How do you relieve stress, especially when it feels like it’s out of your control? If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that life can change at a moment’s notice. Thinking back over the past 12 months, it’s easy to see that stress levels have been rising within society. Headline after headline tells us what we already know; many of us are living with more stress every day.
But what does all of this added stress mean for our health?
Exposure to chronic (frequent and long-term) stress has been linked to several health complications including: disrupted sleep cycles, depression and anxiety, increased blood pressure, and even heart attacks and strokes….yikes! Perhaps more practically speaking, living with long-term stress greatly reduces our overall happiness and can make it more difficult for us to connect with those we love.
For those of us living with diabetes, we can relate to the added burden of managing a chronic disease during an already stressful year. The need to think about what to eat, what medications to take, and when to test your blood sugar can be overwhelming at the best of times, let alone while living with so much uncertainty. What’s more is that stress can actually impact our blood sugar readings, too.
So, what exactly happens to our body during times of stress?
During moments of stress our heart rate rises, our stomach does a few flips and suddenly we are amped up and ready to take on the world. On the inside our body is preparing for a war, releasing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that launch us into fight-or-flight mode. Both of these hormones play an important part in preparing us for the potential risk that lays ahead.
Another major component in the response to stress is the release of glucagon from the pancreas.
Glucagon is a hormone that is responsible for triggering the process of gluconeogenesis – a fancy term that refers to the liver pumping glucose out into the bloodstream.
Once this glucose pumping begins, watch out – increased blood sugar levels have arrived! The release of glucose is an important part of making sure we have energy available for our muscles, organs, and brain for what’s to come. Of course, for people living with diabetes this can make it particularly challenging to try and maintain consistent blood glucose readings – especially if this state of stress goes on for prolonged periods of time (hello, chronic stress!)
So, should I be aiming for zero stress?
Not at all because a bit of stress is actually quite helpful for humans. In fact, it’s the stress response that often keeps us safe; think about your quick reaction time when you see a car coming at the last minute before you cross the street, or getting that work project done on a deadline. In these instances, it’s easy to see why we still need some stress in our lives.
And while that might be true, the problem we face today is that it’s not just a little stress that many of us encounter. In reality, chronic stress has started to creep in and consume many parts of our society. Unfortunately, our brain is unable to see the difference between acute (short) and chronic (long term) stress – treating each situation equally. This means that, in states of chronic stress, your body is constantly encountering elevated hormones and glucose levels.
I have a lot going on in my life, how can I tell if I’m stressed?
Often stress will present itself in the body in common ways before the bigger health complications develop. As our body begins to frequently encounter stress you might notice some of the following physical or psychological responses:
- Neck and shoulder tension
- Abrupt changes in appetite or weight
- Headaches, stomach or gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea or constipation
- Frequent and unexplained crying
- Feelings of irritability
- Disruption in sleep patterns
- Difficulty concentrating on tasks
- Avoiding responsibilities altogether
What can we do to relieve or minimize the effects of stress in our lives?
Think back to some of your most recent encounters; do you think you might be in a state of chronic stress? Is your body telling you that something is off? If so, it might be time to implement some habits that will help with reducing and relieving the stress in your life.
5 Tips To Relieve Stress
Entire marketing strategies have been created around stress-reduction and mindfulness techniques: spa retreats, cell phone apps, weighted blankets, and more. Each of these promises great results, but relieving stress doesn’t need to be that costly. Consider trying one of these options to keep your stress levels down today:
1. Keep a regular sleep routine
Getting adequate sleep is essential for keeping stress at bay. That means going to bed and rising around the same time every day (yes, even on weekends!). It might also include keeping your phone out of the bedroom to encourage going to bed on time instead of the infinite scrolling that can happen. When we maintain a routine, our brain is tasked with fewer decisions, letting our body know we are in control and telling us that what is coming next is predictable.
2. Make exercise a part of your daily routine
Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or keeping your runners near the foot of your bed to encourage walking as part of your morning routine. Have ten free minutes during your workday? Try a 10-minute desk stretching routine that will break up the day and get your heart pumping.
3. Try square breathing when you find yourself in moments of stress
Square breathing is a technique that triggers your nervous system to relax, and will immediately reduce your body’s response to stress. Coupled with a meditative practice this is a sure way to help you respond instead of reacting to life’s many curveballs. Try square breathing any time you need to relieve stress: Breath in through the nose for four counts, hold for four counts, breath out through the mouth for four counts, and pause for four counts before repeating the process three more times. Completing a cycle of square breathing triggers your nervous system to relax, and will immediately reduce your body’s response to stress.
4. Limit your caffeine intake
Caffeine can certainly help with alertness throughout the day, but it can also make it more difficult to sleep at night. If you don’t have insomnia but have a little difficulty falling asleep from time to time, try to limit your caffeinated beverage intake to less than 400mg per day; that’s the same amount as four 250mL cups of coffee. Since caffeine stays in your body for around 8 hours, count back 8 hours from the time you want to go to bed, and have your last cup of java then. For example, if you want to hit the hay at 10 pm, then stop drinking caffeinated beverages by 2 pm.
5. Increase the laughter in your life
Laughter encourages the release of happy hormones called endorphins which make us feel good. Try calling a friend, listening to a funny podcast, or partaking in laughter yoga (yes, it’s really a thing!).
What’s most important when trying to relieve stress is finding a technique that works for you. So if none of these ideas sound appealing, take out a pen and paper and start jotting down some activities that do. Perhaps it’s dialing into a funny sitcom for half an hour, or spending time with your favorite furry sidekick. Whatever it might be, listen to what your body is telling you and take the time needed to de-stress; your future self will thank you!
What sort of stress-busting techniques are working best for you on your journey? Leave a comment below and let us know!
360Care by Ellerca Health seeks to empower individuals to regain control of their health. We believe that with the right support and motivation, anyone can make and maintain the lifestyle changes necessary to live a happy and healthy life.
By using 360Care through your mobile device, you’ll have access to a team of health professionals (nurses, dieticians, diabetes educators, psychologists, and coaches) and your own personalized health plan, all dedicated to helping you reach your health goals.
From feeling better, relieving symptoms, and improving your quality of life, 360Care can help you to live your best life.