There are ways and means of managing stress levels if you find that you are feeling pressurised and overwhelmed. Stress triggers an increased amount of cortisol – the ‘stress hormone’ – which can raise blood-sugar levels in your body as well as elevate your blood pressure.

The overproduction of cortisol can lead to a constant state of chemical arousal which could eventually lead to a heart attack. If you have bills to pay, challenging relationships and abnormal pressure at work, these can all add up have serious effects on your health.

It is therefore important to manage your stress levels. Try making your environment less stressful, eat well, get sufficient exercise and implement calming techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation. It could also help to consult your doctor.

This is what stress does to your body:

  • Heart attacks – individuals who reported being anxious and overwhelmed were 27% more likely to have a heart attack, according to studies carried out at Columbia University’s Medical Centre.
  • Strokes – stressful habits and being a type A personality could lead to a higher risk of a stroke.
  • Brain shrinkage – elevated stress levels can reduce some of the grey matter in your brain. This is the area that is directly tied to emotional and physical function.
  • Skin – the skin is also affected when you are stressed. Increased cortisol levels caused by stress could lead to more oil production which can exacerbate skin issues. Furthermore, stress also causes blood vessels to dilate which can cause unpleasant redness.
  • Gut – It is a known fact that stress suppresses inflammasomes. This is a multiprotein that plays an important role in taking care of your immune and digestive system, and can lead to irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Depressed libido – stress has a negative impact on one’s hormones which in turn can have an adverse effect on the production of oestrogen as well as testosterone – perhaps the most common cause for a diminished sex drive!

Stress and Illness:
The stress hormone cortisol could ‘switch off’ the inflammatory response of the body. This will result in the inflammation lingering long after an infection has been given the all-clear.

Chronic Disease:
Individuals who are always stressed in their everyday lives are more susceptible to being diagnosed with chronic health disorders and problems ranging from heart disease to arthritis.

Here are some common ailments that you are likely to experience when stressed:

Tension headaches:
Tension headaches can be quite debilitating. It feels as though a band of moderate pressure is put on either the back of the forehead or the back of the head or neck.

Muscle tension:
Increased tension leads to your body always being in ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ mode. If no action is taken, the muscle tension will in most instances disappear.

Weight gain and tension:
High levels of cortisol are often directly linked to weight gain, lower bone density, high blood pressure and cholesterol as well as diminished immune function.

If you are prone to feeling stressed, exercise is a great way to increase your energy levels and fight off feelings of fatigue.

  • Running, cycling and walking fast are all exercises to try if you are feeling stressed.
  • These increase the heart rate and flow of oxygen levels to the muscles.
  • When these exercise are done consistently over a period of time, the heart’s efficiency will automatically improve and as a result your resting heart rate will decrease – therefore a lower heart rate will lower feelings of anxiety and stress.

Resistance training is brilliant for reducing stress levels:

  • Weight training as well as Pilates are great stress-relievers.
  • Resistance training increases muscle strength and improves cardiovascular performance, minimising the chance of injuries.
  • Weight training and Pilates help the body to perform everyday activities and teaches you to move correctly. The result is that once daily activities are executed more efficiently, fatigue will be diminished.
  • Exercise such as Pilates teaches individuals to breathe correctly. By increasing the capacity of the lungs, improved breathing will automatically alleviate stress.

Flexibility training for relaxation:

  • Yoga and stretching exercises all alleviate stress levels.
  • Yoga and stretching improves muscle mobility, thus helping the muscles to relax.
  • The more your body is relaxed, the more the mind will become relaxed too. Yoga also teaches you to breathe more effectively.

When you find that you are in a stressful situation – try these tips:

Breathing it away is perhaps the best way to alleviate stress:

  • Sit upright to increase lung capacity – choose a chair with good back support.
  • Breathe steadily in through your nose an out through your mouth. The breath out should be twice as long as the breath in – do this at least ten times.
  • Use your diaphragm to breath: a good way to find exactly where your diaphragm is situated is by placing a hand on your diaphragm and you will feel it as you breathe.
  • Relax your muscles – including your shoulders and upper chest.
  • Relax your mind as you perform this exercise – shut your eyes and think pleasant, happy thoughts.

The pursuit of happiness and self-gratification is more important than ever – it is about time that we relearn the art of putting on the brakes so that we become more available to spend quality time with our friends and family, resulting in a more stress-free lifestyle.