You’ve heard it a thousand times: You need to reduce your stress. But is stress really that big of a deal? Turns out it is. When we get stressed, our adrenal glands produce a hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol can be beneficial in helping the body react to stress, but too much cortisol can be detrimental to the body, causing weight gain, joint discomfort, negative emotions, and other problems. Aside from these bigger issues, stress decreases quality of life. On a daily basis, stress adds up. So what can you do about it?
Research has shown that individuals who exercise regularly cope better in stressful situations. When the body is stressed, the cardiovascular system is forced to work harder as heart rate and blood pressure increase. However, individuals who exercise regularly experience a lower heart rate and less of a mood drop following stress.
Studies on the connection between exercise and stress suggest that the stress caused by exercise helps the body adapt to the changes brought on by the sympathetic nervous system response—the fight-or-flight response—such that the body responds more effectively when other stressful situations arise. In other words, the same sympathetic reactions that prepare the body for the metabolic needs of exercise also prepare the body for the metabolic needs of stress. Therefore, with regular exercise, the body can better anticipate the bodily needs brought on by stress and prepare to fulfill them before the stress occurs, thus decreasing the wear of stress on the body.
Many people don’t take stress as seriously as they should because they believe that stress is just a state of mind that won’t affect them physically. However, recent neurological tests argue that organ function is partly tied to mental state. Research has found that the movement center in the brain, the primary motor cortex, is connected to the adrenal glands, where hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are produced during the stress response. This suggests that movement, particularly that which involves the core, could play a profound role in stress resilience and may explain why those who exercise regularly respond better in stressful situations. Furthermore, these findings give reason for why exercises that focus on the core, such as yoga and Pilates, are often associated with stress relief.
So what can you do to build your stress resilience?
The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week, to improve cardiovascular health. This time period can be broken up into shorter time periods to fit into your daily schedule, such as several 10-minute bouts of exercise per day. Because the axial area of the motor cortex is strongly connected to the stress response, adding in a few core exercises can help your body build stress resilience.
Essential oils can also supplement stress relief. Essential oils that are high in linalool have been shown to help relax smooth muscles in the body and reduce sad and anxious feelings. To combat stress, use Petitgrain, Lavender, Clary Sage, Basil, Cilantro, and Coriander.
Taking the time to reduce your stress each day can dramatically improve your quality of life and long-term health. A stress resilient lifestyle is composed not only of regular exercise and healthy supplementation of essential oils, but also includes a healthy diet and consistent sleep habits. Be sure to consult your physician before making any significant changes to your daily regimen.