Daily life involves stress. It is evident in decision making, career choices, home life, relationships, and friendships. It is an unavoidable fact of life.
Great amounts of stress can be incredibly damaging to the body and the mind. Many health issues are aggravated or caused by high levels of continuous stress.
This guide can provide information on the different types of stress, methods to alleviate and avoid stress, and healthy eating and supplement choices to reduce its levels. It is important to discuss the different types of stress as different people experience stress and anxiety differently. How a stressful day manifests in one individual may be completely different for another.
This is also true of how individuals monitor and alleviate their stress. Yoga and meditation may be all that is needed for some while others require long jogs and weight lifting to feel truly relaxed. Exercise and the subsequent endorphins released are a common method in stress reduction therapies.
Well-balanced meals and lots of nutritious vegetables can help the body physically manage stress better as well. Some people's schedules are too busy for exercise and healthy eating, though, which is why many add herbal supplements into their lifestyles for that extra boost to truly change their lives for the better and make a commitment to becoming stress-free.
Stress comes and goes naturally throughout life and with life's changes. Rather than avoiding or denying the evidence of stress in one's life, the healthier choice is to realize when stress is becoming a problem and to work towards developing a plan to have a healthy amount of stress and to alleviate the negative side effects of the rest.
1. What Is Stress?
Stress has a variety of different definitions and meanings that are all accurate to some degree. There is not one perfect definition that concisely sums up what stress is. Below, various sources are shown with their different definitions of stress and what it encompasses.
Stress is “a mentally or emotionally disruptive or upsetting condition occurring in response to adverse external influences and capable of affecting physical health, usually characterized by increased heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, muscular tension, irritability and depression” (source).
“Stress is a term that refers to the sum of the physical, mental and emotional strains or tensions on a person. Feelings of stress in humans result from interactions between persons and their environment that are perceived as straining or exceeding their adaptive capacities and threatening their well-being. The element of perception indicates that human stress responses reflect differences in personality as well as differences in physical strength or health” (source).
One of the simplest definitions of stress is the worry experienced by a person in particular circumstances or the state of anxiety caused by this (source). This is a particularly useful definition, as the results of that stress are not defined, leaving it open ended for an individual to experience their stress uniquely.
Stress may manifest physically, mentally, or emotionally. One of the factors contributing to stress's different results depends on what type of stress the individual is experiencing.
1.1. Different Types of Stress
The various types of stress can include:
- episodic acute
Physical stress occurs when physical activities and events wreak havoc and damage the body. This most commonly comes from traveling frequently and feeling jet lagged. Physical stress is often a complaint, if an individual works out too often, works very long hours on their feet, or simply is not getting enough sleep.
Other types of physical stress can include infections, surgery recovery, illness, dehydration, substance abuse, and even musculoskeletal misalignments. Physical stress can quickly develop into other types of stress if it is not managed well. Getting enough sleep and allowing the body time to rest and recover is necessary for many people's busy lives.
Emotional stress is the most common type of stress. It occurs after a breakup or a divorce or when a loved one passes away. Emotionally traumatic problems that occur in day to day life all cause different levels of emotional stress.
This type of stress can exhibit feelings of isolation, changes in sleeping habits, weight changes, and mood swings. People with high levels of emotional stress complain of feeling constantly tense, irritable and restless, unable to relax, and even depressed. Many people feel the need to socially withdraw when experiencing emotional stress when, in reality, healthy communication and conversation among friends would greatly improve their state of mind.
Traumatic stress involves a dramatic and sudden attack on the body. Adrenaline is released in many other types of stress, but this is the most well-known type that is related to the fight or flight response. Traumatic stress occurs after a car accident, fire, or other life-threatening scenarios. Other types of stress can follow the initial traumatic stress inducing incident.
Acute stress occurs for a set period of time or only because it is being caused by time-limited factors. When the emotional environment changes, so that those factors are not stress-inducing, the stress will stop.
Some types of acute stress are good for the mind and body. These are on-the-spot triggers that force the mind to handle the situation that is presented and with the stress of it, hormones are being released faster to help come to a solution. Many types of stress are acute, including emotional and physical stress if properly managed and diagnosed.
Episodic acute stress means having acute stress at a higher than normal rate. A person suffering from episodic acute stress is commonly portrayed as someone, who is always in a rush or is always taking on too many challenges at once, or if every small challenge becomes a source of a great deal of stress. There can be relatively low amounts of stress in each episode; there are just a great quantity of them, as the individual is hypersensitive to difficulties in life.
Chronic stress sufferers complain of feeling burned out. These people are overwhelmed by the pressures they are experiencing and feel as if there is no way out of their problems and no solutions. Chronic stress can occur from an unhappy marriage, ill health, unsafe home situations, and other extreme sources of duress.
People who experience chronic stress should seek professional medical help in resolving these issues. Speaking with a mental health professional regularly is a common way to help reduce stress.
Chronic stress can be developed from one of the other types of stress being poorly managed or with no changes in the environment causing the stress. Chronic stress can cause damage to the individual's health, behavior, the state of mind, and on their relationships.
1.2. Causes and Effects of Stress
Stress comes from all aspects of life: home, work, relationships, school, finances, health problems, life changes, and our habits. Most often, stress is associated with negative changes and that is when it is most commonly experienced.
The end of a relationship, a failed grade, and an unexpected bill are all common sources of stress. The feeling of anxiety and expectancy that comes with moving to a new company, the birth of a baby, or the beginning of an exotic vacation can be sources of stress as well. This stress is simply associated with more positive, exciting things.
Stress can be exhibited in the body with a lack of sleep, getting lost in thought, and mood changes. If the body is exposed to stress long-term, the effects can be more drastic and more permanent. People can experience anxiety attacks, obesity, hair loss, dental issues from grinding their teeth, and depression.
Improperly managed stress can chronically effect the body and the brain. When stress-related feelings and emotions are present for prolonged periods of time, the body experiences suppressed immune functions leaving it more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Emotional stress is also noted to result in creating hormonal imbalances in the adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and thyroid gland which would also impede immune functions.
Stress is a major contributing factor in many diseases including heart disease, insomnia, chronic headaches, chest pain, fatigue, and digestive problems. Many people's behavior is negatively affected by too much stress, which changes their habits to include overeating, oversleeping, angry outbursts, drug and alcohol abuse, lower rates of exercise, and even withdrawing from their social circles.
Many people have difficulty losing weight, even when eating healthy and exercising regularly, due to the high levels of stress in their lives. The stress hormones that are released in their bodies keep them at an unhealthy weight and reduce the changes they would see.
Managing stress should be an important part of everyone's daily health regimen, especially as stress rates are rising. The key to avoiding the negative effects of stress on the body and mind is to realize when normal, everyday stress has changed into something unmanageable and unhealthy.
Some stress in life is good and even shown to benefit people. Small amounts of normal acute stress are important for good stress response system health. This helps ensure the body is working properly if exposed to a threat. The release of stress hormones helps the individual record things to memory and retain information. Cortisol is released, for example, if someone is studying for an exam, and it helps the information process into memories faster for better retention. As mentioned above, high amounts of stress impede immune function. Low amounts of healthy stress actually help better support it.
Stress is also noted to be a great motivator to encourage people to complete projects and tasks. A low dose of stress is certain to keep a team on track for their deadline. Some stress, especially positive stress, like when meeting new friends, is important for good emotional health and growth in people of all ages, but especially in children. Kids in young life stages should be exposed to low doses of positive stress, so that when they become older they will be that much better equipped to handle life's stressors that are directed towards them.
Next, family stress will be better defined to understand the benefits of healthy family relationships and a peaceful environment in the home against stress.
2. Family Stress
Most families deal with some level of stress in their daily lives. In fact, according to a study by the Council on Contemporary families in 2014, family members are more concerned about their home duties than about those that they face at work.
To determine the cause of this imbalance of stress, researchers have found that there are several potential reasons for less stress at work than at home, including:
- working women escaping from their domestic duties at work
- increased positive feedback at work
- more feelings of accomplishment at work
- a chance to be alone at work
For many family members, it is the transition between work and home that causes the greatest levels of pressure. However, there are also many different reasons for stress that occur within the confines of the home that can affect all family members.
2.1 Children Under Stress
Parents are not the only family members who feel stress regularly. Children experience a surprising amount of stress, and those emotions reach babies, preschoolers and teenagers.
One of the main causes for stress in children occurs when parents decide to divorce. For families that were formerly nuclear units, this split can cause a lot of fear, sadness and stress as everyone begins to cope with the changes to the family. Even babies can sense the changes and the tension in the group. Older children may become angry or withdrawn as a way to cope with their stress, but neither of these tactics is helpful.
Many children also find stress in their extracurricular activities, which were initially started to give them fun and happiness. Young kids are often placed in these activities, such as youth sports or dance lessons, by their parents in the hopes that the kids would find extracurricular happenings that they enjoy. However, because of the immense cost and time commitment that many of these activities demand, as well as because of a lack of interest in the events chosen by the parents, many children become stressed. Some no longer want to participate, and others lack the talent or the work ethic to be successful. These children may fear disappointing their parents, or they may worry about their performance in each event.
Children may become stressed when they are exposed to media content that is disturbing and inappropriate for young viewers. With so much technology available to even the youngest kids, many view media that they should have avoided. In these cases, children may become fearful and stressed about images that they cannot get out of their heads.
Teenagers deal with another level of stressful situations involving their individual identities, body image issues, social and parental pressures and even their first love relationships. The process of growing up and of dealing with physical, emotional and hormonal changes can be overwhelming. Teenagers are often under these stresses combined with worries about grades and about making plans for their future.
2.2 Major Life Changes, Fears and Attitudes
It is not just children who experience family stress. Parents also deal with great amounts of stress from both internal and external causes. Marriage, the birth of children, serious illness, death, divorce, finances, social injustice and unexpectedly traumatic events are all external life stresses. Many of these situations are simply part of life and cannot be avoided, but some are also brought on by personal decisions.
Internal life stresses are the result of choices and some personality traits. These stressors include major life changes, such as switching careers or deciding to buy a new house. Other internal causes are personal attitudes, fears, unrealistic expectations and even midlife crisis situations.
When the adult units of the family face either external or internal stressors like these, everyone in the family is affected. The stressed individual is not inside his or her own little bubble, and the stress seeps into the events and feelings of every family member’s life. For example, parents bring their work or their day’s stress home from their jobs; parents juggle time with their spouses, their kids and their friends; divorced parents must deal with each other in order to handle their children and parents must manage their finances effectively.
In addition to these concerns, parents must also handle their children’s actions, emotions and needs on top of their own work and personal issues. This already stressful situation can be compounded if someone in the family has health concerns, a disability, major debts or some other extenuating circumstance that will put even more stress on the family.
Luckily, knowing that there is stress in the family is the first step to happier parents and children. A few methods to try to combat family stress include:
- remembering that there are many parents who face the same stressful situations
- adjusting priorities to remove unnecessary responsibilities that only add to stress
- accepting help from friends and family members when it is offered
- trying to do the best possible job as a parent but realizing that no one is perfect
- seeking advice from trusted family members, friends, coworkers and spiritual leaders
- planning ahead for situations, even if it is as simple as setting out clothing the night before
- anticipating and preparing for potential problems that might come from big decisions
- making lists and effectively using a calendar
- taking time to communicate with all members of the family, no matter their age
- engaging in personal relaxation activities
By employing a few of these stress relief tactics, many family members can lessen, and maybe even overcome, the overwhelming feelings of stress.
Of course, there are additional stresses that can happen for families. For example, single parents face a different set of struggles, as they try to balance acting as both parents for their children while also maintaining a job. Even families that include both parents need to have both spouses actively participating in daily tasks to avoid feelings of resentment or of extra stress. Male spouses who strongly engage in family activities can help stabilize their families.
2.3 Finances as a Source of Stress
The most common source of stress has to do with the financial health of the family. Parents worry about how they will pay the bills and care for the needs of their children, and their concern and innate stress can upset the harmony of family life.
There are many different reasons that the family finances can be in trouble. Whether it is a long string of debts, a parent facing unemployment or the cost of healthcare and unexpected medical bills, financial difficulties weight heavily on families that are living from paycheck to paycheck.
These worries are often increased when families move from a two-person-income household to a single-income household. This change could occur because one parent loses a job, one parent decides to stay home with the children or both parents decide to divorce. This loss of an entire income can completely change the way a family operates because half the money is gone, and that is a reason for extreme stress.
Although it is a serious source of stress, family dynamics is not the only kind of pressure that parents and their children face on a daily basis. The strain of school attendance, homework and social problems can affect all of the family members just as strongly.
3. School-Related Stress
Stress can impact anyone, and young people are no exception. Adolescents these days are just as stressed as adults, and sometimes more. The most common cause of this incredible amount of stress among young people is school. This chapter will discuss the causes of school stress and how to fight it.
3.1 Academic Achievement and High Expectations
Students are more stressed now than they were just a few years ago, largely because the school environment has changed and the stakes are higher. Students feel that they must go above and beyond academically, in order to please their parents and teachers and get into a good college.
The problem is, academic achievement isn’t as simple as studying hard and getting good grades. With more high school graduates going to college, admission requirements have gotten higher as the college application process has gotten more competitive and students start feeling the pressure as early as middle school.
One way that school is stressing youths out is constant exposure to standardized tests, which causes exam stress. Doing well in these standardized tests can feel like life or death to a student—simply passing isn’t good enough, because students know that they need to stand out in their college applications, which means that they must excel. A student’s entire sense of self-worth can become tied to a test score. As a result, another significant stressor on students is the fear of failure.
Students’ fear of failure can cause a lot of unhealthy reactions, including mental and physical health problems. Emotionally, they can feel overwhelmed, irritable, have difficulty concentrating, and have higher rates of depression. Physically, they can experience digestive problems, chest pain, nausea, headaches, and insomnia. This lack of sleep weakens their immune system, making them more likely to get sick. Behavioral problems can arise as well, with cheating, truancy, and even self-harm on the rise among high school students.
The question is, where are these high expectations coming from? A lot of the academic stress experienced by students comes from trying to meet high expectations from the adults in their lives. The silver lining is that this means that adults can play a key role in helping to mitigate school-related stress in young people’s lives. For example, parents and teachers can teach the students in their lives that a test score doesn’t define their worth, and that one bad grade isn’t going to ruin their lives.
3.2 Fear of the Unknown and Making the Right Decision
School-related stress is more than just anxiety over making good grades, however. High schoolers are also stressed about their futures. They have to worry about choosing the right university and whether going to college is the right decision for them in the first place. They can also feel pressure to decide on a field of study before they have even graduated high school, a decision that they know can determine the course of their lives.
Unfortunately, graduating from high school isn’t the end of school-related stress. College students face the stress of having to set their own routine, which can be daunting when your daily schedule has been set by adults your whole life. This means making adult decisions at a time when they might still feel like a child, such as deciding they need to work or study when everyone else is out having fun.
College students also have to navigate homesickness, parental pressures, balancing new school responsibilities with work responsibilities, adjusting to a new routine, and possibly having to take on a monotonous job to support themselves financially for the first time in their lives. If they are on a scholarship, then they also have to maintain a certain grade point average, as dropping too low could cost them their scholarship. International students have the additional stress of worrying about their visas.
Some stressors are shared by high schoolers and college students alike. Young adulthood is a time for finding your identity, discovering what you’re good at as well as what interests you, and entering into the world of love and relationships. Parents can help their high schoolers with these stressors, and most colleges and universities have free or low-cost mental health services.
Another significant stressor for students is the fact that they are over-scheduled, which is largely driven by competition. The problem of over-scheduling can start as early as elementary school—college admission is extremely competitive, which means high schoolers must compete to stand out.
With so many high schoolers competing to excel, this drives up the competition in middle school, which in turn drives up the competition in elementary school. After students graduate high school, the competition doesn’t stop. College students must compete for scholarships, grants, and good internships, and upon graduation, they then enter the competitive job market.
This competition and drive to stand out leads many parents to push their students into AP classes and to pick up several extra-curricular activities such as sports and clubs. This overscheduling has a cost: students don’t have enough time to sleep, rest, or have fun with their friends, and they start to lose interest in activities that they once enjoyed. This hurts their mental and physical health and puts them at risk for burning out.
Parents can help reduce stress related to over-scheduling by collaborating with their child to help them choose activities that they enjoy while still leaving plenty of time to get a good night’s sleep and have fun. Standing out may be important in today’s competitive academic environment, but it isn’t worth risking a student’s mental and physical well-being.
3.4 Student Loan Debts
On top of academic pressures, many college students have to worry about student loan debts. As tuition costs get higher, the number of college students who need student loans also rises. Studies show that about 70% of students graduating college had to take out student loans, with the average borrower owing at least $28,000. Collectively, students in the United States owe more than $1 trillion in student loans.
This staggering amount of student loan debt has a cost on students’ stress levels. Higher levels of student loan debt are related to higher levels of anxiety, depression, and poor health such as high blood pressure and increased risk of stroke, though any amount of student loan debt can have negative consequences.
The negative effects have long-term effects as well, with borrowers more likely to take unsatisfying jobs just to pay off the debt and delaying milestone decisions like getting married, having children, and buying a house.
There are no easy solutions to easing the stress of student loan debt, but students can take steps to attempt to reduce their amount of student loan debt such as applying for as many scholarships and grants as they can find and starting to pay off the loans as early as possible.
The next chapter will deal with factors related to work-related stress such as the physical setting, social environment, and work obligations that make up the work day. This chapter will also take a look at contemporary theories regarding work stress and a study of the most and least stressful jobs as of 2016.
4. Work-Related Stress
In this section, we're going to take a look at work-related stress and try to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon. Indeed, occupational stress (as it is also known) is nothing new. Throughout time, it has always been a factor that employees and employers have had to deal with. Today, however, we have been seeing a startling rise in the level of work-related stress; enough for the term to become commonplace.
4.1 What Is Work-Related Stress?
Work-related stress is commonly cited as one of the biggest hazards to health in the workplace today. It can often be traced as the root cause of the mental and physical sickness, substance abuse problems, and family issues that many millions of workers face each year. Bear in mind that these problems affect both white and blue-collar workers, in all types of work environments.
The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that roughly 30% of all workers are reporting “high levels” of work-related stress. This idea cancels the old notion that work-related stress is strictly isolated to a certain group of people, under a specific set of conditions.
Since work is a major part of life, this rise in work-related stress should be taken very seriously. Its effects are far reaching, and are creeping into nearly every facet of our society; both public and private.
Stress in the workplace, if left unchecked and unattended, can have a massive impact on our entire society. As an example of a society that is largely affected by job-related stress, we can take a quick look at Japan. In this country, work-related stress had taken on a new meaning and has become an epidemic. It has become so prevalent that the Japanese have developed the term “karoshi”, which translates literally to “overwork death”. Since Japan's economic resurgence in the 1980's, an increasing number of workers are falling prey to “death by overwork”, and suffering from heart attacks, strokes, and even suicides.
It is often said that stress is contagious, and can spread just as easily and rapidly as any infectious disease. Work-related stress should be treated and studied just as much as any other disease that we all worry so much about. The well-being of ourselves, our families, and our entire society depends on our understanding and treatment of this potentially destructive condition.
4.2 Occupational Stress Theories
In recent decades, occupational stress has become the subject of more and more studies. These provide new models in which to view this problem of occupational stress, and in doing so, offer some methods of how to deal with it. A few of these major theories include
- Person-Environment Fit Theory (P-E Fit Theory)
- Job Demand-Control (Support) Theory
- Effort-Reward Imbalance Model (ERI Model) and
- Transactional Model
When we put these separate studies together, we get a solid idea of the modern understanding of work-related stress and what we can do about it.
The Person-Environment Fit Theory, also known as the P-E Fit Theory, concerns itself with the complex interweaving of the individual's skills, abilities and resources vs. the demands that the work environment places on that individual.
Since work-related stress is incredibly complicated in its number of variables, it is imperative that in order to get the “big picture”, we take into account all of the factors that come into play. When these innumerable elements come together in the workplace, friction naturally occurs and the result is or course ̶ stress.
The value of this theory is its emphasis on the importance of the compatibility between the worker and the workplace, and to increase that compatibility in order to reduce stress and increase efficiency.
The Job Demand-Control (Support) Theory has been very influential in the design of the modern workplace, and in literature regarding occupational health. In this model, the emphasis is placed on understanding the connection between how demanding a person's job is and how much control they have over their job responsibilities.
For example, a person with a very demanding job, who also has little to no control over the factors surrounding that job, is very likely to be placed in a position of stress. In this concept, four types of jobs are described: passive, active, low strain and high strain jobs.
The Effort-Reward Imbalance Model (ERI) is almost self-explanatory. Swiss sociologist Johannes Siegrist developed this model in the early 1990's. He explains a threatening workplace as “a mismatch between high workload (high demand) and low control over long-term rewards”.
Although it is a simple model, it says a lot about how humans operate in the workplace. We tend to desire control, especially when working on projects that their company considers important.
Siergrist identifies three specific conditions that can arise due to an imbalance between effort and reward. They are as follows:
- the employee has a poorly defined work contract or has little choice regarding alternative employment opportunities
- the employee accepts the imbalance for reasons such as the prospect of improved working conditions, and
- the employee copes with the demands at work through over commitment.
The last model we'll take a look at is the Transactional Model. It was developed by Susan Folkman and Richard S. Lazarus, whose mission was to find out why stress played such a great role in peoples' lives. This model places a special focus on the psychology of the individual, how they relate to the demands imposed by their superior, and how they view their own capabilities and skills.
It states that stress is created when the demands placed on the employee outweigh the employee's own perceived capabilities. We can see this happening when we hear employees saying that their boss is “asking too much” of them.
4.3 Causes and Effects of Work-Related Stress
As with any type of stress, there is a myriad of issues that can come into play with job-related stress. The psychological and sociological models presented in the last section provide great insight as to how these stressors occur. Some of the main causes are excessive workloads, lack of communication or support from management, lack of a definite role or purpose, conflicting demands, and third party violence, such as harassment.
When a manager or superior of any kind places unrealistic demands upon employees and provides them little support and guidance, a large amount of stress is sure to be present. It's often that we hear this kind of stories from employees: their boss is unorganized and making ridiculous demands of them, while seeming to assume no responsibility themselves.
This is one of the reasons many companies send their upper management members to leadership and team-building workshops. In these workshops, emphasis is placed on effectively running a team and leading it in a productive, yet supportive manner.
The strength of a company comes largely from its lower level workers. If the bulk of these employees are feeling distressed or over-encumbered, the entire foundation of the business can be threatened.
It is important to remember that the effects of work-related stress are not limited to the business and the workplace alone. With work-related stress, everyone suffers; the business, the employees, their health, and their families.
Considering the health effects of work-related stress, the British Medical Journal conducted an extensive, fifteen-year study on the topic. They found that those employees that felt as if they were stressed and over-worked were twice as likely to get Type 2 diabetes. If we combine that study with the results from Careerbuilder's study, which found that 50% of workers feel a great deal of stress on the job, it is plain to see that the health risks of job-related stress are indeed very serious, and should be taken into serious consideration by every company.
It is in the best interest of the companies and the employees if great effort is taken to reduce the number of stressors present in the work place, including those caused by the environment. These include poor computer workstation design and poor lighting, ventilation and heating. A great way to reduce these stressors is to make sure that the employees are comfortable in their work place. After all, with the amount of time these employees spend in their workplace, it should be as comfortable as possible.
Just as efficiency experts make their way through businesses, looking for ways to maximize efficiency, a similar type of expert should be called upon to check on the employees and see if there are any major signs of work-related stress.
4.4 The Most/Least Stressful Jobs in 2016/2017
According to CareerCast, the five most stressful jobs are: enlisted military personnel, firefighter, airline pilot, police officer, and event coordinator. These jobs, especially the first four come with a certain amount of danger that can prove to be a breeding ground for work-related stress. Although the nature of these jobs calls for employees to put themselves in danger, certain measures can be taken to adequately train the employees to manage stress and mitigate as much as possible.
The top five least stressful jobs, also according to CareerCast, are: medical laboratory technician, pharmacy technician, operations research analyst, jeweler, and medical records technician. These careers typically have a low level of danger, and generally have quite relaxed, slow-pace work environments.
Perhaps certain companies can take notes from the work environment of these less stressful careers and learn how to create a more harmonious work place.
In short, we can see that work-related stress can have far-reaching and, at times, grave implications. The only way we can move toward a brighter, more stress-free future is to educate ourselves about conditions like this and take the necessary steps to eliminate them.
5. Technology-Related Stress
Technology has given us many benefits (just think of the difference between an old manual typewriter and a computer). Along with those benefits, however, has come stress – caused by such issues as the need for constant learning or technology-related failures like a laptop crash. Here are the basics about technology-related stress, the ways it can affect your health and some suggestions on how you can use technology to relieve stress.
5.1 The Bright and Dark Sides of Technology
Whether you call it technology-related stress, techno-stress or tech stress, it all boils down to the adaptations we humans must make in order to use technology. In some cases, the technology itself creates the stress (among other things, it can be addictive). In other cases, we create the stress because of the way we use the technology.
Techno-stress results because of altered work habits and problems with communication and focus. People are more likely to feel techno-stress when they can't cope with information technology. Multitasking, a compulsion to work faster because the information flow is faster and an inability to put away devices such as the smart phone or laptop are all symptoms of techno-stress. Technology has resulted in many benefits – communication is faster, many educational programs can be completed online, medical technology has saved lives.
However, the dark side of technology can lead to decreased social and emotional skills as people interact with computers instead of other people; to a lack of privacy as technology allows companies and government to track how users interact with technology, and environmental problems related to the need for constant upgrades and resultant “junk” that must be managed.
Physical health can suffer in poorly-designed offices, leading to musculoskeletal problems and eye strain. Here are the five primary techno-stress creators:
- Techno-overloadrequires people to work more and faster as a result of using computers.
- Techno-invasionmeans you are always available, no matter where you are, and people feel a need to be constantly connected.
- Techno-complexityhas to do with the constant need to learn new applications and update skills.
- Techno-insecuritydescribes how people feel threatened at the possibility of losing their jobs to those who are more technologically skilled.
- Techno-uncertaintyfocuses on the way knowledge is rapidly updated, so no one can become really expert with a particular system, and it reinforces techno-complexity problems.
These techno-stress issues rarely exist in isolation. Moreover, they tend to feed on one another, so that at the same you are trying to work harder and faster, you are also struggling to learn how to use new hardware or software and worrying about whether your job is at risk if you can't keep up. Nor does the stress end when a worker goes home, leading to major disruptions of work-life balance.
5.2 Techno-Stress in Private Life
In private life, technology also has two faces. Families spend more time communicating with their smart phones than talking to each other or live in techno-cocoons in which each family member is doing something with technology even when the family is together at the dinner table or a restaurant.
Technology may strengthen relationships in that it's easier to communicate, but may also make them weaker because there is little physical eye-to-eye contact. Online shopping, banking and bill-paying are fast and convenient, but subject to hacking and fraud. Social media makes it easier to connect but can also lead to information overload or compulsively checking so you don't miss something.
Mobile apps can help keep you connected on the go, but using them while driving or walking can be dangerously distracting. Mobile apps also offer news, weather, health information and other benefits such as tracking exercise or eating habits. On the other hand, the ability to take pictures with a phone may mean you watch life through a lens instead of in real time.
5.3 Techno-stress in Work Life
Technology has created a work environment in which you can reach anyone at almost any time of day. Some people feel they must be available 24/7, taking their phones to bed with them or compulsively checking email even at home.
In the work environment, noise can be an issue as coworkers respond to alerts or watch webinars. Older equipment may not be reliable and even new equipment can crash – when that happens, especially if you use cloud-based technology, you may be unable to access documents or perform even the most basic task. In health care, a crash can mean patient information isn't available – a potentially dangerous situation. Technology has also led to supervision cameras and the loss of privacy at work.
Technology is fast and efficient, but the constant push for speed can make it more difficult to allow the necessary time for creativity and careful thought. Underlying many workers' daily activities is a constant feeling of risk if the worker can't adapt to changes.
At the same time, technology can help reduce procrastination and promote between time management through the use of alerts, reminders and prompts. A virtual assistant can eliminate the need for a flesh-and-blood employee and team management apps can help coordinate various activities.
5.4 Technology and Health
Many forms of technology have negative health effects and tech stress can make those negative effects worse. For example, correct ergonomic design and good posture are vital to prevent problems in the musculoskeletal system. People who are stressed are more likely to be tense, which increases the risk of headaches, joint pain, neck pain and backaches. The computer screen can increase the risk of eye strain, and since so many occupations today involve the use of computers, they are much more sedentary than was once the case, resulting in increased risk of obesity.
Technology can affect sleep as well; people who use technology right up until bedtime may develop sleep disorders such as insomnia, which can increase the risk of depression and obesity. One of the most important things you can do for your health is to make the bedroom off-limits to technology. Take out the television, leave the laptops and phones in another room and stop using all electronic devices at least one and preferably two hours before bedtime.
Other basics to promote proper sleep include a cool, dark room, minimal use of caffeine and a regular bedtime routine that might include a warm bath or reading (paper books!). Using technology while driving can be distracting and dangerous; even if you use a headset or hands free options, it can distract you from safe driving.
Other ways to reduce techno-stress include meditation and exercises that focus on relaxation and deep breathing, like yoga and tai chi. Take frequent breaks and stretch to relieve muscle tension and rest your eyes.
Technology can actually support you in your quest to reduce techno-stress. For example, enter your usual grocery list once; check cupboards and refrigerator before you head out the door. There are even apps that track your sleep cycles to see if you're getting all-important REM sleep.
Still, take a technology time-out occasionally – the world is unlikely to end if you disconnect for a while.
6. Alleviating Stress with Relaxation and Exercise
Being an adult in the modern age is all about figuring out how to juggle a mountain of responsibilities while navigating an obstacle course of stress. Bills. Kids. Work. Technology. Friendships and romantic relationships. Medical problems. Troubling stories you see on the nightly news or read in the newspaper. All of these things can - over the course of months or even years - essentially act as a constant strain on your body that can lead to a wide-ranging host of ailments.
Luckily, there are methods for combating stress that don't require a doctor's visit, prescription medication, or even therapy. In this chapter, we'll be taking a closer look at some of the many ways you can alleviate stress using relaxation and exercise. However, please do bear in mind - there is no 'right way' to rid yourself of stress. Everyone's bodies and minds are different and the most important thing is that you find the stress relief methods that work best for you.
Meditation encompasses a number of different disciplines, spans numerous cultures, and includes a wide array of practices and traditions. One of the earliest recorded mentions of meditation appeared in 1500 BCE as part of the Hindu philosophy of Vedantism, or the search for spiritual freedom by obtaining knowledge of one's true self. China and India were also studying Taoism and Buddhism, respectively, in the 5th and 6th centuries BCE. As far back as 592 AD, the Japanese have built meditation gardens of sand and rock to represent the fundamentals of their Zen philosophy.
The practice of meditation was considered one of the essential steps to reach spiritual nirvana, according to the Pali Canon of Buddhist tradition. Though in modern day, it can provide emotional, mental and physical relief to those suffering from stress, chronic illness and other ailments. Although a Japanese monk can be thanked for opening the first meditation hall in Japan during the Middle Ages, nowadays, you can meditate right in the comfort of your own home.
Meditation is more popular than ever with the advent of different websites and apps that make it not only accessible, but fun. You can also find thousands upon thousands of hours of videos about meditation for absolutely free on YouTube. There's no special equipment, books, clothing, or accessories that you need to purchase in order to enjoy the benefits of meditation. You can also try practicing mindfulness exercises, breathing exercises, or micro meditations at your desk if you're having a trying day at work.
Much like with meditation, yoga has been growing steadily in popularity since it was introduced to the West in the 1980s. However, meditation has been practiced by peace-loving Eastern religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism since roughly the 5th or 6th century BCE. Yoga is a combination of mental, physical and spiritual disciplines that can be used to control and hone both the body and the mind. Just like with meditation, the ultimate goal of yoga is to achieve moksha, or freedom from ignorance by obtaining deep knowledge of the self.
Although it was introduced to the Western world as a slightly more exotic form of exercise, yoga is deeply rooted in spiritual and meditative practices going back centuries. Some of the more popular types of Yoga practiced today include Bikram or "hot Yoga," Rāja or "royal" yoga, or Hatha yoga, which is what most people nowadays will think of when they hear the word "yoga."
As with meditation, yoga can be practiced almost anywhere, provided you have adequate space to perform the positions (or "asanas") safely. A yoga mat, blocks, and yoga straps can also be especially helpful if you have mobility issues or need help achieving a particular posture. Practicing in comfy, loose-fitting clothing and bare feet will usually help you to achieve the best results. Most commonly, yoga is available as a course or class at community colleges, gyms, and rec centers all over the country. You can even perform yoga sitting at your desk at work!
6.3 Tai Chi and Qigong
Although these two disciplines appear in this guide together and share many similarities, they are both remarkable healing art forms in their own rights. Tai chi originated in China over two thousand years ago, while Qigong was developed in China roughly 4,000 or 5,000 years ago. Each of these disciplines revolves around the concept of Qi (pronounced "chi") or the constant flow of life energy. Qigong is considered the predecessor to Tai Chi and considered essential training for Tai Chi. These two disciplines are closely related to each other, though the goal for each is subtly different.
Qigong takes a more holistic approach, incorporating coordination, breathing, posture, meditation, and deliberate movement to unlock or awaken one's true nature. Tai chi, on the other hand, is essentially the sportier descendant of Qigong, incorporating many of the same elements like breathing and meditation, but with more of a focus on martial arts practice. This bears out in the forms or coordinated movements of Qigong, which are generally more about relaxing the body via deep breathing and slow, flowing movements. Practicing Tai Chi can be challenging without first mastering the internal skills of Qigong. Qigong is more connected to the spiritual growth of the practitioner, while Tai Chi is about the deliberate building of Qi energy in the body.
Tai Chi can be practiced alone or in groups or classes, and it's usually recommended to wear something comfortable, like a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. Certain teachers or martial arts studios might require you to wear more formal attire or footwear and, if so, they'll be able to direct you to a store that has the appropriate equipment you'll need, if they don't sell it at the studio themselves. Many of the forms and exercises in Tai Chi and Qigong don't require a great deal of space, so it might even be possible to practice your forms standing by your desk or even seated at your desk.
6.4 Taking Up Sports
Physical activity is a great avenue for relieving stress and taking up a new sport might be just the ticket. Whether you're a fan of horse-riding, swimming, or something a bit more rugged like football or baseball, playing sports allows you to focus and live in the moment. Whether you're taking part in group sports like basketball or enjoy going for a run, the exercise will encourage your body to produce endorphins, or "feel-good" chemicals, that help to decrease pain and relieve symptoms of stress. Regular exercise is not only good for your body, but also excellent for alleviating anxiety and depression and can help you get a more restful sleep at night.
6.5 Breathing Exercises
If you decide to explore some of the methods for relieving stress mentioned here in greater depth, you'll find a lot of talk about breathing. One common element in yoga, meditation, and other popular stress-busting techniques is learning how to breathe properly. When we're stressed or feeling anxious, our breathing patterns can fall out of sync, which means that it takes longer for us to relax and let go of tension that's built up in our muscles. If you're having a taxing day or feel like you might lose your cool, take a few deep, calming breaths to restore your sense of calm.
Countless ancient civilizations once relied on essential oils to soothe everything from joint pain to digestive issues or headaches. Today, aromatherapy is a wildly popular treatment option for those who prefer to stay away from prescribed medications, which can often have severe adverse side-effects or can even be addicting. Some of the best oils to use to help relieve stress are Lavender, Rose, Vetiver, Ylang Ylang and Chamomile, among others. You can find bottled essential oils at various drug stores, health food stores or even online. There are also companies that incorporate essential oils into their beauty products, including essential oils in everything from lotions and shampoos to shower gel.
This particular technique is sort of a distant cousin to meditation. Whether you focus your eyes on a picture of a place that inspires feelings of calm or simply craft a detailed mental image of a relaxing place, visualization can help you relax and let go of stress. Much like with meditation, you can practice visualization techniques virtually anywhere and at any time. However, it's usually most effective when you find a private place that's free of noise and distractions, where you can make yourself as comfortable as possible. You can practice this in a pose you find comfortable for more traditional meditation. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths to center yourself, and imagine yourself in the place you feel safe, happy and relaxed.
6.8 Walking on Sandy Beaches
Getting outside and enjoying a walk can be wonderful for relieving stress just on its own, but a long walk on the beach combines many different calming elements in one activity. The soothing rush of the waves rolling up onto the shore and the feel of wet sand against the soles of your feet can help to further enhance your calm. The sensation of the sand against the soles of your feet is related to reflexology, the process of applying gentle pressure to various spots on the soles of your feet to produce positive effects elsewhere in the body.
6.9 Laughter, Water and Puppies
Dr. Hunter "Patch" Adams founded the Gesundheit! Institute in 1971 as a response to what he felt were areas where modern medicine was lacking. His methods might be a little unorthodox, but he encourages medical students to form human connections with their patients through laughter and play. Although laughter is said to be the best medicine, there are some people who take that quite literally by practicing laughter yoga, or Hasyayoga, where participants laugh for up to 20 minutes at a time without even a single joke being told. The theory behind this one being that voluntary laughter provides much of the same physical and psychological benefits as laughter that's spontaneous.
For others, floating in a pool or even an isolating float tank can be immensely relaxing both physically as well as mentally. All you have to do is concentrate on staying afloat while you let your mind wander and allow the tension to seep from your muscles.
Still other folks find a tremendous amount of pleasure and stress relief taking care of animals. Often, local shelters will allow you to visit and read to the puppies and kittens, which can provide great socialization for them, while you rid yourself of stress. There are also programs where injured veterans can be paired up with horses to help them progress in both their physical and emotional recovery.
6.10 Arts and Crafts
Whether you're fond of sketching, painting, knitting, or building things with your hands, arts and crafts are a wonderful way to reduce stress and also an outlet for your creativity. A popular trend these days for grown-ups in need of a creative way to alleviate stress is coloring books. Much like the sort created for kids, these coloring books feature intricate, pleasing images of mandalas, animals, and even secret gardens. Just grab some crayons, colored pencils or your favorite scented markers and go to town!
A meditation of its own, after a fashion, religion and spirituality can also play a part in helping to relieve stress. Whether you listen to an inspirational song, read passages from your favorite religious text, or spend time reconnecting with nature, sometimes it helps to seek out comfort from something greater than yourself. For those who consider themselves more spiritual or secular rather than religious, you can always spread out a blanket in your backyard at night and stargaze.
6.12 Alexander Technique
Named after Australian actor Frederick Matthias Alexander, the Alexander technique is a process that allows people to re-educate their bodies. Originally developed to help actors and singers, this process helps you to realign your posture to help limit unnecessary physical and mental tension. Studies suggest that this technique is particularly helpful for those with breathing difficulties, long term back or neck pain, and even Parkinson's disease.
Many of these methods for relieving stress - yoga, meditation and tai chi/qigong in particular - can take some getting used to. Meditation in particular can be challenging for those with minds that seem like they might never quiet down, but with some practice and patience, it can provide a much-needed release valve for stress.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that in order for these methods to be most effective, they need to become good habits, and in order to form good habits, consistency is key. It can take 21 days for any behavior - good or bad - to become a habit, so remember to be patient with yourself. You might miss a meditation session one morning or have to skip a yoga class due to unforeseen scheduling issues that might pop up, but try not to be too hard on yourself. The whole reason you're doing this is to help you deal with the stress in your life, not add another stressor, so please remember to go easy on yourself.
This list of techniques and methods for relieving stress is by no means comprehensive and, as we mentioned at the start, there is no right or wrong way to rid yourself of stress. Hopefully, however, this chapter has provided some ideas for how to take a step back, catch your breath, and deal with all the challenges life throws at you.
These methods of stress relief will help to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, teach you how to breathe with greater purpose, reduce tension throughout your body, and also help reduce fatigue.
Whether you're suffering from stress as a result of your job, school, friendships or romantic relationships, there is no better time to start making changes in your life than right now. One thing to keep in mind is the changes don't have to be drastic in order to be effective. Setting aside time for one ten-minute meditation session each morning before you start getting ready for your day can have a tremendous impact on your stress levels over time. The most important thing to remember is that these are good habits in the making.
In the next chapter, we'll be taking a look at another avenue for combating stress that you probably never even considered: your diet. We'll provide you with information about foods to avoid and bad habits that might be contributing to your stress levels, as well as provide suggestions for foods that can actually help to alleviate stress. These lifestyle changes are just another tool you can add to your arsenal that will allow you to take your stress-busting efforts to the next level.
7. Alleviating Stress with Healthy Foods and Habits
Stress is a growing health problem and the “always on” Internet culture seems to contribute to the problem. Fortunately, your diet can help you manage the effects of physical and emotional stress. By making wise food choices and eating moderate amounts of the right foods, you can increase the quality and length of your life.
In this chapter, you will learn about the best and worst foods to eat while dealing with stress, discuss the role of your thyroid in stress management and debunk personal habits that are working against you in the battle to control stress.
7.1 Worst Foods to Eat When Stressed
Unless you take control over your diet, you might worsen the effects of stress on your body. Curiously, stress causes an elevated cortisol level in the body that, in turn, gives you an urge to eat Stress also causes fat to accumulate in the abdomen, causing a condition called central obesity. When combined with the following worst foods to eat, stress can quickly become a major challenge.
- Snacks including pretzels, potato and nacho chips and French-fries
- Hot and spicy food and dips
- Coffee and other foods that contain caffeine.
- Foods that have large amounts of sugar, including chocolate, soda, chocolate and candy.
- Chewing gum and eating sugar-free candy can cause additional stress, bloating and physical discomfort.
Eating is a common response to stress, and stressed-out people tend to gravitate to “comfort foods” such as those on the above list. Stress causes the level of cortisol in the body to increase, causing cravings for carbohydrates and sweets. As a result, stress can indirectly contribute to unhealthy weight gain.
Unfortunately, your mood is likely to suffer as you eat more comfort foods, further exacerbating your stress. As a result, your body can generate even more cortisol, adding to your already unhealthy level of stress. A vicious cycle can begin, causing you to build abdominal fat which, in turn, can contribute to physical problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
If you can manage to overcome your impulse to resort to comfort foods during stressful times, you can give yourself a chance to either maintain or improve your health by turning to calming foods that can scientifically counterbalance the physical and emotional stress from which you suffer.
7.2 FOODS THAT ARE GOOD FOR STRESS
Eating in response to stress can be a good habit if you choose the right food. Resisting the urge to consume comfort food can be difficult at first, but once you experience the positive results gained from calming foods, you will never again want to indulge.
Healthy food can naturally support a positive mood and alleviate pent-up anxiety. Wise dietary choices can also counteract the negative effect stress has on your mind and body. As you struggle to manage your personal and professional responsibilities, choose food from the following list.
• Fruits such as bananas can give your brain a shot of dopamine, a natural mood enhancer. They and other fruits also contain B vitamins which act as calming agents for your nervous system. Magnesium, a mineral contained in bananas, is also recognized as an ingredient that supports a positive mood. Oranges, berries and avocado also offer stress-relieving benefits.
• Leafy green vegetables and red peppers are among the many vegetables that can help your mind and body fight stress. Other good choices include sweet potatoes, garlic and asparagus. By adding vegetables to your diet, you increase your magnesium levels and thereby control anxiety and combat ADHD.
• Nuts can help you satisfy the urge to eat in response to stress while providing you with a line of defense. Walnuts and pistachios, for example, have large amounts of good fat as well as vitamins such as B21 and E. Nuts can boost your immune system and give you an edge against anxiety and depression.
• Eat salmon and other seafood such as oysters and fish to get a healthy infusion of omega-3 fatty acids that can limit stress hormones and fight inflammation. Including fish in your regular diet also helps you fight anxiety, so make sure to dine on fish at least one a week.
• Wholegrain flour bread gives you a great tasting option for alleviating stress. Complex carbs boost serotonin in the brain for longer periods than simple carbs do. When you choose whole grain bread and pasta, you gain benefits that can stabilize your blood sugar over a longer period than what white bread can do.
• You can daily drink four cups of herbal tea such as chamomile, rooibos tea, and black tea over a period of six weeks or longer to stay calm in stressful situations. People who make drinking herbal tea a habit also have lower cortisol levels in their system after dealing with a high-stress event.
• Dark chocolate - Chemistry can explain why people feel better when they eat chocolate. Still, not all chocolates are equal. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants that can block feelings of depression and pain inside the brain. When you eat dark chocolate during times of stress, you might discover why some experts describe it as an anti-anxiety drug.
• Water - You should never underestimate the effects of dehydration and indigestion issues on your body. Such symptoms of stress can make you feel as though you were having a medical emergency. Drink water throughout the day to keep all your bodily functions working well while flushing pathogens and toxins to give you a sense of well-being, even when you have a tough day.
7.3 THYROID PROBLEMS
Hormones carry chemical messages to various parts of the body and are vulnerable to stress. Although different glands in the body are responsible for different hormones, the thyroid gland is often the most susceptible to stress and therefore gets much attention in the news. As a gland that is responsible for regulating stress, it can wreak havoc on you if it stops properly functioning.
Your thyroid gland has a direct impact on the way your body and mind reacts to stress. Unfortunately, stressful situations can overwhelm your thyroid causing a broad range of symptoms. Under normal circumstances, your adrenal and thyroid glands work together, but stress can disrupt their functions and cause you to experience changes in your weight and lose control over your emotions.
Events such as divorce, death in the family or a career change can cause hyperthyroidism, a condition that can cause weight loss and autoimmune dysfunction. Hypothyroidism often results from chronic stress and can cause weight gain and other symptoms. Fortunately, you can alleviate stress on your thyroid through diet and good habits.
Gluten, a common component of pasta, pastries, crackers and seasonings, can cause your body to react poorly to stress. If you suffer from the effects of stress, a gluten-free diet might help you. Of course, a generally balanced diet can also help you prevent or overcome thyroid problems. Daily, you should take care of your thyroid by eating nutritious meals and taking supplements such as iodine, selenium, copper, iron and vitamins A, B, C and E.
Lifestyle adjustments can also help break the link between stress and your thyroid. Getting enough sleep, for example, can help your body regulate your neuroendocrine system. Relaxation, especially before bedtime can also help your mind and body recover from a stressful day. Simple exercises, walking, yoga and meditation can also help alleviate stress.
If your thyroid continues to present stress-related problems, consider visiting a therapist. Sometimes negative responses to stress can become so ingrained in your psyche that you do not recognize them or otherwise cannot resolve them on your own. A therapist can guide you through your current patterns and then reinforce existing positive responses and create new ones that will help you break the cycles that are causing your stress-related thyroid problems.
7.4 BAD AND UNHEALTHY HABITS
You have already learned that what you eat can affect your ability to manage stress. Nutrition can help alleviate stress outright and also help you break the connection between stress and your thyroid. Now, you should consider your personal habits to learn what you can do to identify break bad habits and either create or reinforce good habits that will help you alleviate stress.
Every time you crave something to eat, take a moment to understand your underlying motivation. You might discover that you often automatically reach for your favorite comfort foods without paying any attention to what you are doing. Emotional eating can exacerbate the effects of stress in your body, so make a conscious effort to regain control over your impulses.
Mindful eating gives you a chance to understand why you want to eat and then either resist the urge or deliberately choose something to eat from the above “Foods That Are Good for Stress” list that will help your body manage stress well.
If you continue craving for food, try learning some tactics to get you through those intense moments. Some people find that watching dynamic visual noise (DVN) helps disrupt cravings in your mind. Try putting a link to DVN on your smartphone so you always have a powerful tool at your side to break your emotional eating habit.
Burning a scented candle, incense, or smelling anything other than food also helps some people put the brakes on their emotional eating binges. To avoid burning things in the office, try keeping some jasmine on hand to sniff when things get tough. Other aromas such as green apple and water might also do the job.
Nicotine and alcohol habits work in ways similar to emotional eating. When either one or all of these three habits are in play, you can create a self-perpetuating cycle. After feeling stressed, you do something that makes you feel more stress, which, in turn, causes you to again react poorly.
The same tactics that can help you become a mindful eater can also help you avoid mindless consumption of cigarettes and alcohol. When you take control over your habits, you can enjoy them in moderation rather than as a self-destructive outlet for stress relief. As a result of being in control of your reactions to stress, you will probably notice that your productivity increases as well as your happiness.
Stress can manifest itself in your body in many dangerous ways, so alleviating it with healthy foods and an active lifestyle can help you improve the quality and duration of your life. Moderating your habitual responses to stress can break the cycle of stress in your life and help your mind and body feel great.
Now that you understand how healthy foods and habits can help you live a stress-free life, you can look forward to a better life. You will also enjoy reading the next chapter. There you will learn the ins and outs of available dietary supplements that can strengthen your resistance to stress.
8. ALLEVIATING STRESS WITH DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS
Herbal medicine, also called phytomedicine or botanical medicine, is the use of plants or their parts to treat disease and improve health. Before we focus on herbal supplements you could use to beat stress and its effects, the following section will give a historical overview of the ancient tradition of herbal medicine.
8.1. INTRODUCTION TO AND HISTORY OF HERBAL MEDICINE
The oldest known evidence of herbal medicine is a 5,000 years old clay tablet found in the Sumerian town of Nagpur. The tablet described twelve recipes for herbal medicines using over 250 plants including poppy, mandrake and henbane.
The Emperor of China, Shen Nung wrote the “Pen T’Sao” sometime between 2800 and 2500 BC. In it, he described 365 drugs made from herbs, including some that are still used today.
The Vedas, which are the oldest Hindu scriptures, also described herbal medicine. The Bible and the Talmud, a Jewish holy book, described herbal remedies and accompanying rituals. The Iliad and the Odyssey, which were both written by Homer around 800 BC, mentioned 63 plants used in herbal medicine.
The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (459-370 BC) classified 300 medicinal plants by their effects. For example, opium, mandrake, and deadly nightshade were all used as narcotics.
The Roman military physician Dioscorides was considered the preeminent authority on medicinal plants up until the Renaissance. In 77 AD, he wrote “De Materia Medica” which described 944 drugs, 657 of which were derived from plants.
After the Roman Empire fell, monasteries cultivated and used most of the medicinal plants in Europe. The Arabs began trading with India and thus gained more medicinal plants including ginger and aloe.
European explorers like Marco Polo (1254-1324), who visited China, Persia and parts of tropical Asia, and Vasco De Gama, who explored India in 1498, found and brought back yet more medicinal plants. The discovery of America in 1492 yielded a large number of medicinal plants new to European scholars including vanilla, red pepper, and Lobelia. Botanical gardens with medicinal herbs became increasingly common throughout Europe and were no longer solely the province of the clergy.
The 19th century saw the rise of pharmaceutical drugs that gradually supplanted the old herbal remedies. While pharmaceuticals could be more easily standardized than herbal drugs, they did cause side effects including addiction. Herbal medicines also have the large advantage of typically being less expensive than pharmaceutical medicines.
Modern research has found that herbal medicines can be effective treatments for a variety of conditions including allergies, migraine, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and many others. According to one study, about 90 percent of arthritis patients use alternative treatments including medicinal herbs.
8.2. HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS THAT RELIEVE STRESS
Ashwagandha is a plant native to India, and its roots and berries are often used in Ayurvedic medicine. They are used to treat a wide variety of ailments including tuberculosis, backache and arthritis. Ashwaghanda is sometimes described as an “adaptogen” that helps the body cope with daily stress and can thus be used to treat insomnia and anxiety. It also contains chemicals that lower blood pressure and help calm the brain.
At least one study has shown that Ashwaghanda is as effective at treating depression and anxiety as conventional drugs like imipramine and lorazepam. It also caused fewer side effects than most such drugs.
Ashwagandha is usually taken as a capsule. Most patients take between 600 and 1000 mg twice every day. Patients with insomnia and anxiety may drink a cup of hot milk with a teaspoon of Ashwaghandha before going to bed.
Pregnant women should not use Ashwaghanda. The plant does interact with some medications, especially immunosuppressants, sedatives and thyroid hormone.
St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is an herb that is a well-known antidepressant. Researchers have found that St. John’s wort may be an effective treatment for mild or moderate depression; it also causes fewer side effects than most pharmaceutical antidepressants. Unfortunately, St. Johns’ wort also interacts with many types of drugs, including birth control pills, and these interactions can cause side effects. The biggest danger, which can be life-threatening, is a condition called serotonin syndrome caused by taking St. John’s wort with other antidepressants.
St. John’s wort is usually taken as a capsule or liquid. In the various studies, researchers typically administered doses of 300 mg three times a day. Extracts made in the US contain variable amounts of the herb, so patients should carefully note how much St. John’s wort is in their medication. The dried herbs can also be made into a tea. St. John’s wort should be taken with food.
L-Theanine, also sometimes called Suntheanine, is an amino acid that can be derived from Camellia sinensis (tea plant) or Boletus badius (an edible mushroom). It is used to treat high blood and anxiety and is also believed to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and enhance the effectiveness of cancer medications.
L-Theanine has a structure resembling that of another amino acid called glutamate that helps transmit the brain’s nerve signals. Researchers therefore speculate that L-theanine has a similar function. Japanese researchers found that giving volunteers L-theanine every day enabled them to sleep better. Other scientists have found that L-theanine can improve mood. While they do not understand the precise mechanism, they have noted that L-theanine alters the levels of amino acids that affect neurotransmitters like serotonin.
L-Theanine is taken orally, either in the form of green tea or capsules. People using the latter should take a daily dose between 200 and 250 mg to decrease anxiety and/or improve sleep. So far, there are no records of drug interactions or dangerous side effects.
Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) has been used as a calming agent and sedative for 1000 years. Valerian is used to treat anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, menstrual cramps and headaches. While it does have fewer side effects than prescription sleeping pills, not all researchers agree on its effectiveness. It also interacts with some medications, especially psychiatric drugs.
The FDA lists describes valerian as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS), for it has no major side effects. The main dangers stem from its sedative effects; it should not be combined with alcohol or other sedatives, and the patient should not drive or operate machinery while taking it. As there may be a risk of psychological addiction, patients should not take valerian for longer than four to six weeks.
Valerian is taken orally as a capsule, liquid extract or tea. It is typically taken three times a day, including right before bed time. The dosage varies depending on what it is being used to treat.
Rhodiola (Rhodioloa rosea) is one of the medicinal plants described by Dioscorides in 77 AD. The plant grows in cold climates like Russia and Scandinavia and is sometimes known as “the golden root.” For generations, rhodolia has been used to treat many conditions like fatigue, anemia, anxiety, impotence, depression and headache. In modern times, it is also used as a dietary supplement.
Some studies have found that rhodolia can reduce mental fatigue and improve physical performance. A study conducted in 2015 found that rhodolia was as effective as sertraline in treating mild-to-moderate depression and caused fewer side effects.
Rhodolia medications are made from the plant’s roots. So far, researchers have found no evidence of drug interactions. Rhodolia is taken orally; in some countries, it can be made into a tea. The most common side effects include dry mouth and dizziness, but some researchers believe rhodolia is a blood-thinner and should therefore not to be taken by patients using other blood-thinners.
Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) is a plant that has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine. It fights stress and improves memory. Like Ashwaghanda, it is an adaptogen. Brahmi has been traditionally used to treat mental illness, epilepsy and asthma, and scientists are studying its efficacy in treating Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline related to aging, and anxiety.
The plant’s leaves contain bacosides. According to the University of Michigan Health System, bacosides improve mental functioning including memory and learning. Bacopa stimulates the repair of damaged nerve cells and the production of new nerve cells. It also enhances certain neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and serotonin and can therefore decrease the severity of depression or anxiety symptoms.
The recommended dosage for Brahmi is 300 to 450 milligrams of extract that is 55 percent bacosides or five to ten grams of powdered Brahmi. Brahmi should be taken once a day.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that blocks signals between the brain’s neurons and thus reduces the brain cells’ activity. It also works with other nutrients like inositol and niacin to reduce anxiety and stress.
The body naturally produces GABA from glutamic acid, and Vitamin B6 helps produce it. Some researchers believe that GABA may calm the nervous system and improve mood. Others point out that GABA can’t cross the blood-brain barrier, so GABA taken orally would not be effective. They recommend taking supplements like L-theanine that would stimulate the body’s production of GABA.
GABA supplements can be taken in tablets that contain as much as three grams per tablet. Higher doses are used to treat depression or insomnia, while lower doses are used to treat anxiety. The tablets can be taken two or three times a day. While they do not cause any serious side effects, they may interfere with other medications or herbs.
Gingko is a large tree native to parts of Asia. Its seeds and fan-shaped leaves are used to treat a large variety of conditions. Gingko has been used in herbal medicine for millennia; in 2600 BC, it was described as a treatment for bronchitis and Lyme disease.
Gingko seeds contain substances that might fight infections by killing fungi and bacteria. Unfortunately, they also contain a toxin that can cause seizures and loss of consciousness. The leaves are believed to improve blood circulation and to have antioxidant properties. Medications made from the leaves are used to treat vascular disorders, eye disorders, dementias, memory problems and anxiety.
Gingko does interact with various drugs, especially blood thinners. People with medical conditions like diabetes or epilepsy should consult their doctor before taking gingko. Pregnant women should not take gingko.
Supplements made from gingko leaves are taken orally. The dosages vary depending on the condition being treated. Many people take gingko three times a day.
The Vitamin B Complex is a supplement that contains all eight of the B Vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12. All of them occur in foods, and they all benefit health in some fashion. Vitamin B6, for example, helps the body produce melatonin and serotonin and thus helps regulate mood and sleep. Vitamin B9 may help prevent memory loss and depression.
Vitamin B deficiencies may be linked to such conditions as depression, dementia, and decline in both memory and cognition. Fortunately, most people can get the needed B Vitamins by eating a balanced diet. People most at risk for developing a Vitamin B deficiency include older people, people with heart failure or alcoholism, people who have had bariatric surgery, and vegetarians and vegans. Anybody belonging to the above risk groups should talk to their doctor about taking a Vitamin B Complex supplement. Such supplements are taken orally, usually once a day, and can be in the form of tablets or gummies.
Kava kava (Piper methysticum) is a plant from the Pacific Islands whose roots have been used to make a ceremonial drink for centuries. Its effects are sometimes likened to those of alcohol. The roots contain chemicals called kavalactones, which proved to relax muscles, promote sleep and reduce convulsions.
Kava is also believed to promote relaxation and improve mood. Some researchers have found that kava can treat insomnia, anxiety and similar conditions. Unfortunately, there is some indication that kava can damage the liver. Researchers don’t yet know if the problem is due to drug interactions or overdoses. In 2002, the FDA issued a warning about the rare possibility of liver damage due to products containing kava.
People with liver disease should not take kava. Other patients should not take it for any longer than for four weeks. Kava is taken orally and can come in tablets, dried extracts, capsules or liquid. Tea can be made from the dried roots.
Researchers have found that herbal medicines are effective and generally cause fewer side effects than pharmaceutical medicines. There are exceptions, and many herbs do cause drug interactions, so herbal medications should only be used after consulting a doctor. The patient should also follow the doctor’s instructions to the letter.
In addition, a patient should develop good health habits. Diet, exercise and stress management will all help a patient get the most benefits from their medicinal herbs.
9. GENERAL TIPS ON STRESS MANAGEMENT
Chapters of the guide dealing with school, work, family and technology all touch on tips and tricks to fight stress in those respective environments. This chapter brings simple tips anyone can try, regardless of what area of life stresses them out. As with everything else, find what suits you and your needs and schedule a time to practice it.
1. Handle one thing at a time. - When you attempt to accomplish things, you should take them on one at a time. Grouping activities together will make you nervous that you can't perfect each one appropriately. It may also frustrate you that you need to divide your attention too much.
2. Simplify your schedule. - This tip is related to the prior one. When you schedule too many things, you feel pressured to accomplish them all. If you have many activities on your schedule, circle a few that are a priority and do them well. You'll find that, in the long run, you'll get more accomplished this way.
3. Read books/watch movies. - Reading books and watching movies can help you relate to the general human condition. You will realize that troubles are universal to humanity and will feel soothed by this. You will also pick up solutions that are suggested by the way that the story turns out.
4. Bubble baths - Taking a bubble bath will also soothe you. When your body is relaxed and pampered, your emotions will follow. You should add things to your experience that you enjoy and that relax you. Try drinking a glass of your favorite wine or having another delicacy.
5. Compose a mantra. - Meditation helps you focus away from your stress. A mantra is a word, a phrase, a sound or vibration that you use to focus on during your meditation. You should choose an expression that has a powerful meaning for you.
6. Be proactive. - People who take charge of their lives and don't just let things happen to them experience less stress. When you feel more in control of your life, you feel more comfortable with how things turn out. It also makes things more predictable so that you aren't surprised by unexpected turns of events.
7. Simplify your finances. - When your finances are too complicated, it takes a toll on your energy and nerves. You should simplify your finances so that you make as few transactions as possible. For instance, you might notice that you save more money by withdrawing it from the ATM only once a month or paying in cash rather than using a debit/credit card.
8. Declutter. - When your home has a lot of clutter in it, it takes up mental space. Your mental focus includes the complexity of your living space. Try to organize your household in a functional way. Make it so that every object has a purpose and is useful to you.
9. Feng Shui your home. Feng Shui is the Asian art of arranging your home to balance your mood. You should pick up a book on how to achieve this, as it is a true and involved art form.
10. Time organization/management - You need to plan ahead for each day what you will accomplish. It is important to schedule both activities and breaks to make sure that you don't get stressed out. Make sure that you have budgeted enough time for each activity, as this will give you some breathing room.
11. Establish a routine. - When you have a regular routine, your body and mind will go into automatic pilot, and you will get into a groove. You may even get into a 'zone' where your activity and experience will be optimized. This zone is also sometimes called 'the flow.
12. Time out (count to ten) - When you are in the middle of a hectic activity, it is important to sometimes take a deep breath and count to ten. This will help relieve any anxiety and stress that may be building up. Do this frequently during busy, hectic days. When facing a stressful situation where you feel you might react uncontrollably, run to the bathroom, wash your hands and/or count to ten. The solitude and water will help you relax.
13. State your needs. - You need to learn to be able to communicate your needs to others. This way, you will not feel as frustrated when dealing with other people. You should rehearse ahead of time exactly what you need to tell your family members, co-workers, and friends.
14. Worry box - Keep a box with slips of paper in it that express what is troubling you. This is a way of venting your feelings and keeping track of the issues in your life. Take time to address these issues one by one as time goes on. A more poetic, but a useful suggestion, would be to burn the box and your worries.
15. Keep a journal. - This is a variation of the worry box idea. Keeping a journal will not only help you keep track of your stress. It will also inspire you to come up with possible solutions to your issues. Your journal should include what happens during each day and the thoughts and feelings that go along with these events.
16. Assess the crisis. - You should evaluate exactly how difficult things in life are for you. This way, things that will not last forever will not seem so difficult. We have a tendency to become mired down in troubles when we don't evaluate exactly how serious they are.
17. Imperfections are okay. - Perfectionists feel a greater load of stress than other people. It should be your goal to focus on function rather than perfection. Perfection is more an issue of the needs of your ego than what is really important.
18. Support system - You need to identify who the people are in your life that you turn to in order to talk things over. These people may be either friends or professionals. The best people to go to are ones that have a combination of intelligence and an ability to comfort you.
19. Don't procrastinate. - When you push things off, they have a tendency to accumulate and cause you stress. You need to commit to taking care of things at a constant rate. You should be careful about your schedule and don't let things take you by surprise.
20. Be smart about technology. - You should find and use apps that are useful for reducing stress. However, technology can sometimes make your life more complicated than it needs to be. Sometimes the cure is worse than the sickness. Find apps that help soothe you emotionally and help you organize your life.
21. Take a rest from technology. - Sometimes, the amount of time that we spend with technology is too much. We all need the human touch. Take a break from your computer screen to spend time with your loved ones and communicate with them.
22. Allow yourself to grieve. - It is important to emotionally process the crises and tragedies in your life. Every person needs to be able to express their sadness as well as their joy. Set aside moments every once in a while to reflect upon the losses in your life.
23. Leave work at work. - You should make a clear demarcation between the different parts of your life. At home, you should be primarily in relaxation mode. This will make you generally more productive in your workplace. It is even a wise idea to not spend so much time at home thinking and fretting about things at the office.
24. Say NO. - You need to be able to tell the people in your life when they are overburdening you. If you function by guilt, then you will certainly overload yourself. Try reasoning with the people in your life to tell them that you can only handle just so much before you will start to function inefficiently.
25. Work on what you can control. - It is important to not bite off more than you can chew. When you take on more than you can handle, you won't do anything well. Also, worrying over what you can’t control will bring you nowhere, but it will definitely bring you more stress.
26. Schedule time for doing what you love. - Everyone needs joy in their life. Focus on others, do some volunteer work, find an activity that you like, learn more about yourself. You need to take the time to smell the roses.
27. Do some gardening. - Gardening is a relaxing and productive activity. It will help you to focus on reflecting and managing your thoughts. Besides, cultivating flowers and other plants while weeding out the rest puts things into perspective - the same can be done with your problems and thoughts.
28. Act like a kid. - Do youthful things. Your youth was a time when you were more carefree, and you had less stress. Goofing off should be encouraged sometimes to help you regenerate.
29. Dance. - Dancing is a way of relieving stress and expressing yourself. Find your favorite music and dance with a partner or even by yourself.
30. Reject negative thoughts. - Find a way to turn your negative thoughts into positive ones. The reality is that life is filled with great opportunities for growth and reward.
This finishes the discussion on stress and how to resolve it. Seeing how difficult it is to give a fixed universal definition of stress, we proceeded to talk about typical everyday environments and situations that may cause stress. Family related stress lies at the center of our minds because family is so important in our lives. This includes the issues that surround financial stress.
Next, we dealt with the subject of school-related stress. School is important in our development but can cause a lot of strain. Nowadays, high college costs put an extra strain upon this to deal with the mounting costs of paying off student loans.
In the current state of affairs, work-related stress ranks high on the list. People have a tendency nowadays to go from job to job throughout their career, and there is no secure path as there was in days past. Also, work in general is stressful itself. The pressure to get things done quickly and satisfy the boss and possibly win that promotion and ease our financial worries puts a strain upon us that rivals most other kinds of stress in our lives.
In the world today, technology has become very prominent. Technology makes some tasks easier, but its overall effect is to create more burdens for us. The bar becomes raised, given that we can accomplish more. Also, we have more to take up our attention, given new technology. We are tethered to our home computers and our phones in a way that didn't exist before they came onto the scene.
The last part of the guide dealt with ways of relieving stress. It was seen that there are a lot of ways to relieve stress through exercise and changes in diet. Dietary supplements can be used in a way that can truly relieve a lot of tension in your life. And the final part of the guide dealt with a selection of tips that are useful for relieving stress.
The methods of relieving stress that are found in this guide are all natural. The benefit of using all natural methods is that you can deal with your problem without the unwanted consequences of using medication. Although prescribed medication is sometimes inevitable, it is always better to opt for a natural alternative solution to your health problems. Whether it is exercise or dietary supplements, the methods of relieving stress in the guide use the natural resources of the body.
By studying this guide you will be well on the road to dealing with the sources of stress in your life. Every person has the ability to make real changes in their life with the advice provided in this guide.