Five Physical Strategies For Stress Relief
Cultivate regularity in eating times, retiring, and waking. Melatonin, thyroid stimulating hormone, and the stress hormone cortisol run largely on a circadian (daily) rhythm. Normally in women, the menstrual cycle interacts with circadian processes to help control the expression of hormonal rhythms and sleep organization at different menstrual phases. Fatigue occurs three to four hours earlier on an irregular schedule. Disruption of normal rhythms has also been associated with sleep problems, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder. Eating balanced meals on schedule helps prevent the irritability of hunger and the mental dullness that comes from overeating.
Sleep to recharge. Sleep and mood are closely connected; poor or inadequate sleep can cause irritability and stress. Chronic insomnia is associated with a substantial increase in the risk of developing a mood disorder. For example, it can increase the risk for depression by five times. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed their normal sleep, they reported dramatic improvement in mood. Sufficient sleep is necessary for self-control. Sleep helps us to avoid impulsive behavior by enabling the front brain to connect better to the pleasure-reward system.
Do not spin, but move. Exercise increases “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain. For example, thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercise can even improve mood and well-being in individuals with major depression, for up to 12 hours. Exercise outdoors in the sunshine not only supplies vitamin D but increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter essential for positive outlook. Our muscles become tense when we experience stress. Performing daily stretch exercises improves muscle flexibility and blood flow. Stretch for ten minutes after exercise or a warm shower.
Caffeine is not your friend. Caffeine initially stimulates, then depresses. Studies show that caffeine reduces the threshold for irritability and anger. Caffeine magnifies the effect of stress on the body. Continual use of caffeine lowers the serotonin level in the brain, and reduces G.A.B.A., a brain chemical that helps us to keep calm and focused under stress. If you consume caffeinated drinks, reduce your intake gradually until you are completely off of caffeine.
Eat for strength: Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help boost your physical and emotional health. Go easy on the sugar, and never eat it on an empty stomach. Rapid rise and fall of blood sugar decreases the ability of the brain to focus. Sugar is also bad news for individuals who suffer from chronic pain. Plant foods are loaded with fiber that helps keep your blood sugar up. Deficiency in any of the B vitamins (but especially vitamin B-12) and omega-3 fats impairs the chemistry of the brain. Flaxseed, chia, soybeans, and spinach are good sources of omega-3 fats.
Enjoy a neutral tub bath. This hydrotherapy treatment relaxes the body while sedating the nervous system. Be sure the room is warm. The water temperature should be maintained between 94-97 degrees F. and the bath should last between 15 minutes to an hour. Place an inflatable pillow under the head for comfort if needed, and cover any exposed area with a light towel.
Dinges, D. et al., Cumulative Sleepiness, Mood Disturbance, and Psychomotor Vigilance Decrements During a Week of Sleep Restricted to 4 – 5 Hours Per Night, Sleep. 1997
Gupta, B.S. and Gupta, Uma, Caffeine and Behavior: Current Views and Research Trends, CRC Press, 1999.
healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for…/mood, Dec. 15, 2008
Pedersen, Traci, Missed Sleep Jolts Mood, Impairs Decision-Making, www.psychcentral.com .Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood and Well-Being in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder, March 26, 2011
Shechter, Aria and Boivin, Diane, Review Article Sleep, Hormones, and Circadian Rhythms throughout the Menstrual Cycle in Healthy Women and Women with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, Journal: Int J Endocrinol., 2010.
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Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.