We all know that stress releases cortisol in our bodies and long-term stress can cause detrimental physical effect in our bodies including.
Changes in brain size, function and structure.
Increases risk of depression and Alzheimer’s
Causes inflammation and damages the cardiovascular system.
So, stress is bad and we should reduce it by avoiding stressful situations, meditating, running and eating well right?
Stress research generally only looks a the detrimental effects of over stress. Arousal research picks up where stress research is blind. Optimal arousal theory(OAT) demonstrates an entire inverted u-shaped curve of arousal.
OAT says that there is an optimal level of arousal for each person and for each task.
OAT asks you to first consider who you are and what your base-line arousal is. And then to consider what type of task you are about to perform.
Additionally, some lesser known research by Jamieson and Nock(2012) showed that the negative physiological effects of stress could be eliminated if the participant held the belief that stress was helpful in achieving a goal or motivational. Simply reappraising the arousal improved cognitive and cardiovascular responses to stress.
Additionally, other research has shown that oxytocin is also released along with cortisol during stress and may act as a built-in mechanism for stress resilience in our bodies. Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory which protects the cardiovascular system from stress-damage and also actually helps heart cells heal and regenerate. Oxytocin also drives us to seek out social contact which reinforces the increase in oxytocin and provides further protective benefits.
Furthermore, another study showed that caring for other people reduced the likelihood of stress-related increased death risk.
In her TED talk, Dr. Kelly McGonagal postulates that in light of these tempering effects, it is better to go after a more-stressful goal/career that inspires you and gives you purpose than it is to take on a less-stressful position in which you lack purpose and drive.
Here at Atlas, we believe that stress reduction requires a holistic approach. If you are experiencing some stress in your life, here are some ways to reduce the impact:
Reduce inflammatory foods (e.g. sugar, simple carbohydrates)
Engage in cardiovascular exercise (20 min 3x/week)
Take supplements/vitamins that support healthy adrenal function
Being able to predict and prepare for a stressor lessens its effect.
Appraise stress as helpful or as a short burst of energy getting you ready for a challenge.
Engage in self-reflection and observation that helps you notice when your fire alarm is going off to increase your ability to response rather than react.
Increase vagal tone through breathing slowly and/or with a longer exhale
Engage in mind-body practices like yoga, Thai Chi, and/or Qi Gong
Work with a therapist to understand your triggers and being with emotion
Social interaction lessens stress and increases our sense of resilience, call a friend, join a group, have a conversation with a stranger.
Physical touch and close socializing releases oxytocin which reduces cortisol. Also petting a pet and even giving a hug can help.
How do you like to deal with stress? Which of these tactics will you try?