Stress Case

Jana Webb weighs in on why the word “stress” has become such a blanket term that’s losing its meaning, and the impact it has on our mental and physical well-being.

If you type the word “stress” into Google, your search result will claim: “Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”

We all know stress can be good if you are about to get attacked by a bear or if you are an athlete and about to endure a hit from a 400-pound linebacker (that’s when your fight-or-flight response kicks in), but for most of us, it’s a huge problem that can be detrimental to our health. When you are consistently stressed, your body produces an excess of cortisol, which is a hormone that can impede our human system from functioning properly. It can impact our cognitive behaviour, emotionality, digestive system, sleep patterns, the food choices we make…the list goes on. Even if you think you are making good food choices and going to the gym, you may not see progress or results if you have too much cortisol.

So, what’s the solution? Put simply, you need to learn to relax. Easier said than done, I know, particularly when you are living in our world that demands so much of you every day. But there is one simple physiological thing you can do to offset stress, which will alter your central nervous system: Breathe.

You’ve most likely heard the saying, “just take a deep breath.” While it may seem like rather trivial advice, it actually works. When you take deep, belly breaths, you activate your
parasympathetic nerves in the lower abdomen These nerves run through the spine and connect to the right side of your brain. One of the functions of the right brain is the relaxation response. This response slows down heart rate, promotes blood flow to internal organs (which promotes optimal digestive function), produces DHEA (a hormone that keeps us youthful), as well as HGH (the human growth hormone, which allows the body to repair and recover). It also helps promote sleep and allows your body to run more efficiently. And the best part is it can be done anywhere and at any time.

The key to implementing this practice into your life is to become aware of what triggers
your stress. Is it a particular person or environment? For example, if you’re in traffic and
you feel road rage coming on, become aware of your physiology and then see what happens when you don’t react and instead take deep breaths. If you’re having a confrontation with your partner, become aware of your physiology and see what happens if you first stop to take a deep breath. Rinse and repeat this strategy with all of your stress triggers.

We have all heard the saying, “Life is one percent what happens to us, and 99 percent how we react to it.” If you want to find some peace of mind, do a little work on yourself. Understand and become aware of what stresses you and start to make little changes in your reactions. Soon you will have created a new healthy habit. And the bonus? You will look and feel better, and be a better person to be around.