgess MD – Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD – Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD – Family Medicine & Christine R. Maldonado PhD – Behavioral Health

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.

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NOTICE: This health information was not created by the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) and may not necessarily reflect specific UMHS practices. For medical advice relating to your personal condition, please consult your doctor. Complete disclaimer

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When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

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We’ve all experienced the effects of stress in one form or another. Feeling stressed out sucks, especially when it becomes chronic.

Stress affects everything from your digestion, immune function, cognition, and mood. In simplest terms, stress is your body’s response to changes that take place in your environment that are deemed ‘unsafe.’

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a perfect environment for a full-blown stress meltdown. It is normal to feel stressed right now. The world feels like it’s upside down—literally.

On top of that, the uncertainty and constant health threats surrounding COVID-19 have led to a surge in mental health issues. A study found that 70% of the U.S. population have identified as moderately to severely distressed since the onset of the pandemic. [1] Can you relate?

It has never been more important to master our emotional health. The pandemic has shown us that, while we can’t control the external world, we always have control over how we respond to it.

Everyone experiences stress, but not everyone deals with it in the same way. The good news is that you have the power to effectively manage your stress so that your world doesn’t feel like it’s falling apart every time you’re hit with a challenge.

Before you can do that, it’s important to understand how the mind-body connection works.

The Mind-Body Connection and Stress

Despite popular opinion, the mind and the body are not two separate entities. Your physical body impacts your emotions and visa versa. As you can imagine, if there is disharmony in the body, there will also be disharmony in the mind, which in turn will influence your stress levels.

One study found that the type of energy patterns that are carried by certain words and intentions can cause physical changes in DNA structure which become the building blocks of your body. [2]

Have you ever felt a nauseous feeling in your stomach when you’re anxious about something? If so, you’ve experienced the mind-body connection at play.

The next time you find yourself saying something negative, remember that your thoughts determine how your body behaves. Negative emotions contribute to dis-ease in the body. Be mindful of the words you speak because your body is always listening to you. What you think, you become.

The Effects of Stress on the Mind and Body

Life is a rollercoaster ride which means that stress will happen. You cannot hide from it. The best thing that you can do is take preventative measures to ensure that stress doesn’t wreak havoc on your mind and body over the long-term. Here are 3 lesser-known effects of stress.

1. Weakened Immune System

Your health is your wealth. Without you, you have nothing. If you don’t have a strong immune system, your body won’t be able to fight off disease and/or viruses.

COVID-19 has taught us how important it is to take care of our immune systems. If you want to maintain a strong immune system get a good night’s sleep, do regular exercise, eat healthy foods, take immune-boosting supplements, and commit to relaxation practices. [3] This is how you will train your immune system to work for you instead of against you.

2. Gut Problems

There is a strong correlation between digestive health and stress. The gut and the brain are constantly communicating and sending signals to one another.

Have you ever felt like you were punched in the gut after receiving awful news? Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous about something? These reactions happen for a reason.

An imbalanced intestine can send signals to the brain, just as an imbalanced brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach pains can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. [4]

So, the next time you have an unexplained stomach ache, your stress levels could be the culprit. Avoid foods that can irritate your stomach and aggravate the symptoms of stress, like refined sugars and fried foods. I like to take acidophilus regularly which helps to increase healthy bacteria in the gut.

Lastly, I encourage you to create a daily Kundalini yoga practice. Kundalini yoga is great for stimulating the flow of energy in the body. There are specific Kundalini exercises that support healthy digestion, some of which include Breath of Fire, Stretch Pose, and Sat Kriya.

3. Depression

Stress is a normal response to positive and negative life experiences. However, if you have trouble coping with stress over the long-term, you can put yourself at risk for developing depression. Sustained or chronic stress leads to elevated hormones such as cortisol, and reduced serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine. [5]

When you experience heightened levels of stress, you are more likely to experience a low mood. Unfortunately, a low mood will make you more prone to not engaging in healthy activities, like exercising and eating well. As a result, your mood will suffer even more.

This toxic spiraling effect is what causes a lot of people to experience symptoms of depression, like fatigue, anxiety, loss of appetite, or in severe cases, suicidal thoughts.

COVID-19 has put a lot of people at risk for depression. With everything that is currently going on in the world, people are more susceptible to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness which can precipitate the onset of depression.

One of the best ways to prevent yourself from falling into a spiral of sadness is to seek professional help. A psychologist or a coach can help you navigate through the difficult times and give you tools for reducing stress and anxiety.

Secondly, create a daily mindfulness-based practice and make it a non-negotiable. Mindfulness can be in the form of meditation, yoga, dancing, tai chi, or breathwork.

Practicing mindfulness helps you reprogram negative thoughts and reassess difficult experiences with a more calm mind.

Don’t Allow Stress to Take Over Your Life

You have two choices—you can either let stressors suffocate your health and well-being, or you can transform your wounds into wisdom and rewrite a new story.

If you’re scared, it’s okay. You’re human. Allow yourself to feel everything, but don’t lose yourself in the mess. Take a deep breath and trust that your strength is greater than any struggle.

Feeling stress in your everyday life? Join the crowd. There’s no doubt that we face an enormous number of stresses in day-to-day living, whether it be at work, in the home, or anywhere in between. In fact, a recent poll showed that more than one in every four Americans, almost 60 million people, said they experienced a great deal of stress in the previous month alone.

The funny thing, though, is as much as we may believe that the stresses we face are more numerous or severe than in generations past, people have been living extremely stressful lives for thousands of years. Think the hunter-gatherers didn’t feel the stress of chasing down wild beasts for survival? That our counterparts from a century ago, struggling through economic depression, didn’t consider theirs to be the “Age of Anxiety”?

What you might find suprising is that contrary to popular belief, some stress can actually be a good thing.

What Is Stress, and How Can It Help Us?

Stress, when harnessed properly, can have numerous benefits for the body and mind. But in order to use stress to our advantage, it’s important first to understand what exactly causes it and, if everyone tells us to avoid it, how it can actually help us.

When we feel stress, our body is sending us a signal about how the pressures we experience affect us physically and mentally. Much like a caveman running from a wooly mammoth, stress triggers a “fight or flight” response that turns on parts of our nervous system and causes us to make certain hormones. You know the feeling — heart racing, palms sweaty, eyes wide open, heightened awareness. Ever been in a dangerous situation and all of a sudden felt like you could lift a car or outrun a chasing dog? It’s actually your body and mind responding to stress: In the end, we get a turbo boost of speed, strength, and senses that can be an incredible advantage in our everyday lives.

In fact, there actually are a few ways that stress, in moderation, can help us on an everyday basis.

1. Stress Can Sharpen Your Memory
Did you ever notice that sometimes when you are stressed, your memory seems to improve? Remember that big test you aced where the answers seemed to come out of nowhere? That’s one way your brain responds to stress, and it’s because of stress hormones that increase your alertness when it’s most needed. Occasional stress can help keep you focused and improve your recall, which can be a plus when cramming for that test or preparing for an important presentation at work. But just as with anything else, only so much stress can actually help. Too much of it over an extended period of time can make your mind foggy and give you trouble recalling even the most basic of things. Ever wonder how 9-1-1 developed for an emergency? Partly because under severe stress, research showed people could only remember three numbers. Just watch contestants on a game quiz show — they’re not acting when they seem to get a simple answer wrong — too much stress stops their brain from recalling some facts.

2. Stress Can Help Boost Your Immune System
You need a healthy immune system to help fight off infections and disease, and believe it or not, the right kind of stress can actually help your body’s defenses against illness. When you get sick, stress causes you to make hormones that battle threats to your health. And this kind of stress is particularly effective when at the early stages of an illness, when your body needs help the most. Now, it is true your immune system can only handle so much stress: If it lasts too long, these hormones can overwhelm your body and actually decrease your immunity. But that initial burst of stress is an asset when your immune system when you’re the most vulnerable: Right when your body faces a threat.

3. Stress Can Help You Get a Leg Up at Work
I know — you’re thinking, “work is what causes my stress!” Well, successful employees turn stress into positive energy and motivation rather than letting it consume them. Ever notice that you get the least amount done on days where you have the fewest deadlines? Too little stress at the workplace can lead to complacency and affect how much you actually get done. When you take risks and choose to attack hurdles at work, it helps your mental toughness and self-confidence. And these are qualities that can increase your marketability and promotion opportunities. Manage the stress and you will get an advantage over colleagues who let stress overwhelm them.

4. Stress Can Make Your Life More Interesting
To this point, we’ve described stress a survival tool, but what about the stress we feel when we actually choose to take on a challenge? Think about some stressful situations that we consciously put ourselves in to make life more interesting and enjoyable. Challenges like asking someone out on a first date, facing and conquering a known fear, interacting with people you’ve never met, even learning something completely new. These may not immediately come to mind when you think of stressors — and maybe that’s because of the positive outcomes that come from them — but they’re the types that can help you achieve fulfillment, health, and happiness.

Recognize Your Stressors and Use Them to Your Advantage

Although stress can be a true positive, don’t forget that too much of anything is rarely a good thing. It’s true that small bursts — occasional episodes for short periods of time — can provide great benefits, but it’s never a good idea to expose yourself to long-term stress, which is a setup for emotional and physical illness. Instead, recognize the stressors in your life, whether self-chosen or from outside sources, and use the energy that your body produces to your advantage.

So while we may not be the first generation to have faced this amount of stress, we may be the first with the knowledge to turn what has always been considered a negative into a true positive.

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Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

Hill Street Studios/Blend Images / Getty Images

We rarely hear people say, “I’m really feeling stressed. Isn’t that great?” But if we didn’t have some stress in our lives—the “good stress” variety—we’d feel rudderless and unhappy. If we define stress as anything that alters our homeostasis, then good stress, in its many forms, is vital for a healthy life. Bad stress can even turn into good stress, and vice versa.  

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

“Good stress,” or what psychologists refer to as “eustress,” is the type of stress we feel when we are excited. Our pulse quickens and our hormones surge, but there is no threat or fear. We feel this type of stress when we ride a roller coaster, compete for a promotion, or go on a first date. There are many triggers for this good stress, and it keeps us feeling alive and excited about life.

Another type of stress is acute stress. It comes from quick surprises that need a response. Acute stress triggers the body’s stress response as well, but the triggers aren’t always happy and exciting. This is what we normally think of as “stress” (or “bad stress”). Acute stress in itself doesn’t take a heavy toll if we find ways to relax quickly. Once the stressor has been dealt with, we need to return our body to homeostasis, or its pre-stress state, to be healthy and happy.  

Chronic stress is another form of bad stress. It occurs when we repeatedly face stressors that take a heavy toll and feel inescapable. A stressful job or an unhappy home life can bring chronic stress. This is what we normally think of as serious stress. Because our bodies aren’t designed for chronic stress, we can face negative health effects (both physical and emotional) if we experience chronic stress for an extended period of time.  

Sources of Good Stress

Yes, you can add good stress to your life! Ideally, you choose activities and set goals that make you feel good, happy, and excited. To gauge whether or not an activity is worth your time, pay attention to how the thought of it makes you feel. Do you feel excited? Is it a “want to,” or a “have to”? Be sure your “want to” activities are all things you really do want to do, and your “have to” activities are all absolutely necessary.

How Good Stress Can Become Bad Stress

Good stress can become bad for you if you experience too much of it. (Adrenaline junkies know this firsthand.) This is because your stress response is triggered either way, and if you’re adding that to chronic stress, or several other stressors, there is a cumulative effect.

Be in tune with yourself and acknowledge when you’ve had too much. You may not be able to eliminate all stress, but there are often ways that you can minimize or avoid some of the stress in your life, and this can make it easier to handle the rest.

If you can avoid the most taxing forms of stress, you’ll have more resilience against other types of stress that are unavoidable.

How Bad Stress Can Become Good Stress

Not all forms of bad stress can become good stress, but it is possible to change your perception of some of the stressors in your life. This shift can change your experience of stress.

The body reacts strongly to perceived threats. If you don’t perceive something as a threat, there is generally no threat-based stress response. If you perceive something as a challenge instead, the fear you would normally experience may turn into excitement and anticipation, or at least resolve. You can often make the shift in perception by:  

  • Focusing on the resources you have to meet the challenge
  • Seeing the potential benefits of a situation
  • Reminding yourself of your strengths
  • Having a positive mindset (getting into the habit of thinking like an optimist)

As you practice looking at threats as challenges more often, it becomes more automatic, and you experience more good stress and less bad stress.

A Word From Verywell

Overall, it’s important to have good stress in your life. Make an effort to cut out as much chronic stress as possible. Change your perception of stress where you can, and add positive activities to promote eustress. Together, these strategies help you create a healthy balance in your life.

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

Americans are more stressed than ever — but if you’re a glass-half-full kind of person, that statistic might not be so terrifying. There are two types of stress: the awful, normal stress that leads to late-night hair-tearing sessions, and eustress, or good stress.Good stress? It’s not as wild as you think. If you’re a scary movie fan, you know the feeling: The killer is right around the corner, the last protagonist alive is hiding behind the tree, and your heart is pounding. Yes, you’re stressed. You’re also excited, intrigued, and eager to keep watching.You’ll experience bouts of eustress throughout your life, and it’s easy to mistake them for regular distress. Perhaps you’re about to start your first year at college. Sure, you’re petrified; You’ll be living alone in a new place where you know no one.

Eustress pushes you to new heights. It encourages you to dive into new career experiences, finish that tough workout, and take on that major renovation project.

Here’s what you need to know about stress’s less-scary side.

How is Eustress Good For You?

No, eustress doesn’t always feel good. You’re preoccupied, your heart’s pounding, and you can feel the adrenaline in your veins. But in reality, it’s good for you.

Eustress drives you to achieve better things. Imagine you’ve just been rejected by a person you really wanted to date. Yes, that’s stressful — but it also encourages you to improve yourself, reevaluate your approach, and search for the silver lining.

It’s also key to developing resilience, which is super-important for your emotional health. For most of us, resilience isn’t something we’re born with. It’s something we develop through times of struggle — times of eustress. Living through hard days teaches us how to survive hard days. Eustress is vital to that process.

It’s also essential for our physical wellbeing. Anxious about that tough workout? Eustress powers you through. Sure, it’s difficult, but no one got biceps by lazing on the couch.

Examples of Eustress

Eustress manifests in a number of different arenas. Here are some examples, so you can start identifying it in your own life:

  • Traveling. Dealing with international flights and unfamiliar customs can be stressful, but the end result is worth the pain. These new experiences shape your worldview and expand your mind.
  • Life changes. Bride and grooms might pause on their wedding day and think, “This is a happy time. Why am I stressed?” Similarly, new parents are notoriously overwhelmed. Big life changes inherently spark eustress — but lead to great things.
  • New hobbies. We’ve all felt stressed and embarrassed when starting something new — like our first art class or language lesson. Pushing through that feeling teaches you new skills and keeps your brain active.

How Can I Tell if it’s Eustress or Distress?

Eustress is good, but distress can be bad for you. Cumulative negative stress can affect your physical wellbeing and increase your risk for anxiety and depression. But how can you tell if you’re experiencing eustress or distress?

Start by thinking of events in terms of “threats” and “challenges.” Undeniably, a threat is a bad thing — like an abusive relationship, a failing grade, or a family member’s illness. These events are distressing, and over a prolonged period of time, they can lead to all the negative ramifications of distress.

Eustress indicates a challenge, like a hard workout, a new language, a promotion, or a brand-new house. Challenges are difficult, and will definitely raise your hackles momentarily, but they can be overcome.

Remember that distress can turn into eustress if you have the right mindset. No, you aren’t expected to immediately transform every setback into a challenge — no one’s blaming you if you’re feeling legitimately distressed for a few weeks after losing your job. It’s what comes after those few weeks that’s important. Job loss becomes a job hunt, and you’ve gone from distress to eustress. The threat came and passed, and now you’re fighting a challenge on the other side.

Avoiding stress may come naturally, but consider leaning into eustress. Positive stress encourages positive growth — so next time you feel your heartbeat pounding, think about how the sensation can help you learn.

This article originally appeared on Talkspace.

By Kendra Cherry

Stress is just a part of life, but too much negative stress can have a serious impact on your health and wellness. Researchers have shown that while stress can sometimes be good, helping you prepare to face challenges and perform your best, it can also have both short-term and long-term effects on your health. It can impair the immune system, interfere with sleep patterns, increase blood pressure, and can even make it more difficult to conceive.

But it’s not just your body that suffers – your brain feels the effects of stress as well. Let’s take a closer look at just a few of the different ways that stress can affect your mind and body.

Stress Can Lead to Poor Decision-Making

Researchers have found that stress can affect how you make decisions. In a study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, participants were placed under stress by having them place a hand in ice water for several minutes. The researchers found that in these stressful situations, participants were more likely to pay attention to positive information while discounting negative information.

The study’s authors, Mara Mather and Nichole R. Lighthall, suggest that when you are making an important decision under stress, like trying to decide if you should accept a new job position, you are more likely to focus on the benefits of each alternative rather than the potential downsides. For example, when weighing the pros and cons of a job offer, you would be more likely to focus on the benefits such as increased pay and time off instead of the negatives such as more work hours and a longer commute.

“We make all sorts of decisions under stress,” Mather explains. “If your kid has an accident and ends up in the hospital, that’s a very stressful situation and decisions need to be made quickly. It seems likely that how much stress you’re experiencing will affect the way you’re making the decision.”

Stress Can Make You Forgetful

Do you ever find yourself so stressed out that you find yourself forgetting simple things like where you left your keys or phone? According to researchers, stress may be the culprit behind these day-to-day memory problems. ABC News reports that researchers in the medical community refer to this affliction as “subjective cognitive impairment” or “busy life syndrome.”

Dr. David Ballard of the American Psychological Association suggests that the inundation of information via work, phones, texting and Internet helps contribute to this problem. “The quantity of information and data out there is just too much to process,” he explained to ABC News. “People forget keys, forget why they came there.”

Are you looking for some ways to get your stress levels under control and avoid pesky forgetfulness problems? Elizabeth Scott, M.S., offers some of the best ways to relieve stress. She suggests using tactics such as journaling, meditation, biofeedback, and time management to help tame the excessive stress in your life.

Chronic Stress Can Impair Memory

Have you ever found yourself forgetting things (such as where you left your keys or where you parked your car) when you are under a great deal of stress? When facing a huge deadline at school or at work, you might find that it becomes more difficult to remember little details about your daily life. Previous research has linked chronic stress, or repeated stress that leads to continuous state of physiological arousal, to an array of problems including emotional distress and weakened immunity. One study by researchers from the State University of New York at Buffalo demonstrates how chronic stress also impairs your memory.

The study, published in the journal Neuron, looked at the physiological effects of stress hormones on the brain. Earlier research had shown that stress hormones influenced the prefrontal cortex (PFC), an area of the brain associated with memories and decision-making. “However,” explains lead author Dr. Zhen Yan, “little is known about the physiological consequences and molecular targets of long-term stress in PFC, especially during the adolescent period when the brain is more sensitive to stressors.”

Researchers discovered that repeated exposure to stress led to a significant loss in glutamate receptors in juvenile rats. Glutamate plays an important role in the functioning of the prefrontal cortex. The researchers also discovered that by blocking the molecular mechanisms that led to decreased glutamate receptors, they were able to decrease stress-induced memory loss.

“Since PFC dysfunction has been implicated in various stress-related mental disorders, delineating molecular mechanisms by which stress affects the PFC should be critical for understanding the role of stress in influencing the disease process,” Yan suggests.

It Messes With Your Body, Too

Are you one of the millions of U.S. adults trying to lose weight? According to the results of some research, keeping your stress levels low and getting a moderate amount of sleep may help you reach your goals. In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers looked at nearly 500 participants to determine if factors such as stress, depression, sleep, computer use, and television viewing were correlated with weight loss.

Participants in the study attended weekly meetings where they were weighed and received advice on losing weight. The participants were instructed to reduce daily caloric intake by 500 calories, consume more fruits and vegetables, cut back on sugar, keep a daily food journal, and increase exercise to 180 minutes each week.

Participants were also asked to report their levels of depression, insomnia, and stress and also track how many hours were spent sleeping, watching television or using the computer. Previous studies have suggested that these factors are associated with obesity, but not many have looked at how they might impact weight loss.

In the first phase of this ongoing study, researchers found that people with the lowest stress levels who got between six and eight hours of sleep each night were the most likely to lose at least 10 pounds. The authors of the study caution that the same results might not apply to all people and that motivation also plays an important role.

“This study suggests that when people are trying to lose weight, they should try to get the right amount of sleep and reduce their stress,” explained lead author Charles Elder, MD, MPH, an investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon. “Some people may just need to cut back on their schedules and get to bed earlier. Others may find that exercise can reduce stress and help them sleep. For some people, mind/body techniques such as meditation also might be helpful.”

Check out these links for more information how you can lower your stress levels.

Eunice Y. Yuen, Jing Wei, Wenhua Liu, Ping Zhong, Xiangning Li, Zhen Yan. Repeated Stress Causes Cognitive Impairment by Suppressing Glutamate Receptor Expression and Function in Prefrontal Cortex. Neuron, 2012 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.12.033.

Kaiser Permanente. (2011, March 29). Moderate sleep and less stress may help with weight loss. Retrieved from http://share.kaiserpermanente.org/article/moderate-sleep-and-less-stress-may-help-with-weight-loss/

Mather, N. R. Lighthall. (2012). Risk and Reward Are Processed Differently in Decisions Made Under Stress. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(1), 36. DOI: 10.1177/0963721411429452

Health and Wellness

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

There’s good stress … and then there’s bad stress. Do you know the difference? And how are you dealing yours? It’s important to be aware of what stresses you out, so you can build a relationship with your biggest stressors and manage the way you react to them.

Some stress is healthy … it kicks in to protect you in times of need and gives you a sense of focus when you’re about to take a test or give a presentation. It motivates you to rise to the occasion. And in times of emergency, stress can actually save your life.

Then there is the type of stress that is harmful. It can cause physical, mental, and emotional aches and pains. It can cause your body and mind to overreact to situations, resulting in digestive problems, weight fluctuation, heart disease, depression, and a host of other issues that no one desires or deserves.

It’s time to manage the good, the bad, and the ugly faces of stress in your life. Here are 10 tried-and-true ways to manage your stress, so you can get on the path to living a healthy and balanced life.

Number 1: Identify Your Stress Triggers

Recognizing the triggers to your stressful reactions is an important first step in managing your stress. True, it might be impossible to remove life’s stresses, but understanding the things that stress you out—and in what ways—is particularly helpful in solving the underlying problems.

What stresses you out? And how do you react to it? There are a host of physical and mental reactions to stress, and everyone reacts differently. Understanding how it manifests in your life is the first step to finding balance.

Number 2: Get Some Exercise

Moving your body is important to combat stressful reactions, and prevent them from arising in the future. When you keep your body in peak condition, you feel lighter and more energized, leaving you prepared to manage life’s stresses.

No matter what your fitness level may be, the central key is simply to move your body every day. Identifying the type or types of exercise that you most enjoy—and those best suited to your mind-body type, or dosha—will be key to developing a regular exercise routine.

Number 3: Find Stillness Every Day

Meditation is one of the best tools you have to counteract stress, and your brain’s bias to hold onto negativity.

In meditation, your body actually releases stress and reverses the effects of the flight-or-fight response. This response was really intended to be a short-term mechanism to protect you from perceived danger, which rarely comes in handy nowadays. And the stress generated within you from the response can be harmful to your health.

Number 4: Eat Well

Nourishing your body with the right food will give you the energy you need to tackle what life brings you, including stress.

Every body has different nutritional requirements, and Ayurveda teaches us that dietary plan should be based on an understanding of your unique mind-body type, or dosha. If you’re stressed out, what you’re eating is a great thing to look at, as different doshas are triggered by different foods. It’s important to make conscious eating choices with your unique dosha in mind.

Number 5: Sleep to Combat Stress

Are you getting enough Zzzz’s? Restful sleep is an essential key to staying healthy and strong. When you’re well-rested, you can approach stressful situations more calmly, yet sleep is so often neglected or underemphasized.

The key is making sure you’re not only getting enough sleep, but that the quality of sleep you’re getting is restful and restorative.

Number 6: Hit the Road

Taking annual vacations is really good for you. Ask your doctor: it appears that going on vacation may not be an icing-on-the-cake type of indulgence—it may actually be necessary for good health.

But multi-week, exotic getaways aren’t always an option with the many responsibilities that come with life. Whether you have the time and money to head out on a European tour, or can simply afford a long weekend that’s close to home, yet away from the grind, planning a break is a great tool for reducing stress. Plus, it gives you something to look forward to.

Number 7: Create a Gratitude Practice

Gratitude is a powerful force that you can use to expand your happiness, improve your health, and—you guessed it—helps you cope with stress.

Many scientific studies, including research by renowned psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, have found that people who consciously focus on gratitude, experience greater emotional wellbeing and physical health than those who don’t.

Number 8: Create Cushions in Your Calendar

If you’re reading this, you probably have a busy schedule, which is one contributor to stress. When you have a lot on your plate, you end up hurrying through the day and multitasking, which will only exacerbate stress levels.

Creating cushions in your schedule is a good tactic to reduce your risk for stress. Leave yourself enough time between getting from point A to point B—whether getting to and from meetings, classes, or getting from home to work to dinner plans—to help diffuse potential stressors that may arise that are out of your control. For example, if you know that you have to be on time to your 9 a.m. meeting and it takes you 20 minutes to get to work, leave yourself 30 so you don’t have to rush or get stressed out if you hit traffic.

Number 9: Say Cheese

No one can deny the mind-body connection. But how much power does the body have over the mind?

Research has found that even a phony smile can help you handle stress. So if you’re looking for a way out of stress, you’ll need to smile more.

Number 10: Stop Should-ing Yourself

Do you do things in your life because you want to … or because you should? Are you paying attention to the signs the universe is sending you and the guidance you feel deep in your soul? Because we’re so full of ideas and judgments about what we should and shouldn’t do, we tend to ignore the best advice we get—the guidance from our soul.

Lissa Rankin, M.D. has a lot to say about what you should pay attention to … and what you shouldn’t.

Learn our simple style of meditation to feel less stressed, more purposeful, and more in touch with your soul than ever before with Basics of Meditation, a self-paced online course guided by Deepak Chopra. Learn More.

Release Tension With This Targeted Meditation Technique

Megan Monahan is a certified meditation instructor and has studied under Dr. Deepak Chopra. She is also the author of the book, Don’t Hate, Meditate.

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

Sometimes you can be so caught up in your stress that you don’t realize that the physical discomfort you’re experiencing—such as headaches, back and shoulder pain, and tense muscles—is connected to your emotional state.

Body scan meditation is a good way to release tension you might not even realize you’re experiencing. Body scanning involves paying attention to parts of the body and bodily sensations in a gradual sequence from feet to head.

By mentally scanning yourself, you bring awareness to every single part of your body, noticing any aches, pains, tension, or general discomfort. The goal is not to relieve the pain completely, but to get to know it and learn from it so you can better manage it.

Benefits of a Regular Practice

Best when performed daily (or even several times a day), practicing body scan meditation is associated with many mental and physical health benefits. Research shows that stress reduction is one of the primary benefits of body scan meditation, which in turn can have physical benefits including reduced inflammation, fatigue, and insomnia.

In this way, this body scanning works to break the cycle of physical and psychological tension that can feed on itself.

The body scan meditation is a very useful and effective meditation that can help you to return to and maintain a relaxed state when you become too tense.

How to Do a Body Scan Meditation

As with all forms of meditation, doing a body scan is meant to be simple. Below are some instructions to get you started.

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When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

Stress affects your whole body. Your breathing and heart rate quicken, your blood pressure rises, and other body systems kick into high gear. This is your body’s natural reaction to danger—the “fight or flight” response. A little stress every now and then is not cause for concern, but chronic stress is linked to a number of health problems.

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

Anxiety is the main byproduct of stress and, not surprisingly, anxiety is the most common mood disorder. Although genetics and your life experiences play a role in your mental health, chronic stress can also increase your risk of developing a mental health problem. One theory suggests the hormones released during stress disrupt serotonin levels, a brain chemical that affects mood. Over time, a change in serotonin levels may lead to anxiety or depression, among other mental disorders.

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

When you’re stressed, it can be difficult to quiet your mind and fall or stay asleep. Periodic insomnia is not unusual. However, chronic insomnia—occurring at least three nights a week and lasting more than a month—can make you feel tired, irritable and more stressed. Left untreated, insomnia may lead to other health problems, including depression, anxiety, and heart failure.

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and abnormal heartbeats. If you are already dealing with these health concerns added stress can make them worse. Stress also causes certain blood cells to become stickier, increasing the risk of blood clots and stroke. In addition to the body’s biological response to stress, behaviors associated with stress—unhealthy eating, smoking and drinking, and not exercising—may be to blame.

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

Hormones released during stress can trigger changes in the blood vessels throughout your body. These changes can cause tension headaches and migraines. Stress may also affect how you handle headache pain. Being agitated may lower your pain-tolerance threshold.

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

The appearance of your skin is a good indicator of your overall well-being. Stress causes a chemical reaction in your body that makes skin more sensitive and reactive. Stress hormones can affect your skin by aggravating existing skin problems, such as psoriasis, eczema, and acne, and causing new ones, like hives and rashes. You can help prevent some of these problems by keeping your skin clean and free of harsh cleansers. Use hypoallergenic products, which are less likely to cause a reaction.

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

Studies have found a link between the stress hormone cortisol and sugar and fat cravings. In addition, cortisol may cause the body to hold on to fat, especially belly fat, making losing weight even more difficult. Many people eat when they’re having a rough time. When you’re stressed, stay ahead of those cravings by always having healthy snacks at hand.

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

Nearly everyone feels sick to their stomach at one time or another when facing a stressful situation. But chronic stress can wreak havoc on the digestive system. It’s known to cause heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, cramping and bloating. Irritable bowel syndrome, a condition in which the large intestine is irritated, is strongly related to stress.

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

Your immune system is a collection of cells that protect the body against harmful bacteria, viruses and cancer. Research shows that people who are under chronic stress have fewer white blood cells—the infection-fighting cells—and are more vulnerable to colds and other illnesses. Once you are sick, stress can make your symptoms worse.

When and how to make stress good for your body and mind

In small doses, stress is good because it motivates you to get things done or flee a dangerous situation. But ongoing stress can wear you down and make you sick. One of the most effective things you can do is exercise because it helps your body deal with stress. This doesn’t have to be a major overhaul of your life. Take a short, brisk walk first thing in the morning or some other time of day. Always have healthy snacks on hand, including your car. If you are having trouble managing your stress, talk to your doctor or someone else you can trust.