Built into our bodies is a powerful stress response system. It allows us to quickly and effectively respond to immediate threats in our environment.
At the first sign of danger, our bodies enter the process of fight or flight. Sending extra blood flow to muscles that are used to run and fight. Stopping our evolved thinking parts of the brain, and emphasizing our sensory perception. Stopping unnecessary energy expenditures in areas like digestion and reproduction, and releasing hormones that reduce feelings of comfort, and emphasize feelings of requiring action.
This stress response is a good thing when under immediate danger. It allows us to take quick action to save our lives or the lives of others. But it’s not good, it’s harmful, when continually activated in non-threatening situations.
Chronic Stress in Modern Life
Many of us in the modern world have very little reason to experience fight or flight in our day-to-day lives. We’ve thankfully built safe societies that don’t have threats that occur too often. But despite this, we live with chronic stress.
Small, mundane situations are activating stress response in our bodies. These “modern stressors” are common throughout our day:
- Getting an angry email from a client or coworker.
- Reading a negative post on social media.
- Thinking of a future event or tasks that need to be done.
- Even the stress of thinking about our stressors.
In these very normal, non-life-threatening situations, we shouldn’t be activating a stress response. If anything, we need our rational and calm minds to handle them. But without an intentional mindset and habits, these normal everyday situations are activating our stress response.
The symptomss of chronic stress are common in modern life:
- Inability to Focus
- Decreased Energy
- Lower Sex Drive
- Digestive Issues
- Appetite Changes
Chronic stress is especially an issue as we exit the Covid-19 pandemic. With time away from friends, increased screen time, and continual negative news coverage, even more resilient people may have found themselves with increased stress levels.
How to Reduce Chronic Stress
The good news is that you don’t have to live with chronic stress. Over time, you can implement lifestyle and mindset changes that help you reduce how your body reacts to everyday stressors.
Here are some of my favorite ways to reduce unhealthy stress.
Reduce Smartphone Usage – Our smartphones are a major cause of stress. It’s clear from many psychological studies that social media, texts, and the constant drip of notifications from our phones impact our neurotransmitters on a fundamental level. Try dramatically reducing the amount of time you spend on your phone.
Turn off the News – A majority of the news that is published and produced is negative fear mongering. News and social media content is intentionally curated and spun to make you afraid, and wanting to come back to “check in” on how things are going. Turn off the news and don’t look back.
Meditation – Cultivating a meditation practice, whether it’s through guided meditations, breathing exercises, etc., is a great way to connect your mind and body. Concerning stress, this allows you to take more control of your stress system, and calm it down when it shouldn’t be firing.
Focus on What you Can Control – Many of our stresses come from things that are outside of our control. We worry and fret over things that happen in the world around us, or to us, instead of over things that we can change. Learn to accept things outside of your control, and focus on what you can control.
Sleep 8+ Hours – Getting adequate sleep is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. Your physical and mental health will benefit from getting deep, restful sleep on a regular basis.
Exercise – Working out is a great way to regulate healthy hormones in your body. It also helps you re-focus on physical well-being, putting you on a path of personal awareness and growth. It also provides a source of “good stress” to your body. Find what works best for you – biking, running, lifting weights, yoga, etc..
Eat Whole Foods – Our metabolic health from the food we eat plays a major role in our stress levels. Our insulin response, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol levels play an active role in maintaining healthy neurotransmitters. Simply eating real food, and avoiding processed food products can help you realign your metabolic health.
Supplements – While eating good food helps, sometimes supplements can further help to improve your nutrition. In particular to stress, adequate vitamins, like B vitamins and D, as well as Omega-3 can help reduce inflammation. CBD oil can also help to reduce background stress and anxiety.
Limit Caffeine – Coffee and energy drink consumption is directly linked to the production of stress hormones like cortisol. Limiting yourself (something I struggle with) to only one or two cups can reduce the chances that caffeine starts to have negative effects.