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By Dr Becky editorial

Stress

Everyone feels a bit tense from time to time

Everyone feels a little tense from time to time. That isn’t a bad thing, as a little tension can help you to perform better. But being under pressure for long periods isn’t good for your body. All types of tension tend to be referred to collectively as ‘stress’. Stress occurs in people’s bodies as a response to external stimuli and events. The stimuli that cause stress are different for every person. Some people feel tense when they need to change a lightbulb, others when they think about giving a talk or riding a rollercoaster. Stress stimuli can also be caused by feeling overwhelmed by work or by situations where we experience anxiety. Stress is different for everyone, making it hard to define. If you experience a stimulus in that way, then this provokes all kinds of responses in your body designed to get you to safety, if at all possible.

Stress - what exactly is it?

Stress provokes all kinds of responses in your body, so that you’re able to keep taking action under pressure. This is known as the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ principle. When you feel tense, your body produces adrenaline. Adrenaline is a hormone that helps the body to be able to flee or fight. But when you’re overcome by fear a third response can occur, also initiated by adrenaline: freezing. When you freeze, you’re almost literally paralysed by fear and you stay rooted to the spot. The latter happens to animals more often than to people. Besides adrenaline, the body also produces cortisol. These are stress hormones. Adrenaline and cortisol ensure that the blood flows through your body by raising your heart rate. Functions that you don’t need so much, such as your [perception of pain], are disabled. Your body produces extra sugar that is rapidly pumped to the muscles to provide energy. Your pupils dilate and your ears pick up more sound. You’re fully prepared to fight or flee. Once the danger has passed, your body initiates the production of endorphins and dopamine to calm you down again more quickly. The cortisol produced by your adrenal glands also reduces the effect of adrenaline. An ingenious system that can work well for short-term stress. But when stress is prolonged it burns the body out completely.

The effect of stress on the body

Stress is very tiring. Anyone who’s ever been really frightened or nervous knows how exhausting stress can be. Now imagine that your body’s stress system is switched on for days on end. The adrenaline, in combination with the increased production of cortisol, literally exhausts the body. You become tired and grumpy, you’re no longer able to see solutions, you’re constantly switched ‘on’ ready to fight or flee, your appetite disappears or you actually eat far more fats and products containing simple, rapidly absorbed sugars, your blood sugar level is constantly high and you may start to experience a burnout. Your body gets out of balance and this can cause real damage to your tissues, brain, cardiovascular system and organs. So, during lengthy periods of stress, your body takes quite a pounding from all the processes that stress initiates. That’s why it’s important to recognise the signs of long-term stress (tiredness, lethargy, crying a lot, difficulty sleeping, feelings of anxiety) and do something about this in time, before you end up with a burnout or depression.

What to do about stress

After a period of tension, it’s really important that you make time for relaxation. After a stressful period, plan a day’s rest (or several days) and go and do something fun to recharge your batteries and clear your mind. There are lots of ways to relax. Take a trip to the seaside to blow away the cobwebs (ideally when it really is blowing a gale), visit a museum or zoo, enjoy the rides at your favourite theme park, go for a walk or bike ride, play some sport or just snuggle up on the sofa and watch your favourite film. Even when you’re still experiencing all the stress, it’s a good idea to do something completely different for a while to take your mind off things. A spa day, yoga, playing sport (good for the endorphins), a meal out or listening to music can all help you to get the stress under control. Everyone has a different way of relaxing and you know best how you can take your mind off the day’s stress. It’s very important that you keep talking about how you feel. Make it clear that work is getting too much for you and say ‘no’ to assignments and appointments more often. Schedule some free time for yourself and set boundaries by making it clear that you won’t be available at those times. It also helps to turn off mobile notifications, so you’re not tempted to check your phone every time it beeps.

Calming herbal extracts

As well as seeking relaxation, eating well and drinking lots of water are equally important to restore the balance in your body. Fresh vegetables and fruit are particularly good for keeping your immune system functioning properly when you’re experiencing stress. Avoid coffee and other drinks that contain caffeine and replace them with fruit juice, green smoothies and herbal tea. There are various herbs that can help you to sleep well and restore mental calm. Drink some tea made from these herbs or take a high quality food supplement that contains them. Ginseng, for example, is a herb that has been used for years to promote a healthy mind. But did you know that ginseng contains substances that are beneficial to the adrenal glands? At times of stress, your adrenal glands work overtime, so it’s particularly important to give these organs the support they need and soothe them. Passion flower extracts can help promote good sleep. Lengthy exposure to stress can be very harmful to your body, including your immune system and cardiovascular system. The reishi mushroom can really help with this by supporting the body’s immune system. This mushroom also contains certain substances that can help keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. The herb ashwagandha is associated with a calming effect on the body at times of anxiety and stress. When combined in a food supplement, these herbal extracts can help you to cope with periods of stress and feel more positive about life.

See your doctor?

When stress and tension get too much for you, then as well as adopting a healthy lifestyle it’s advisable to see your GP. Tell them what you’re going through and what’s bothering you. There may be other possible solutions that could help in your situation, such as a referral to a therapist. If you’re having problems at work, then the company’s confidential contact person or occupational health physician may be able to help. Comfort yourself with the thought that you’re not the only one who’s experiencing stress. Sometimes life throws a lot of challenges your way. So don’t be afraid to seek help in dealing with them.

Information
The information provided is written by our editors, acquired and processed in collaboration with a network of professional expert sources and copywriters. In case of complications, contact an expert.

Source: Dr Becky Editorial, Webmd.com.