OCCASIONAL STRESS OR TENSION? LEARNING HOW TO MANAGE IT IS GOOD FOR YOUR GUT (AND YOUR WHOLE BODY)
Everyone experiences stress or tension from time to time in their lives. In fact, stress is a normal bodily response to a challenging situation, and in some cases it can even be beneficial to your health.
However, sometimes stress can have a negative impact on overall wellness, which is why learning how to identify and cope with occasional feelings of stress is important to preserving both your mental and physical health.
THE FIRST STEP IN MANAGING STRESS AND TENSION IS UNDERSTANDING THE SOURCE
Nowadays, a lot of things may trigger feelings of stress in your everyday life, from current events and environmental changes to smaller, but no less important, factors such as job changes, relationships, and home and family life.
Instead of trying to ignore or power through those tense feelings, take the time to stop and listen to your body when it feels unusually overwhelmed. Keep an ongoing journal of when those times occur and what outside factors may have triggered them, and carry it with you for about a week or two to help you identify any patterns that may appear. Doing so will help you get a feel for your primary sources of stress and tension so you can learn to cope with them more effectively.
Once you have identified your most common stressors, pinpoint those you may be able to reduce or eliminate. While a lot of larger things may feel beyond your control, there are often one or two smaller things you can alter in your life to help reduce these feelings. It may also help to adopt beneficial habits that can help you manage occasional stress, which you can find a little further down in this blog.
A WORD ABOUT STRESS AND YOUR GUT
Roughly 40 trillion bacterial cells live and work in harmony inside your body, primarily in your gut. Many of these microbes are beneficial and promote good digestion and health, but there are also neutral and some harmful bacteria that make up your unique microbiome.
The key to optimal wellness is making sure the beneficial and neutral bacteria balance out the harmful bacteria, which is why we so often hear about the importance of maintaining a balanced gut.
In recent years, scientists have discovered that stress impacts gut bacteria balance, which in turn can affect healthy digestive function. Because at least 70 percent of the immune system can be found in the gut, studies have also linked gut balance with healthy immune function and overall wellness.
8 QUICK TIPS TO MANAGE STRESS AND TENSION YOU CAN START PRACTICING RIGHT NOW
- Eat mindfully.
When it comes to managing occasional stress, dietary habits and good nutrition are more important than you might think. When you take the time to eat mindfully, your body and brain will thank you, and you’ll be better prepared to handle outside stressors.
Try to eat regularly throughout the day to support healthy blood sugar levels and to avoid feeling ravenously hungry. When you do sit down to eat, make it your primary focus and do your best to avoid distractions. Eat slowly and focus on each bite, making sure you chew your food thoroughly, about 20 to 30 times for every bite.
- Exercise as often as possible.
Research has shown that regular exercise helps the body cope with occasional stress more effectively by interacting with certain brain chemicals that affect mood and behavior. When you experience feelings of stress, you may not feel like getting on the treadmill, going for that bike ride, or taking the dog for a brisk walk. However, there is a good chance you'll feel better once you do!
- Limit your exposure to news outlets and social media.
This is a tough one, especially these days as so many people are focused on getting the latest information about current events. However, because of the convenience of mobile technology, and because seven in 10 Americans are using social media sites, it's easy to feel overwhelmed in a sea of daily headlines and opinions. Start slowly by eliminating just one source of information exposure, and see if it helps reduce occasional stress.
- Make sure you get plenty of sleep.
According to National Sleep Foundation guidelines, healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. Start by making your bedroom into an oasis of calm; clear away the clutter, add some soft lighting or room-darkening curtains, and leave your phone, tablet, and other electronic devices in another room when you come to bed. Also, try to go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning. Once your body gets used to the change, it will fall into a natural rhythm and you’ll have an easier time falling (and staying) asleep.
- Find a stress-relieving activity.
While most people think of yoga, tai chi, or deep breathing exercises as ways to relieve occasional stress, your go-to stress-relief activity can be absolutely anything that works for you. Going for a run, dancing in the living room, playing basketball in the driveway, listening to music—whatever helps you relax and de-stress, make sure you find the time to do it as often as possible. Feeling creative? Studies show coloring is a great stress reliever, and the same principle can be applied to painting, scrapbooking, quilting, knitting, and any other creative outlet.
- Develop a good support system.
A good support system goes a long way toward coping with occasional stress. Whether it's your bestie, your sister, or your spouse, find yourself a buddy you can rely on when things start to feel overwhelming. Talking is a great way to work out what's triggering your feelings of stress, and many times just having someone there to listen can help alleviate stressful emotions so you can feel calm and balanced again.
- Take a daily probiotic supplement.
Because the majority of the immune system is found in the gut, many people take a daily probiotic supplement to help maintain a balanced internal environment. Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. This means they can provide good bacteria to your gut to support your digestive health when occasional stress or tension tries to upset your healthy gut balance.*
- Adopt a shelter pet.
Did you know that just interacting with a pet for 10 minutes can significantly lower cortisol levels in the body? Cortisol is the primary stress hormone, and constantly high cortisol levels can negatively impact every system in the body. Especially now that people are spending more time at home, consider heading down to your local shelter to pick out a buddy to help you cope.
OCCASIONAL STRESS AND TENSION ARE NORMAL, KNOWING HOW TO MANAGE THEM IS KEY
Remember that your mind and body are affected by everything that happens to you and around you each day. To help keep your gut in balance and support your health, do your best to identify common stressors in your life and take steps to reduce or eliminate them whenever possible. And above all, remember to be gentle with yourself; even small, positive steps can make a big difference.