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Stress 101

From heart problems to early aging, the effects of too much stress can damage your health in many irreversible ways. While certain individuals believe that they perform better under stress, that’s rarely the case, and research has shown that stress makes people more likely to make mistakes. Besides making you forget where you put your cell phone or car keys, stress can also have a dramatic impact on your health.

Stress Causes Disease

Some people are more prone to certain diseases, and chronic stress can ignite these conditions. Stress has been linked to cancer, lung disease, fatal accidents, suicide, and cirrhosis of the liver (a side effect of combating with stress with alcohol). Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have discovered that children exposed to chronic stress are more likely to develop a mental illness if one runs in their families.

Stress Hurts The Heart

Stress can physically damage your heart muscle because stress hormones increase your heart rate and constrict your blood vessels. This forces your heart to work harder and increases your blood pressure. According to the American Institute of Stress, the rate of heart attacks and sudden death increases after major stress-inducing incidents, like hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis.

Stress Can Make You Fat

Researchers at the University of Miami found that when people are placed in stressful situations, they’re likely to consume 40% more food than normal.

Also, hormones released when we’re stressed include adrenalin along with corticotrophin releasing hormone and cortisol. While high levels of adrenalin and CRH decrease appetite at first, the effects usually don’t last long, and cortisol helps us replenish our body after the stress has passed, but it can remain elevated, increasing your appetite and ultimately driving you to eat more.

Stress Causes Premature Aging
Chronic stress is a major contributor to premature aging, as the researchers from the University of California, San Francisco discovered. Stress shortens telomeres, or structures on the end of chromosomes so that new cells can’t grow as quickly. This leads to the inevitable signs of aging like wrinkles, weak muscles, poor eyesight, and more.

Stress Makes It Hard to Control Emotions
It’s no secret that stressed people can lose their temper, but new research shows just how little stress is actually required for us to lose control. A recent study by neuroscientists at New York University found that even mild levels of stress can impair our ability to keep our grip on emotions. Researchers taught the test subjects stress-control techniques, but after the subjects were put under mild stress by having their hands dunked in icy water, they couldn’t easily calm themselves down when shown pictures of snakes or spiders.
Our results suggest that even mild stress, such as that encountered in daily life, may impair the ability to use cognitive techniques known to control fear and anxiety.

Stress Affects Your Love Life
While sex may be a good stress reliever, it can also get you out of the mood super quick. A 1984 study found that stress can affect a man’s body weight, testosterone levels, and sexual desire. Numerous studies have shown that stress, (especially performance anxiety) can lead to impotence. High levels of stress in pregnant women may also trigger changes in their children, specifically behavioral and developmental issues.

Stress Can Ruin Your Teeth
Some people respond to stressful situations by grinding their teeth. This can often be done unconsciously and while sleeping, causing lasting damage to your jaw and wear your enamel down. Some research has linked stress to gum disease, but this is mainly because of the habits of stressed-out people: less attention paid to oral hygiene, changes in saliva due to high levels of stress hormones, and decreased immunity.

Scientific Ways To De-Stress FAST!
Eat “Happy” Foods
Many people believe all foods are calming, as when they eat, they feel better. But there’s a huge difference between tapping into a food’s inherently calming properties, and using any food as emotional anesthesia. That kind of eating may temporary provide a calming effect, but it’s a quick fix that wears off too fast, and leaves you weighing more.

Stressful events cause our cortisol levels to rise, and cortisol causes food cravings. In women those cravings tend to be strongest for carbs & sweet foods, according to researchers at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center. What’s worse is that the more we eat, the worse our mood gets. As if that weren’t bad enough, the cortisol then makes more trouble by triggering an enzyme in our fat cells, converting cortisone to more cortisol. Since our visceral fat cells (dangerous fat in our abdomen around our vital organs) have more of these enzymes than the subcutaneous fat cells located on our thighs and butt cheeks, stress causes many women to accumulate more belly fat.

* Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes can be particularly stress-reducing because they can satisfy the urge you get for carbohydrates and sweets when you are under a great deal of stress. They are packed full of beta-carotene and other vitamins, and the fiber helps your body to process the carbohydrates in a slow and steady manner.

* Salmon: Diets high in omega-3s keep the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline from peaking, and protect against heart disease.

* Almonds, Pistachios & Walnuts: These nuts are packed with B and E vitamins to help boost your immune system, and help lower blood pressure.

* Turkey: Contains an amino acid called L-tryptophan that triggers the release of serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical, that also has a documented calming effect.

* Spinach: A deficiency in magnesium can cause migraine headaches and a feeling of fatigue. One cup of spinach provides 40% of your daily needs for magnesium.

* Avocados: Monounsaturated fats and potassium in avocados help lower blood pressure. (avocados have more than bananas).

* Green Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, and other dark green vegetables are powerhouses of vitamins that help replenish our bodies in times of stress.

* Dark Chocolate & Cacao: A Johns Hopkins University study found that the taste of sweetness on your tongue causes a surge of feel-good endorphins. Dark chocolate contains compounds called flavonoids that also affect mood, based on a 2010 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology showing that cocoa flavonoids improved both mental acuity and attitude.

* Grass Fed Beef: A burger isn’t all bad, as long as it’s made from grass-fed beef that is high in conjugated linoleic acid, a fat that fights cancer and belly fat and has also been shown to protect brain cells from worry. It also supplies a good dose of iron, to boost energy levels. Iron-deficient people are typically tired and stressed.

* Lighten Up Your Coffee: When stress makes you unfocused, caffeine’s stimulating qualities may promote a can-do attitude. “To supersize that good feeling, drink your coffee with a little bit of organic coconut milk. The extra protein and fat make you feel more satiated and therefore calmer.

* Oranges: A German study in Psychopharmacology found that vitamin C helps reduce stress and return blood pressure and cortisol to normal levels after a stressful situation.

Practice “Feel Good” Tactics
During peak moments of stress, endorphins released into the brain relieve pain and begin a recovery period. Doing things that feel good physically like getting a massage, sitting in a hot tub, taking a warm shower or listening your favorite music, can mimic this process and shut down stress. Meditating few minutes per day can help ease anxiety. Research suggests that daily meditation may alter the brain’s neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress.

John Ratey, MD, a Harvard Medical School professor and the author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, says just two minutes of exercise is enough to change your mood, as long as you raise your heart rate.

Anything from squats to jumping jacks supplies a surge of neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin—the same targets as antidepressants.

You don’t have to run in order to get a runner’s high, as all forms of exercise, including yoga and walking, can ease depression and anxiety by helping the brain release feel-good chemicals to help the body to deal with stress. You can go for a quick walk around the block, take the stairs up and down a few flights, or do some stretching exercises like head rolls and shoulder shrugs.

Place a warm heat wrap around your neck and shoulders for 10 minutes. Close your eyes and relax your face, neck, upper chest, and back muscles. Remove the wrap, and use a tennis ball or foam roller to massage away tension. Place a gym or exercise ball between your back and a wall, then lean into the ball, and hold gentle pressure for up to 30 seconds. Then move the ball to another spot, and apply pressure.

Positive Thinking
When you think negatively about yourself, the brain’s amygdala sends signals that increase blood pressure and raise adrenaline and cortisol levels.

Laugh Out Loud
A hearty chuckle doesn’t just lighten the load mentally, it lowers cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, and boosts endorphins to help your mood. Lighten up by tuning in to your favorite sitcom or comedy or chatting with someone who has a way of hitting your funny bone.

Crank Up the Tunes
Research shows that listening to music you enjoy can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. Create a playlist of songs or listen to nature sounds like the ocean, a bubbling brook or birds chirping, and allow your mind to focus. You also can blow off steam by rocking out to upbeat tunes.

Relax Your Jaw
Relaxing your tongue and jaw sends a message to your brain stem and limbic system to turn off the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Simply let your tongue go limp in your mouth, and then open your mouth slightly, to loosen up your jaw. These exercises helps our bodies to rest and restore.

Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is crucial to feeling tranquil, but the most important part of it is breathing out. When you elongate your exhalations, you spark your parasympathetic nervous system, which slows down your heart rate. Take three long exhalations, making them twice as long as your inhalation.

Warm Your Hands
When fear and anxiety set it, the nervous system directs blood flow to the largest muscles, and this redirected flow often results in cold hands. Warming them signals to the nervous system to calm down.

Start Gardening
According to a 2011 Dutch study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, 30 minutes of gardening reduces stress levels more effectively than 30 minutes of reading quietly in a room.

Reach Out
Your social network is one of your best tools for handling stress. Talk to others, and preferably face to face, but the phone will do. Share what’s going on, you can get a fresh perspective from your loved ones.