So many of us today are over-stressed and anxious as a result of our busy, demanding modern lives. All this stress is toxic!
Not only does it have negative implications on our mental health, but stress also has physiological effects, causing our bodies to be under constant attack from cortisol, the hormone our body produces in response to stress.
You see, we humans were designed to experience only short, transient exposure to acute stresses during “fight or flight” events: such as chasing down tigers or running from a herd of woolly mammoths.
And small bursts of cortisol can be good: a surge of cortisol can result in a quick burst of energy for survival reasons, increased cognitive function, decreased sensitivity to pain, and boosts in immunity.
Stress Overload is Bad for Your Health
But we modern humans are exposed to so many different types of stress so much of the time that we live our lives “on edge” and are consistently pumping heaps of this stress hormone. And in the case of cortisol, if a little is good, a lot is not. High, prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream can have the negative effects of:
- Impaired cognitive function: slower thinking, reduced ability to learn & memory problems
- Decreased muscle tissue and bone density
- High blood pressure
- Suppressed thyroid function
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Reduced immunity and ability to heal wounds
- Increased abdominal fat (which may put individuals at risk for cardiovascular disease)
Relax! It’s Good For You
To maintain optimal health, it is critical that the stress response is followed and countered by a necessary [tooltip text="The relaxation response decreases muscle tension, lowers heart rate and blood pressure, induces a deeper breathing pattern, calms the belly and digestion, and generally brings about a peaceful, content mood."]relaxation response[/tooltip].
Simple Ways to Reduce Stress
Exercise is one of several ways that we can manage our stress in a healthy way, and naturally induce the relaxation response. Dancing specifically is a fantastic, healthy way to let go of stress, literally shake off the worries and cares of the day (if only for 60 minutes), giving your body and mind the much-needed break from the stresses we all have in life: release your inhibitions and lose yourself in the movements and music of a night out on the town or in an exercise fitness class or program such as a belly dance class or Zumba Fitness.
Plus, studies have shown that exercise releases endorphins (the body’s natural pain relievers) in the brain, giving you a sense of euphoria. So, get moving to keep your body and mind fit, and that added totally natural, totally safe moment of bliss.
Other things you can to to de-stress include:
- Getting enough sleep: aim for 8 hours per night
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, protein and healthy fats
- Meditation, relaxation or breathing exercises
- Get some green: get out in nature to listen to the birds, feel small next to a giant tree, and breath in fresh air
Make Time For Yourself
If somebody asks you what you’re doing when you’re headed out for a hike, or doing 60 seconds of deep breathing at your desk, tell them you’re activating your parasympathetic (relaxation) response. That should buy you a few more seconds of “me” time.