Stress is a normal part of life. In small quantities, stress is good. It can motivate you and help you be more productive. However, too much stress, or a strong response to stress, is harmful. It can set you up for general poor health as well as specific physical or psychological illnesses like infection, heart disease, or depression.
Anytime our normal scheduling is interrupted, it creates stress. Add in a global pandemic, schools closing, parents trying to work from home and homeschool their children, it really is the perfect storm for pushing kids (and adults) to their limits.
But before you grab those cookies and prepare to eat your feelings, take note. Both stress and sugary, highly-processed foods actually decrease your body’s immune system function.
How Stress Impacts Your Family’s Health
“The secretion of stress hormone (cortisol) does more than create increased heart rate and mild perspiration,” shares Dr. Joseph Esposito, CEO and Founder of AlignLife. “It can cause havoc on your immune system, your hormones and many other systems of your body. Needless to say, if you are constantly ‘reacting’ to stress with emotion versus ‘responding’ to stress with a deep breath and rational thought, you are bathing in excess stress hormone.”
Having excess cortisol in your system can:
- lower your body’s immune function (sick more)
- impede normal thyroid secretion (gain weight)
- decrease normal estrogen secretion (PMS, irregular periods)
- decrease normal testosterone secretion (muscle loss, decreased confidence and lowered energy levels)
- decrease melatonin secretion (interrupt your normal sleep cycle)
“We must learn how to allow our minds to rest,” continues Dr. Joseph Esposito. “We are thinking all day long and then we lie in bed and think about what we didn’t get done today and what we have to do tomorrow and then we fall asleep and our minds are racing with dreams that put together our thoughts into stories. It is time to allow our brains to shut down and reset themselves so we don’t drive right into feelings of anxiety and stress.”
How to Help Your Body Reset and Reduce Stress
A review published in June 2016 in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences noted that stress can increase your body’s need for certain immune-boosting nutrients. This includes vitamin C, vitamin B, selenium, and magnesium. But eating healthy — including a good mix of complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables — can help your body reduce stress by triggering your brain to increase serotonin production and stabilize your blood pressure. So grab those fresh fruits and vegetables at the store right now. Thankfully, these items are still easy to find in stores.
Go outside. Talk a walk or hike. Have your kids ride their bikes. Soak in sunshine and get your body moving. Any exercise will do, as long as you get your body moving. “Scientists have found a correlation between exercise and improved brain function,” shares Dr. Thomas Mercante, AlignLife of Summerville. “This includes those parts of the brain involved in managing stressors.” Exercise helps reduce your body’s stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and stimulate the production of endorphins in your body. Ever heard of a “runner’s high”? It’s endorphins you can have to thank for that. These chemicals are responsible for creating that feeling of relaxation and optimism people get after a hard workout.
Find the source of what’s stressing you out.
“Another effective solution,” continues Dr. Thomas Mercante, “is to find and address the source of your stress or anxiety. While this is not always possible, finding what is making you stressed out can help you reduce it. Ask yourself: ‘What do you worry about most? Is something constantly on your mind? Does anything, in particular, make you sad or depressed?’ Keep a diary of the experiences and thoughts that seem to be related to your anxiety. Are your thoughts adding to your anxiety in these situations? Then talk to someone who you trust and will listen. Often, just talking to a friend or loved one is all that is needed to relieve anxiety.”
Practice deep breathing or yoga.
Studies also show that the gentle stretching of yoga is a great way to relieve stress and has proven health benefits that can decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke. Plus, there are many free yoga classes you can pop in online and do from the comfort of your home. Yoga with Adriene is a great online resource (yes it’s free) and you can get started right away with this meditation video on dealing with anxiety.
Limit technology (for kids and adults).
Taking a break from technology can significantly decrease the amount of stress and anxiety in kids and adults. A 2018 study published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports found young people who spend seven hours or more a day on screens are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety than those who use screens for an hour a day. “After an hour a day, increasing screen time was generally linked to progressively lower psychological well-being,” the study reports. “In terms of relative risk, high users of screens (7+ h/day) carried twice the risk of low well-being as low users (1 h/day). This included behaviors such as not staying calm, not finishing tasks, not being curious, and arguing too much with caregivers.” So break out some board games, go outside for a walk, get out crayons or colored pencils, or strike up a conversation with friends and family. Whatever you decide to do, just slotting some screen-free time each day will help you and your family reduce stress and anxiety.
Read a book.
According to a 2009 study, stress can be reduced up to 68 percent simply by reading a book for six minutes! To come to this conclusion, Mindlab International researchers at the University of Sussex monitored the stress levels and heart rates of a group of test subjects before they performed a variety of stress-reducing activities. Here’s how reading stacked up compared to other traditional relaxation activities: listening to music reduced the levels by 61 percent, having a cup of tea or coffee lowered levels by 54 percent, and taking a walk by 42 percent. Playing video games brought stress levels down by 21 percent, but increased heart rate. Take note though, what you read matters. Reading the news can actually increase levels… so head to the fiction section and allow yourself to get lost in another world.
Get plenty of rest.
We all know that stress can disrupt your sleep, but getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night can actually help you manage your stress levels. A good night’s sleep helps you tackle your day – allowing you to be more patient and less agitated with events. Need some tips on how to get a better night’s sleep, check out this article on how proper sleep keeps you healthy!
Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences: Nutrient and Stress Management – https://www.longdom.org/open-access/nutrient-and-stress-management-2155-9600-1000528.pdf
NCBI: Sports Medicine: The Effects of Stress on Physical Activity and Exercise – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3894304/
NCBI: Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3193654/
NCBI: Preventive Medicine Reports: Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6214874/