Stress; an all too familiar experience for most of us. Although individuals will have varying degrees of response to stress, our underlying physiology on a cellular level does share some common ground. Gabor Maté, MD reinforces this idea in saying:
“Stress, as we will define it, is not a matter of subjective feeling. It is a measurable set of objective physiological events in the body, involving the brain, the hormonal apparatus, the immune system and many other organs.”- Gabor Mate, MD.
At the center of these physiological events is the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA). The HPA is a complex system that is tightly regulated by direct and indirect feedback of various hormones. These hormonal feedback pathways govern various systems in the body including- metabolic (energy usage), reproduction, digestion and mood regulation. Moreover the HPA axis has a role in modulating the body’s immune system. Our bodies have this innate system to help us mount an appropriate stress response to stressful situations. If the body is continuously exposed to stressful events (work deadlines, exams, stressful life events, medical procedures (i.e IVF) etc…) the body begins to negatively adapt. This can lead to hormonal dysregulation (thyroid, reproductive, metabolic etc…), mood dysregulation and suppressed immune function.
It’s no secret that stress can impact our overall health and well-being. The unfortunate reality is that the more we expose our body to high stress situations and conditions, the more likely it is to reset our baseline of perceived normal stress. Here in lies the concern for major health impacts, and risk of disease. Implementing strategies to help reduce stress on a consistent basis, helps to maintain and protect our body’s natural response to stress. Listed here are my top five strategies to reduce stress:
Yoga is a practice that incorporates a series of bodily postures and breath awareness. It helps to develop strength, balance and mindful concentration. Yoga therapy has been proven to reduce stress and improve well-being. It has been implemented in high stress populations and has been shown to improve overall quality of life in as little as six weeks of practice. Your yoga practice can be whatever you make it, whether it be a daily practice, a weekly practice, or a source of calm when needed.
* www.doyogawithme.com is a website providing free yoga classes of all types and levels, making including it in your routine more convenient and accessible.
Meditation is a practice designed to focus on the present moment. There are a variety of different types of mindfulness based meditations—all of which the goal is to achieve a state of thoughtless awareness. Meditation has been shown to help reduces stress as well as improve our capacity to cope with stress. With modern technology, meditation is quite accessible. With the resources available today from apps to websites it is even easier to find something that works for you.
www.calm.com is a great free online resource. Headspace is an app that provides easy access to meditations on your phone. Find a style that works for you, a few to consider are; guided meditations, progressive muscle relaxation, body scans and independent silent meditation.
3. Getting Outside
Traditional Ayurvedic medicine believes that we should spend time in nature every day. Find some time in your day to get outside, and shift your focus externally. Try to focus on every aspect of your experience. Call attention to what you see, what you smell, what you hear and touch. This practice can be a form of meditation.
4. Unplugging from technology
Unplug. Put your phone down. Reconnect with the present moment. Engage with friends and family, the conversations you will have will be authentic and real (#nofilter…but seriously).
5. Adaptogenic Herbs
Adaptogenic herbs are a variety of herbs that help to support the body’s response to stress. They all contain different phytochemicals, with active constituents. The constituents are what defines the medicinal effects of the plant. Often times they act on the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) where they can have a normalizing or balancing effect. Ashwaganda (Withania Sinensis) in particular is one of my favorite herbs to use for stress management. It is calming in nature and has therapeutic effects in regulating the immune system, the endocrine system (your hormones!) and the nervous system. Remember to always consult your naturopathic doctor or primary care practitioner prior before taking an adaptogen.
-Dr. Jodie, ND