Just about every human being on this planet has something called an allostatic load, which is the total amount of stress that we are capable of dealing with – basically, our stress tolerance.
This level can fluctuate on a daily basis due to our life experiences, genetic makeup, perception of control, personality type, environment and our ability to handle our emotions.
More life experience usually equates to better problem-solving skills; our genetics determine how our bodies respond to stress; confidence improves our ability to function; our environment can either calm us down or amp us up; and, if we can’t control our emotions, we become more vulnerable, which can lead to bigger more intense emotions and potential problems.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
Our allostatic load is affected by two types of stress, which everyone is affected by to some degree, but the ratio of one type to the other changes from person to person.
Good stress is short lived, infrequent, inspires action and can improve our life by making us more resilient. Bad stress lasts a lot longer, becomes chronic, and affects our mental health negatively.
Extended periods of unmanaged stress can lead to the destruction of our bodies, and psychology that can result in a consistent negative mental state that leads to anxiety and depression.
However, three major methods for stress relief and the management of stress are meditation, exercise, and the use of l-theanine.
Why do I meditate? Let me count the ways…
Meditation has shown to be one of the best methods for stress relief. It has been proven to help lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, lower cortisol, reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, improve focus, clarity, attention, mood and sleep.
When done regularly, meditation can contribute to neurogenesis, emotional regulation, memory and recall, development of grey matter, and it can also improve our ability to regulate our body clock.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. It is a proven stress reducer and calming agent; it affects the sympathetic nervous system through inhibiting cortisol and lowering blood pressure.
L-Theanine can also improve brain function through stimulation and emitting alpha waves that enable a relaxed state as well as mental alertness (that can also be achieved through meditation).
The path to a stress-free life is an active one
Exercise helps stimulate blood-flow, getting oxygen to your brain and body; this alone is a relaxing and calming effect.
One problem with exercise – so be aware, and avoid this common pitfall! – is that too much of it or too high of an intensity can create levels of bad stress.
This is true especially if you are already living a stress-filled life. Instead, it’s best to mix it up, and include things like yoga, casual bike rides, hikes and/or non-competitive swimming.
Our lifestyles need an overhaul
Alongside meditation, l-theanine, and exercise, there are other things that can be done to help manage your stress levels and allostatic load, such as:
- Establish a routine
- Eat plenty of Omega-3 fats
- Know your limits and what you’re capable of handling, aka say no sometimes
- Stop multi-tasking and focus on one task at a time
- Take some time away from technology
In order to manage stress properly, it’s important to develop a healthy balance of your life demands, workload, exercise and nutrition. Work to become more positive, have gratitude, and develop a better outlook so you see your responsibilities as achievable and manageable instead of an obstacle.
Brainstorming ways to cope
A list of potential stress relievers includes but is not limited to the following:
- Go for a relaxing walk
- Surround yourself with nature
- Try to get an hour a day of direct sunlight
- Listen to relaxing music
- Practice mindfulness consistently
- Go for a massage
- Practice deep breathing
- “Laughter is the best medicine!”
- Cuddle a loved one or a pet; oxytocin is a relaxing hormone
- Yoga, mobility drills and slow stretching exercises
- Swimming or water immersion (such as a hot tub)
- Sitting in a sauna for 15 to 20 mins
- Have sex (seriously)
- Light physical activity
- Drink green tea
- Unplug from technology
I’d love to hear from you…how do you handle your stress? Do you only pay attention to it when it hits, or do you manage it on an ongoing basis? Share your thoughts in the comments so everyone can benefit from new and unique ideas!
Alternately: to start establishing healthy habits, join @FitInFounder in her 90-day #healthyhabitsmovement challenge! By starting off your day right, you stand a better chance of hitting your daily health goals.
Wes Van Hart is a personal trainer, nutritionist (and far more), located in Toronto. Wes is an advocate for constantly improving both physical and mental health, and as such, he is dedicated to advancing his knowledge base, certifications and ability to help his clients, no matter how that looks.
Wes was the very first FitIn affiliate, and is a regular contributor to the FitIn blog.