The Science Behind Stress And How To Release It

We all feel stressed from time to time, whether it’s work induced or just an overwhelming amount of responsibilities queueing up one after another. You might just feel overwhelmed, or maybe you can’t sleep at night, whatever it is no one’s body reacts well to stress.

But what exactly is stress and what does it do to us? Moreover, how do we release it?

The Science Behind Stress

You may have heard of the “stress hormone” before, but it might be a bit more complicated than you think.

The stress hormone is what’s called cortisol, and it’s seen by many doctors as a real threat to health. Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands when we feel frightened or stressed. It’s generally associated with the fight-or-flight response and is attributed to bad feelings throughout your body.

Cortisol isn’t always bad, though. Just like stress, there are good and bad kinds. Some stress makes you scared and triggers your fight-or-flight instinct. Others turn that feeling into a more energizing or invigorating feeling. More of a “take-it-on” kind of feeling and is characterized by cortisol dissipating once a task is complete.

Stress is also greatly associated with anxiety disorders of many types.

Generally, an anxiety disorder means that certain things happen to your body in a stressful situation. Particularly, your heart rate will increase dramatically, you’ll sweat, your muscles will tense, and your hands will tremble.

Not all stress symptoms mean you have an anxiety disorder, but those who experienced stress more intensely or more physically could have a type of disorder which increases the chemical norepinephrine – a panic inducer – that’s triggered in the brain.

The Science Behind Stress And How To Release It

Though in some severe cases doctors may recommend supplements or medication to reduce stress or anxiety, there are some methods that you can do on your own.

1. Reduce Aggravating Substances

It might seem obvious, but reducing the amount of aggravating substances you consume is very beneficial to your physical and mental health.

Substances you might encounter in everyday life are caffeine and alcohol.

Caffeine is very common in contributors to stress and anxiety. Caffeine uses a simple technique to make you feel more focused and energetic, by blocking the chemical adenosine from producing. This gives us a “buzz” of energy for a short while. However, coupled with feelings of stress, it can add to certain anxiety disorder symptoms like trembling, tense muscles, and sweat.

Alcohol, on the other hand, is rather straightforward. Alcohol that is consumed in excess – like a night out – has an effect on our serotonin levels. By fluctuating the chemical that produces happy feelings, you will experience mood swings, worsening symptoms of anxiety and stress.

Overall, the first step to a stress-free life is to really limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol to a level that works for you.

2. Balance Your Diet

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You might have foods that make you feel really good, like chocolate or ice cream, but there are some healthier options too.

There are a lot of superfoods out there, but only some have a proven effect to reduce stress. Leafy greens specifically contain specific nutrients that increase and produce dopamine in the brain, making you feel happier. And if you’ve ever gone to Thanksgiving you know the calming effects of a good turkey dinner, but there’s a reason for it too. Specifically, it produces serotonin, like most proteins, but in high amounts.

Overall, look for foods that are protein heavy, carb-heavy, or rich in nutrients as they help both your body and mind work better.

3. Sleep On It

For a long time, it was believed that sleep deprivation was a symptom of stress. But recently, studies are showing that perhaps it’s the opposite: sleep deprivation causes stress.

It might kind of seem like a deadly cycle. You’re so stressed you can’t get to sleep and if you don’t sleep you’ll feel stressed. But there’s a reason why this all happens. In REM – the stage of sleep where dreams happen – it’s been found that levels of norepinephrine and cortisol decrease. Essentially, more time spent in the REM stage of sleep will reduce stress.

There are three stages: light sleep, REM, and deep sleep. All stages are very important and it’s good to see what effects during your day will result in different stages of sleep.

Because you have a different heart rate in every stage, you can track your sleep with a heart rate detector overnight. Most wearable technology will track this for you, but look for “sleep insights” on the package when you’re shopping!

4. Exercise More

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It might be no surprise that exercise is on this list. After you go for a run or complete a really tough leg-day, you’ve probably felt that happy, glowy feeling post-workout. Well, there’s an explanation for that feeling.

According to the ADAA, when you exercise, you produce endorphins and get your blood flowing. Endorphins are commonly known as the “natural painkiller” as they can reduce pain. But it also helps you sleep.

If you’ve ever taken sleep notes over a course of a few months, you might notice that you sleep more soundly after you’ve had an intense workout. That’s endorphins at work. The more sleep you get, as we know, the less cortisol your brain produces and the less stressed you feel. Meditation and massage also produce endorphins and is why they are associated with stress relief as well.

5. Laugh About It

Of course, we all know that laughing is associated with happy feelings, so it stands to reason that it would also help reduce stress. But why does it actually help?

There’s a lot of reasons why laughter is good for the brain. When you laugh, your body produces a bunch of great chemicals like serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. It also has the effect of reducing the production of cortisol, making it a double-whammy of effectiveness.

Beyond that, laughter can also put our minds at ease and stimulate calm thoughts. We also see laughter as a tool for blood flow and reducing tense muscles, a symptom of stress that we mentioned above.

And this is the science behind stress and the things you can do to release it. What about you? What’s been your most helpful activity to reduce stress? You can leave your comment in the comment section below 🙂

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Farokh Zavosh

Dr. Farokh Zavosh, DC is a chiropractor practicing in Downtown Vancouver since 2001 helping Vancouverites to stay physically fit, healthy and pain-free. Dr. Zavosh is a Certified Activator Method chiropractor in addition to family chiropractic. He is a Palmer College of Chiropractic-West graduate. Learn more about him at his website  Burrard Chiropractic  and keep in touch with him on his  Twitter  profile.

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