The Role of Environmental Stress in Your Mood

When you think of the typical causes of stress, what do you tend to think of? For many of us the answers will be easy and forthcoming: things like ‘our boss’, ‘work’ and ‘debt’ will all spring to mind.

In fact though, stress can also have a number of environmental causes which is what we call ‘environmental stress’. These include things that might seem innocuous like noise, crowds and more. Here we will look at some of the most common causes of environmental stress and at how you can go about using this knowledge to enjoy a calmer and less anxious lifestyle.

The Main Causes of Environmental Stress

While all sorts of things can contribute to and cause environmental stress, there are certainly some main culprits. These include:

Heat

When it’s very hot we become much more likely to get stressed and irritable. This has even been put forward as one of the reasons that some people in sunny countries are often described as being ‘passionate’.

Simply put though, the term ‘hot and bothered’ is a very apt description of the way we can end up feeling when things don’t go our way and we’re in the blazing heat. If you want to reduce stress, crack open a window!

Weather

It goes to follow that if heat can cause environmental stress, so too can hot weather. At the same time though, the weather can also cause stress in other ways. Being constantly rained down on and getting soaking wet can make us stressed and irritable for instance and so too can the weather changing very rapidly or being extremely cold.

While it’s not environmental stress as such, low light in the mornings can also cause depression – this is what’s known as seasonal affective disorder or ‘SAD’.

Lighting

Continuing on the theme of lighting, light itself can also cause you to become more or less stressed. Specifically, artificial light that is closer to fluorescent lighting can cause us to produce more cortisol. This is actually a good thing in the morning as cortisol helps us to wake up but if we’re sitting in a fluorescently lit office all day then it will only contribute to existing workplace stress.

At the same time, the light from our computer screens and phones can also have a similar effect and this can be especially bad when we are trying to get to sleep. At night, low lighting is supposed to stimulate the production of melatonin and other sleep hormones. But if you look at your bright phone screen it will cause stress and thus wake you right back up.

Noise

Noise is one of the most common and serious causes of environmental stress. Particularly bad is very loud noise that is above 85 decibels – examples including motorcycles, lawn mowers, loud music and jet engines. Traffic is pretty bad too so if you’re living by a main road then all that noise can very likely increase your blood pressure and make you that much more likely to snap at your partner.

Noise that’s much quieter though can also increase environmental stress. For instance, a high pitched ringing that is too high pitched to even be heard by humans can actually still increase levels of stress hormones and increase your chances of aggression.

Pain

While it’s not necessarily ‘environmental’ being in pain is another external factor that can increase stress, as can a general lack of comfort. This is worth bearing in mind because if your office chair is uncomfortable at work – or even if you just have a sharp bunch of keys digging into your pocket – then this could very realistically be making you anxious and stressed.

Crowds

Finally, crowds have also been shown to increase environmental stress – raising cholesterol and making us much more likely to lash out and hit someone who is getting on our nerves.

In fact, if someone walks towards you then this can trigger a fear response. If you live in a busy city then you will have countless people walking directly towards you every single day on your way in to work. On top of this you will be constantly queueing at the traffic lights and constantly having people step on your toes. This is where the term ‘pavement rage’ comes form and it’s a very real and serious phenomenon.

What to Do About Environmental Stress

So what do you do about environmental stress?

The first thing to do is to acknowledge what a big serious role this can play in your mood, especially if you are currently experiencing stress.

Remember that a very high pitched noise, too high to hear, can cause you to produce more cortisol and that so too can keys digging into your pocket.

For most of us there are constantly tons of noises all around us and tons of different ways in which we aren’t quite comfortable. Right now you can probably identify a ton of these environmental stressors – maybe the room you’re in is crowded, maybe you can hear the road, maybe you can hear the ringing of the TV, maybe you’re too hot, maybe your chair is uncomfortable…

All these things might not have a huge impact on your overall stress levels on their own but cumulatively they can have a very big impact – and especially when they’re piled on top of other things that are already making you feel very stressed.

Furthermore, you might also be experiencing stress in other forms too. Maybe you have a headache and you’re in debt, or maybe there’s a deadline. Without those sources of environmental stress you could deal with those things but add them on and suddenly it can all seem a lot worse.

Fortunately there are a number of things you can do to address each of these various different types of stress. Here is a checklist of things you might want to implement:

  • Go into work a little later or earlier in order to avoid the crowds
  • Choose a different route into work
  • Make sure the temperature in your home is the way you like it
  • Wear layers to work so that you can easily add or remove them to deal with the temperature of the room
  • Speak to your boss about getting a more comfortable chair
  • Make sure all of your clothes are well fitting
  • Turn off TVs and other appliances at the mains when you aren’t using them
  • Add more insulation to your rooms
  • Use a ‘daylight lamp’ to wake you up in the morning
  • And avoid screens at night
  • Wear blue blocking shades to block out fluorescent and ultraviolet light
  • Sleep with earplugs
  • Move away from busy city areas
  • Move somewhere with better weather
  • Take your keys out your pocket
  • Make sure your clothes are comfortable
  • Listen to headphones at work
  • Ask to be moved somewhere less noisy/bright/crowded at work

At the same time, think about making changes to your environment in other ways that will make it more relaxing and calming. Adding a plant to your desk for instance has been shown to instantly lower heartrate and blood pressure and to decrease workplace stress.

Most of all though, just recognize the role of environmental stress and do whatever you can to reduce it. You’ll find that if you can make your environment calmer and more soothing, you’ll feel tons better as a result.

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How the Acute Stress Reaction Turns You Into a Superhuman!

One of the bitter ironies of being stressed is the fact that being stressed often makes you more stressed. In other words, if you’re very stressed then you will be worried about the fact that you’re stressed and this in turn adds to your existing stress.

SupermanFor this reason then it’s important to put stress in perspective and to realize that it’s not all bad. In fact stress itself isn’t bad at all – it actually puts you into a heightened state of awareness and physical performance.

The acute stress reaction you see is actually also what we know as the ‘fight or flight’ response and it’s one of the best ways to improve your physical and mental abilities and thus to deal with whatever it is that life throws at you. Read on and we’ll look at how the acute stress reaction effectively turns you into a superhuman and why you shouldn’t be stressed about being stressed any more…

What Is ‘Fight or Flight’?

When you find yourself confronted by danger, your brain responds by producing numerous hormones and neurotransmitters. Specifically you get a trifecta of substances which are cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline. Together these substances have a number of effects which we know as the acute stress reaction.

Those effects include:

  • Increased muscle tension and muscle tone
  • Heightened awareness
  • Better decision making
  • More acute senses
  • Thicker blood for clotting
  • More rapid heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Suppressed immune system and digestive system (so that you have more energy for other functions)

If you were to take many of these items out of context and list them on their own, would that seem like a bad thing? More likely it would look like you were listing the attributes of Batman.

The Acute Stress Response and Evolution

From an evolutionary perspective this response makes perfect sense. Basically what’s happening is that your body is flooding you with hormones and brain chemicals designed to help you survive in dangerous situations.

That’s because acute stress in the wild would have largely been caused by immediate physical threats like predators or even forest fires. At this point an increased heart rate and alertness would be incredibly useful.

Likewise, today your acute stress response could help you to win a fight with a mugger, to dodge incoming traffic… even to catch that glass as it falls out of your cupboard.

Introducing Eustress

In the workplace a little stress can also turn you into Superman or -woman. You don’t want to be flooded with stress hormones when you’re giving a presentation because you’ll come across as a nervous wreck, but the rest of the time though, stress can be incredibly effective as a motivator and it’s one of the very best ways we can prevent ourselves from procrastinating. If you often struggle to motivate yourself, then it might just be that you don’t have enough stress in your life.

This small amount of motivating stress is what you call ‘eustress’. Think of it as your brain’s way of telling you what’s important and what requires your full attention.

The Flow State

What’s also very relevant to point out at this juncture is that the acute stress response is neurochemically very similar to the flow state. A flow state is basically a state of mind characterized by fast reactions, increased awareness and heightened decision making but with none of the perceived drawbacks associated with stress.

Flow states are what happen when you’re snowboarding down a mountain at high speeds and you suddenly seem to experience time slowing down so that you can perform with perfect precision. It’s what happens when two tennis players get into the zone and return every single ball for ridiculously long rallies. And it’s what happens when you’re writing a book and you get so focused on what you’re doing that you forget everything else.

Researchers believe that these flow states are essentially the acute stress response plus ‘happiness’ or minus ‘fear’. This is what happens when you embrace the stress and let it give you the super powers it’s meant to. It’s why when you’re doing something fun but scary it kicks in and it’s why it occurs when you’re working on something you think is very fascinating and important – but not necessarily scary.

Next time you notice yourself starting to experience the acute stress response then, instead of fighting it and getting more worked up, try embracing it and ‘leaning into it’ so that you can enjoy the benefits of heightened awareness.

Cortisol for Waking Up

Cortisol the stress hormone is also not on its own the enemy and once again there is another very clear benefit of stress. Cortisol is what gets produced when we expose ourselves to natural sunlight in the morning.

You know that natural sunlight that we think of as being so healthy? And that seems to rejuvenate us when we bask in it? If that causes cortisol then surely cortisol can’t be all that bad?

And indeed it isn’t – cortisol is one of the things that makes our body get rid of melatonin in the morning – melatonin being the sleep hormone that makes us feel tired and lethargic. In other words then, we also need a little stress to wake us up in the mornings.

Without that little bit of stress we wouldn’t even have the energy or impetus to get out of bed. So stress in itself really isn’t a bad thing – the acute stress response can even potentially turn you into a kind of superhuman.

Next time you feel yourself getting stressed remember this – this is you in beast mode!

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Your Stress Symptoms Checklist

One of the biggest ironies of stress is that we don’t always realize that we’re experiencing it. Sometimes life gets so on top of you and you feel so constantly overworked and overstretched that you don’t even have time to stop and to assess your own mental state. At this point you can find that stress ends up building up to a large degree and you don’t even realize it’s happening. It’s only when you stop to think about everything you’re going through and when you analyze the symptoms that you realize you’re feeling stressed.

For this reason a stress symptoms checklist can be very useful. Keep note of these different symptoms and you can then be much better able to identify a bout of stress when it occurs. And knowing that you are stressed is important as it will provide you with the first step towards treating and dealing with it.

Read on for your complete stress symptoms checklist…

Stress Symptoms Checklist

Anxious thoughts

We should start this stress symptoms checklist with the most important and prevalent of all the stress symptoms – which would be anxious thoughts. When you are anxious you will find yourself ruminating on the things you are worried about which may or may not also be illogical.

Difficulty sleeping

If you are stressed then you will find that your mind races and this can make it harder for you to sleep.

Increased appetite

An increase in the stress hormone cortisol can also cause an increase in appetite.

Weight gain

Similarly cortisol can also cause weight gain as it causes sugar to be more easily stored as fat.

Weight loss

That said though, stress can also cause similar symptoms to depression reducing your interest in things and causing you to lose your appetite leading to weight loss. Perhaps a better item for a stress symptoms checklist then would be ‘unusual weight change’.

Lack of interest

When we are stressed we often find that it seems to consume our thoughts and we’re unable to relax or to enjoy anything else. This can then lead to a lack of interest in things that you would otherwise find exciting or interesting and in turn that can cause you to engage less with other people and activities.

Tiredness

Chronic stress is stress that goes on for a long time. If you have stress for too long then it means your body will be producing stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine for a long time too. There’s only so long that this can go on for though and eventually this can lead to adrenal fatigue – making you feel exhausted.

Depression

Stress and depression are correlated and one can often lead to the other. If you are suffering with low mood, then it may be that you’re depressed.

Irritability

Likewise though when you’re stressed you’re also more likely to find yourself shouting at friends and family members unfairly or just generally ‘grumping’. Hormonal changes associated with stress often lead to irritability.

Muscle tension

It can be hard to tell if your muscles are tensed but this is one of the effects that stress has on the body as part of the fight or flight response.

Jaw grinding

If you’re struggling to tell if you have muscle tension, then an easier item on a stress symptoms checklist would be jaw grinding or ‘TMJ’ (temporomandibular jaw disorder) which you’ll experience as jaw pain.

Biting your lip

For similar reasons to jaw grinding, you may also bite your lips or your hands.

Tinnitus

Hearing a phantom noise in your ear, often in the form of a high pitched ringing, can also be a common symptom of stress. The reason for this is that when we are stressed and producing more cortisol, it causes all of our neurons to become more sensitive and more likely to fire. This can actually result in ‘false positives’ causing our hearing nerves to fire as though there was sound, even when there actually is none. Tension in the ears meanwhile can also cause a popping noise.

Suppressed immune system

You might also find yourself getting ill more often which is one of the most serious things to consider on a stress symptoms checklist. The problem here is that when you’re very stressed, your immune system becomes suppressed in order to allow more energy to be used in other areas.

Irregular bowl movements

IBS – irritable bowel syndrome – is closely linked with stress. In fact, our emotions often regulate our bowl movements and our urination which of course is the result of hormones affecting the stomach.

Headache

Most likely due to the extra muscle tension, stress can often cause headaches.

Difficulty breathing

When you are very stressed, then tension can end up making it harder to breathe. This might be noticeable on a stress symptoms checklist as constant sighing and heavy breathing.

Panic Attacks

If you work yourself up too much, this can lead to panic attacks which will often feel almost like heart attacks at first.

Heightened blood pressure and heart rate

This is one of the direct effects of adrenaline and norepinephrine. Blood pressure is raised by the increase in heart rate but also by the thickening of the blood which occurs so that it will be more likely to clot in the case of an injury. Of course this can be very unhealthy when it’s allowed to continue for sustained periods of time.

Sweating

This too is associated with the fight or flight response – which you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever been nervous in an interview and ended up with wet palms.

Nightmares

If you’re very stressed then this can often end up coming to ‘the surface’ in the form of nightmares.

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How to Help Your Children With School Stress

When we grow up, the amount of different stresses we have to deal with at any given time go through the roof. As a child you only have to concern yourself with your own happiness and health and you have very few responsibilities like that. You don’t need to pay rent or a mortgage, you don’t need to make dinner and you don’t have relationship troubles or financial debt. Children come home from school, maybe have a bit of homework and then do whatever they want.

School stressThis is the way that many parents see it at least and it’s for this reason that it can often be hard for us to be completely sympathetic with our children when they’re dealing with stress. What could possibly be upsetting them that much that they should be moping and angry? They don’t know they’re born!

In fact though, school stress is a very real phenomenon and it can be felt by kids very intensely. If your child is experiencing school stress then there’s a good chance it will affect their happiness and their academic performance so it’s very important that you do everything you can do help them manage it.

What Causes School Stress?

At school there are all kinds of causes of stress and especially when you’re hormonal and going through your teenage years.

For starters, at school you will have not one subject or lesson but multiple. This means there’s a good chance that you’ll have to change between classrooms throughout the day and that will mean constantly moving around and disrupting your day. Imagine if you didn’t have one office but five and you had to constantly change between them? This is one of the biggest physical causes of school stress just on its own.

In each class you’ll then be constantly marked and graded and you’ll need to constantly pay attention. When your ‘break’ comes, things don’t get much easier. You might have to contend with bullies, or just friends who tease you. Maybe there’s a girl or guy you fancy who isn’t giving you the time of day, or perhaps you have social problems in your group leading to accidents. If you’re a teenager then you’ll badly want to fit in due to changes in the brain and in hormones and every slight argument will seem a thousand times worse. It’s not a physical break either seeing as many kids will play football or tag, possibly in the cold and rain, only to then get shouted at by the teacher for not doing well enough on homework that you tried very hard on.

Then there’s the commute to and from school to consider, the fact that you have to wear a uniform that you likely don’t like the looks of much… ultimately it’s all very stressful and tiring. And at the end of the day, you’ll only have to wake up early in the morning and do it all again.

How to Help

All this may well be taking you back now and you might be able to see why school stress is a real issue. As a parent then, what can you do to help?

A Welcoming Environment

The first thing to do is to provide a warm, welcoming and relaxing environment for your children to come home to. Try to remember that school stress is a real thing and that your child is probably worn out, stressed and upset after a hard day at school.

If you can give them somewhere relaxing to sit, feed them good food and help them feel comfortable, then they’ll a) be able to recharge their batteries and b) have something to look forward while at school.

This is something that some parents can struggle with though as it can sometimes seem like children are just taking liberties by relaxing and lying around after you’ve spent all day working and still have to. Remember though, they are smaller and with less energy and it is somewhat a child’s prerogative to enjoy a lack of responsibilities – they will come soon enough.

Be Supportive

At the same time, make sure that you are there to help and to listen. Tell your child that you understand how much of an issue school stress can be and that you want them to tell you if ever they are struggling with it. You might not be able to help, but lending a non-judgmental ear can really help.

Stress Management Techniques

Remember as well that school stress is almost like a ‘warm up act’ for the stress that will follow as they get older. This is your opportunity to teach them healthy stress management techniques so that they will be better prepared for whatever life throws at them now and as they get older.

Sometimes this can mean just telling them that it doesn’t matter as long as they try their hardest. Didn’t get an A in art? Well then if they don’t want to be an artist it doesn’t really matter. Have they done everything they can on their French homework? Then forget it for the rest of the evening and enjoy that game without thinking about it – stressing about something you can’t help isn’t going to be constructive.

Likewise, does it matter if the other kids are teasing them? If they laugh with them then it won’t seem so bad. And while they might not have luck with that one guy or gal – there are plenty more fish in the sea.

Don’t be that parent who keeps pushing because you will become the ‘superego’ that causes them to overthink things and to experience that school stress more. Instead be the voice of reason that says: ‘try hard but don’t worry, enjoy life’.

Distraction

One of the best ways to deal with school stress is to provide distractions. This can mean taking your children out for a day out, or it can mean encouraging them to get involved in sports and other out-of-school activities (exercise is particularly good as it causes the release of endorphins).

The problem with stress is that it makes us not want to do anything which actually just makes the stress worse. When we feel miserable the last thing we want to do is go to Karate or spend time with friends. Fortunately though, when you’re a parent you get final say so you can force them to keep going, not give up and ultimately feel better when they weren’t expecting to.

Another benefit of outside classes and activities is that it can also help to give your children the chance to build other friendships and interests outside of school. For many children, school is their entire world – so is it any wonder that they get school stress? If you give your child something to enjoy and to get satisfaction from outside of school then it will matter less to them when they fall out with so-and-so over who won at tag…

Health

Stress in general also has a lot to do with health. In other words, if you are overtired and malnourished then you’re going to find that stress is much worse than if you’re healthy and well. This means giving them the best possible diet, ensuring they get exercise outside and sending them to bed early enough so that they can wake up feeling refreshed. As a result their body will be much better able to handle the rigors of school stress.

Note as well that stress also causes negative health effects such as colds and illnesses. This is another important reason to do everything you can to support your child’s health. At the same time though, it also means that it’s incredibly important that you take school stress seriously and keep a close eye on it. If your child tells you they’re struggling, if they are showing signs of serious stress or depression or if they’re generally giving you any cause for concern, then make sure you respond to this by taking them out of school for a holiday, or just telling the teachers that you’re worried and that you’d appreciate it if they could keep a special eye on your son or daughter.

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An Introduction to the Different Types of Stress

The term stress tends to be used broadly to refer to all kinds of unpleasant feelings. Generally though we agree that when we say the word ‘stress’ we are talking about that feeling of anxiety and panic that prevents us from concentrating or relaxing and which causes us to gradually become miserable.

This is actually just one type of stress though, called ‘chronic stress’. Here we will look at what the other kinds are and how you can tell which one you might be dealing with at any given time.

Acute Stress

The ‘main’ type of stress is not chronic stress but rather acute stress. And what acute stress describes is the type of stress you experience when you are suddenly presented with a stressful occurrence or news that you need to deal with immediately.

Say for instance a big dog jumped out in front of you or someone threatened to punch you. Either way, you would enter the ‘fight or flight’ response and this is essentially all that acute stress is.

This is the feeling that we get when our hands start trembling, our heart rate and blood pressure increase and we find ourselves feeling scared and panicked. It also happens to be the result of our body being flooded with numerous specific hormones/neurotransmitters. They are: adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol.

Other than the shaky hands, this reaction makes our blood thicker so it can clot if we sustain an injury, it makes our muscles contract so that we become stronger and it makes us more aware and alert of things going on around us so that we can respond quickly and effectively to deal with danger. Unfortunately though, this kind of stress isn’t always useful because it also tends to prevent us from performing well in some situations – like when we need to give a speech or perform well in an interview.

All the other different types of stress are related to this single reaction.

Chronic Stress

As you might have already figured out, chronic stress is what happens when you take acute stress and drag it out for hours, days or months.

So in the wild, acute stress was what happened when you were confronted by a predator or a fire. Today though, it’s what happens when you’re confronted with your bank balance. Now eventually you will escape a predator or get eaten meaning that in the wild, acute stress would very rarely turn to chronic stress. Unfortunately though, you can’t outrun your bank balance (I’ve tried) meaning that this source of stress is going to remain ever-present causing you to experience the effects of cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine for extended periods of time.

This is when it can become unhealthy as it means you will be tense for long periods of time, you will have high blood pressure and a high heart rate and you will ultimately fatigue your adrenal glands. Another effect of the different types of stress is to suppress your immune system and digestive system in order to put more priority on the muscles and brain – again this is helpful in the short term but potentially dangerous in the long term as it leaves you susceptible to illness.

Eustress

What’s important to realize though is that not all the different types of stress are bad – it all depends on the context.

Eustress is what you call stress that isn’t going to cause health issues but in fact is actually good for you overall. Eustress can be chronic or acute as well meaning that there are four main different types of stress.

So how can stress be a positive thing? Well one scenario to imagine would be that you’re revising for an exam. Too much acute or chronic stress and you’ll struggle to focus, to sleep and to perform so this definitely isn’t a good thing.

On the other hand though, if you were to experience absolutely zero stress, then you might well find that you actually performed worse than you would if you have a bit of stress. Why? Because it’s stress that motivates us to revise, that encourages us to memorize what we learn and that generally makes us work hard.

Similarly, as mentioned, a little stress in a dangerous situation will make us more alert and more focused as well as improving our physical capabilities. The long and the short is that we’ll be more likely to win a fight and more likely to outrun an attacker so that is definitely an acute form of eustress.

Stress by Situation

You can also define the different types of stress in a different way too by focusing on what it is that causes them. For example, you can consider ‘social anxiety’ and ‘vocational stress’ to both be forms of stress but to be slightly different.

Ultimately though, these different types of stress are still caused by the same underlying mechanisms and would be identical to a psychologist doing a brain scan. Within reason…

Every Stress Is Different

Note as well that the precise makeup of any stress reaction is going to be somewhat unique – both defined by the individual and their current mental state. For instance, someone could be very stressed but also somewhat happy. Or they could be a little stressed and a little sad. Here the neurochemistry would be slightly different, especially bearing in mind that different neurotransmitters interact in unique ways.

In reality then, you could say there are a million different types of stress and that no two are the same. This is why the best way to manage stress will likely depend on the individual as well as their precise circumstances.

For all practical purposes though, most psychologists agree that there are four main different types of stress. Of this, it is chronic stress that is the main cause for concern.

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How to Get Natural Remedies for Stress to Work

StressFeeling constantly bogged down by work and stretched too thin financially? Join the club! Just about everyone these days is stressed it seems and unfortunately there’s no easy answer to removing these ongoing stressors.

Fortunately though, what you can do is to use natural remedies for stress in order to feel better. Stress is the result of neurochemical releases which in turn are the result of what we think and what we focus on. The way you react to your situation is what can make you feel more or less stressed and this in turn means that your mental state is more important actually than the scenario.

And if you want to counteract the negative effects of that stress, then all you have to do is to distract yourself so you are thinking about something happy instead. That means listening to up-beat music, watching a funny film, playing a computer game, spending time with friends or even doing some math!

Alternatively you can use natural remedies for stress that focus less on preventing the stress hormones and more on triggering happiness hormones which work to counteract the effects of stress. Many different activities are well known to help boost serotonin – such as socializing (again), exercising, getting fresh air and even just smiling.

So really getting rid of stress is actually quite easy…

The Problem

What’s more, most of us know all these natural remedies for stress. We know that if we just stop thinking about stress and instead listen to some happy music, or if we just go out with our friends for the night, then in no time we will feel better.

So why then are so many people still stressed when these natural remedies for stress are all so readily available?

The problem is that stress clouds your judgment. Stress begets stress, it demands attention and it grows as is its very nature.

When you’re stressed, as mentioned you probably already know that the best thing you can do is to go outside for a run or just to put on some happy music and have a dance.

The issue is that very few of us will. Instead we’ll go and sulk, hit a wall, stare out the window or even put on sad or angry music!

The issue is that in that moment when we’re very stressed, we actually don’t want to be happy. Instead we want to wallow. That’s the nature of stress and it’s why it’s so perpetuating. Likewise, when you’re very stressed you will probably struggle to sleep (which is another one of the best natural stress remedies) and you’ll find it hard to focus on anything else – even reading a good book. Your mind will just keep taking you back to those things that make you stressed.

Stress is like a parasite – it demands attention and it does anything it can to survive and grow. Stress is even infectious meaning that if one person is stressed it’s very likely that everyone they work with/spend time with will also be stressed by the end of the day.

How to Effectively Use Natural Stress Remedies

The question then is, how do you overcome these challenges and get your natural stress remedies to work all the same? How do you overcome your urge to wallow and bask in stress so that you can start to feel better instead?

One solution is to have friends who understand this situation and who won’t leave you alone.

If you’ve ever been feeling depressed or very stressed and your friend just won’t go away and keeps bugging you to go out with them, then you’ll know that this can be incredibly annoying and frustrating. What you’ll also probably know though is that as a result you ended up feeling much better than you could possibly have done on your own and you end up very grateful to them.

Make sure that you do the same for your friends and make a pact – you will not allow one another to sulk. Get them to force you to spend time with them when you’re stressed and you’ll find that it ebbs much more quickly.

The other way to use natural stress remedies when you don’t want to is to sneak them in. This is similar to the way that salesmen will use the ‘foot in the door’ technique. Instead of forcing yourself to do something that seems completely unappealing at that time – like going running – instead do something that’s just a little more ‘exercisey’ (totally a word…), like going for a walk.

Another effective strategy is to make yourself a playlist of music. Get it to start with that sad and miserable track that you know you’ll want to be listening to when you’re stressed but then have the tone and the tempo of the music gradually improve and get more and more up-beat. This way you can hack your natural stress and trick yourself into embracing natural stress remedies.

Finally, if stress is an ongoing and serious problem for you, consider using CBT. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches us to be disciplined with our own thoughts and this way you can get yourself to do things that are good for you even when you don’t necessarily feel like it.

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The Best Natural Stress Relievers

The best stress relievers are natural stress relievers. Why’s that? Because nature has a way of making us relax and feel better.

Unfortunately, many of the things that make us feel stressed and anxious in the first place are the result of modern living. They come from our work, from our always-on (and always annoying) phones and from cash problems. We never had to deal with these issues in the wild!

Meanwhile, our bodies are actually designed and evolved to thrive in natural environments. This is what we have adapted to exist in and without that kind of environment we can often feel cut off from the things that make us feel most at peace and at ease.

So with that in mind, which are the best natural stress relievers? How can you start to feel better simply by getting a little nature back into your life?

Bonsai Trees

Bonsai treeThat’s probably not what you expected to see there!

In fact though, bonsai and its cousin ‘penjing’, can do wonders as natural stress relievers. With bonsai, you are essentially growing a small tree in a little pot or tray. With penjing, you are arranging multiple small trees, rocks and wooden mountains to create a miniaturized landscape.

Either way, you are nurturing and creating something that feels and looks a lot like a beautiful scene from nature. While you can’t quite walk through it, you can nevertheless still have it on your desk and enjoy being near it.

Having a plant on your desk has been shown to immediately lower blood pressure and heart rate and even to make you more creative. So it stands to reason that having an entire mini woodland on your table should have the same effect and then some. Add in the very peaceful and precise process of trimming leaves and pruning and you have one of the best natural stress relievers available.

Long Walks

Another activity that has been shown to lower the heart rate and blood pressure at the same time as helping us to be more creative and thoughtful is walking in natural environments. When you walk, this is right away a relaxing and repetitive activity that is good for letting your mind wander.

At the same time though, when you are walking in natural environments, you once again get to enjoy the benefits of being in a completely natural and lush green environment.

Exercise

Exercise is incredibly good for you, lots of fun and completely free. So it’s a real shame more people don’t do it!

It’s also one of the very best ways to relieve stress. Whether you go for a run or lift weights, you’ll find that you end up producing positive hormones like serotonin and oxytocin that encourage feelings of happiness and that suppress stress.

If you combine your exercise with the chance to get outdoors, then you can enjoy some trail running or ‘MovNat’ (lifting logs and climbing rocks for exercise). This is a very popular movement right now and one of the very most effective natural stress relievers.

Diet

The right food makes us happier. In the short term, eating anything will trigger the release of ‘reward hormones’ like dopamine which make us feel happier and more successful. In the long term though, the right diet will support good health (encouraging less stress) as well as providing the raw materials for the neurotransmitters that keep us happy. B vitamins for instance boost proper brain function, as does omega 3 fatty acid and proteins. They can all help to combat stress.

On the other hand, very sugary foods and junk foods can both increase stress. Time to get a healthier lifestyle!

Socializing

Simply seeing faces can help you to feel happier and can trigger the release of positive hormones. Something as simple as putting photos up around your house then can help you to be slightly happier throughout the day, as can putting photos of you and your friends on your phone background, or just sending messages to friends occasionally.

Better yet, even though you feel stressed, make sure you accept that invitation to go out. It’s one of the best natural stress relievers of them all.

Massage

Better than just looking at your friends and talking to them is to touch them…

It sounds creepy but seriously, hugging, kissing and exchanging massages are all great natural stress relievers. If you’re in a steady relationship then you have access to massages 24/7 and these are incredibly good for you mentally and physically.

The best way to ensure you are getting regular massages is just to make a pact with your partner. Explain the benefits in detail and then just suggest that you each take it in turns to get a completely indulgent massage with no need to reciprocate that day. Life just got a whole lot better!

Sleep

Sleeping is so much fun that when most of us start we never want to stop. And if you struggle a lot with stress, getting more, healthy sleep can help to combat that both in the long term and in the short term. When the world just seems a bit too on top of you, getting some shuteye can make the world seem better in the morning by completely refreshing that neurochemical cocktail and making problems seem a little bit further away.

The only drawback is that sleeping can be difficult when you’re stressed – so perhaps try one of these other natural stress relievers first!

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The Very Best and Very Worst Stress Relief Techniques

Knowing how to fight stress is an incredibly useful skill that everyone should spend some time developing. Almost all of us struggle with stress at some point or another in our lives and if you don’t know how to deal with this quickly and effectively, then it can end up becoming chronic stress. What that means is that the stress is constantly ‘there’ and you’re constantly unable to switch off and enjoy yourself. Stress relief techniques mean understanding how stress works and being able to hack your body and mind so that you quickly feel happy and healthy again.

Here we will look at some of the very best stress relief techniques as well as some of the very worst. We will look at all the things you can do to try and relax and feel better versus all ill-advised strategies that many of us will naturally try instead.

Best Stress Relief Techniques

Stopping to Breathe

When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed with stress or when you’re in the heat of a stressful situation, take a time out, step back and breathe deeply and slowly. What this will do is to activate your parasympathetic nervous system – the part of your body responsible for putting you in a relaxed state and for combating the ‘fight or flight’ response.

This will also prevent you from doing anything rash and it will remove you from the situation so you have a chance to collect yourself.

Distracting Yourself

If you’re either stressed or angry, then one of the best stress relief techniques is simply to distract yourself. What this means is to watch a funny film, to spend time with friends or even just to do some math.

As long as you are thinking about whatever it is that is causing you stress, then as far as your brain is concerned you are still experiencing that source of stress. By distracting yourself you can remove yourself from the situation and it will be as though you’re no longer in that stressful situation. Turn your mind to other things and stop ruminating!

Reading a book is a particularly effective form of stress relief technique because it requires your full attention meaning you physically can’t continue to think stressful thoughts.

Meditation

MeditationQuiet meditation can be a very effective form of stress relief technique. This means sitting down and calming your mind so that you again are no longer thinking about whatever it is that has been making you stressed. Meditation can help to slow your brain waves and studies show that it is highly effective as a tool for coping with stress and other negative emotions.

Exercise

Exercise triggers the release of endorphins – happiness hormones that act as natural stress relievers to combat stress.

Spending Time With Friends

Likewise, when we are feeling stressed, spending time with friends is one of the very best antidotes. Being social with people has been shown to be very effective at again producing serotonin and these effects are triggered further if you do something altruistic. An easy trick then is simply to email a friend to say you’re thinking about them.

Worst Stress Relief Techniques

Pushing Harder

Unfortunately, taking a time out is one of the last things that many of us want to do when we’re stressed. Instead we take the approach of trying to push harder and get whatever it is we want done, done more quickly.

In other words then, if you have a deadline for work that’s causing you stress, then there’s a good chance that your first thought will be to work faster and harder in order to finish quickly so you can relax.

The unfortunate thing though is that it’s very uncommon for life to really give you that reward at the end. Once you’ve dealt with one source of stress, the chances are that another one will arise. I don’t say this to make you feel miserable or to make you give up: rather it’s just important to realize you can’t defer your happiness. If you push on now then you will only get more and more stressed, do low quality work and be less prepared to deal with the next challenge. Prioritize your physical and mental health.

Catharsis

One of the most commonly used but ill-advised stress relief techniques of all is catharsis. Catharsis means essentially ‘taking it out’ by punching a punch bag, squeezing a stress ball or throwing a pillow. It often feels like this is the most effective way to deal with stress because we feel tense and ‘bottled up’ when we are anxious.

In fact though, all catharsis does is to make you more stressed, to raise your heart rate further and to generally make you more worked up.

In order to help yourself calm down you need to do things that are the opposite of stressful: that means quiet relaxation – not imagining that you’re bashing your boss’ head in!

Crashing in Front of the TV

The way that most of us deal with stress when we come home from work is to simply crash out on the couch and stay there until bed time.

This seems like the best way to defeat stress but in fact it can hardly even be considered among stress relief techniques at all.

The problem, is that when you crash out in front of the TV you a) waste time, b) do nothing to raise your mood, c) carry on stressing about whatever made you upset. Watching junk on the TV is likely one of the things that caused you to feel stressed in the first place. Do something active, interesting and social and you will be sure to feel much better.

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Could MovNat Be One of the Best Stress Relievers There Is?

Sometimes life can feel like one massive long stress. We wake up first thing in the morning to a loud alarm that startles us out of deep sleep, then we make our way to work – in a rush – on a crowded bus/road or train. After that we will drink a big coffee, you know, because we’re not wired enough already. Then we’ll sit at a desk for hours in the same position possibly while getting shouted at by a boss or an angry client.

After that, we’ll then travel home on a similarly busy and upsetting commute and then have a long list of things we need to do at home. These include: tidying, phoning relatives, sorting out bills, cooking, washing up…

Then we collapse in a heap on the sofa and watch rubbish TV because we’re too tired for anything else, while flooding our brains with cortisol in the form of unnatural light from the television.

Is it any wonder that we’re always looking for stress relievers?

As you can see, the modern lifestyle is unfortunately 100% conducive to living in a state of constant stress and it’s almost impossible to break this cycle without making some major changes.

So what then could be the answer?

One option, and possibly one of the best stress relievers ever made, could be ‘MovNat’.

What Is MovNat?

MovNat is a portmanteau for ‘Movement Natural’ or in other words, natural movement.

The tagline for this movement is ‘the workout that time forgot’ and if you take a look on YouTube you’ll be able to find many videos demonstrating what it’s all about.

Basically, MovNat is all about running through the woods, climbing trees and leaping into rivers. It’s about balancing along logs, jumping across gaps and throwing stones.

In other words, it’s about moving the way that we might naturally in the wild and turning that into a workout.

It could not only be one of the best stress relievers but also the perfect antidote to our modern lifestyles.

Why the Modern Lifestyle Causes Stress

There is nothing wrong with the way we live life currently. It is not ‘wrong’ because really there is no such thing as a ‘right’ way to live life. It’s all arbitrary and it’s all about doing what works for you.

That said, our bodies evolved in a natural environment and are thus adapted specifically to thrive within that environment. The problem therefore comes when we take ourselves out of that environment and when we stop moving, stop getting fresh air, stop getting natural light and subject ourselves to ongoing stress.

Stress in itself is not even a ‘bad thing’, it is simply out of context. In the wild, stress was what would enable us to be more alert and aware of our environment and it’s what let us perform optimally in a hurry.

And the fact that we aren’t moving enough only further compounds stress as it causes us to gain weight, develop aches and pains, become stiff and become tired and lethargic. If you don’t use your body, then you lose it – it’s that simple.

We already know though that exercise helps to make us happier by causing us to produce serotonin (the happiness hormone). This is what causes the ‘runners’ high’. We also know that fresh air helps us to feel happier. Likewise, being in natural environments has been shown to help us feel calmer.

What’s more, doing something physical outdoors is free and it takes your mind off your various stresses.

MovNat combines all these things – it keeps you in great physical shape, it encourages you to get fresh air and sunlight so you’ll sleep better and produce more vitamin D, it gets you moving and working out… in general it is the perfect storm for improving your health and your mood.

How to Embrace MovNat

So how do you embrace MovNat and make it a part of your lifestyle? Especially if you’re looking for stress relievers?

The unfortunate reality is that it’s not quite as easy to get outside and to start exercising in the woods as some videos would have us believe.

For many of us, the weather is a limiting factor here for example. If you live somewhere where it’s cold and wet all the time then those idealistic videos of people leaping shirtless into the sea won’t quite be accurate for you.

At the same time, many people struggle to fit exercise into their regime as it is: nevertheless constant and ongoing activity as MovNat advocates. If you’re already tired and stressed are you really going to want to go out in the rain and start throwing logs around at night. Won’t you just… get murdered?

And do you have to become a certified MovNat member if you’re interested?

The answer to that last question is ‘no’. The MovNat movement is doing exciting things by promoting this way of life and has done a lot of good for the fitness industry already.

That said, they also didn’t ‘invent’ the art of running around in the woods. Nor is this the only way to do it.

Ignore the precise instructions and the community and focus on the message. That message is that we need to make sure we are exercising regularly, getting outdoors, staying flexible and having fun with our bodies. It means we need to remember that all it takes is our body and a log to have a good time and a great workout.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to explore the wet woods then similar stress relievers can work in the same way. For instance, why not play some swing ball in your garden? Or ‘tag’ with your kids? Why not take your dog for a walk and race them? Or try some trail running? Or some sports? And next time you need to go to the shops, why not run and take the scenic route?

You can incorporate all these same ideas of staying active and outdoors without necessarily needing MovNat. The message is that getting back to basics is often the answer and physical exercise outdoors is perhaps one of the best stress relievers there is.

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Understanding and Controlling Stress Hormones

What is stress? While it’s a fairly abstract term, most of us would probably say that we can recognize it when we experience it – it’s a feeling of anxiousness, an inability to relax and the obsessive concern that something bad is imminently going to happen. That’s stress and almost all of us would also explain it as something that we don’t enjoy and would like to avoid.

But what is stress biologically? Here the answer is a little more difficult to come across but ultimately it comes down to neurotransmitters and hormones.

Specifically it comes down to three neurotransmitters and hormones: cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine.

How Cortisol, Adrenaline and Norepinephrine Work as Stress Hormones

These three chemicals are neurotransmitters that get released into the brain when we encounter a situation that we find innately stressful. If you were walking down the stress when someone jumped out in-front of you with a gun, you would be flooded with norepinephrine and epinephrine (synonymous with noradrenaline and adrenaline) which would trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response, causing your heart rate and blood pressure to increase and your muscles to contract. Meanwhile, cortisol would make sure that you felt alert and switched on and this in turn would ensure that you could respond quickly to problems.

Stress hormones are not bad in and of themselves. In fact, in the right circumstances stress hormones are very important in helping us to become alert and aware and thus react to any situation we might be in. If a lion jumps out in front of you then you want to have that surge of adrenaline.

At the same time, cortisol is also actually produced when we wake up first thing in the morning and is one of the hormones responsible for helping us to get rid of brain fog as our brain and body ‘switches on’.

Side Effects of Stress Hormones

Unfortunately though, many of us these days are subjected to ongoing chronic stress and this means that we are walking around with high levels of stress hormones a lot of the time. This is when the health problems start as stress hormones have numerous unwanted side effects. These include: increased appetite, weight gain, heart strain, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, irritability, low mood and depression among others.

How to Control Stress Hormones

The question is then: what can you do about this? How can you go about getting your stress hormones under control so that they don’t cause these unwanted side effects?

There are numerous different strategies you can use but essentially it comes down to understanding the way that the brain works and when and why it releases the neurochemicals it does.

Essentially then, it is best to think of your brain as a web of interconnected neurons. This web is known as your connectome and it fires when you experience certain phenomena – whether that’s direct experience or recall.

Either way, your experience causes the related neuron to fire which in turn creates the experience of something happening in your brain. Based on the other associations that you have formed with that thing happening, your brain will then think of this thing as being ‘bad’ or ‘good’, ‘important’ or ‘not important’ and so on.

As a result, it will then produce certain neurochemicals in a bid to ensure that you react appropriately to the situation.

One way to avoid stress hormones is to avoid stressful situations – then you won’t have those neurons firing that you associate with stress and the stress isn’t produced.

Although that’s not entirely true. As you know, you can easily be stressed without actually having whatever it is that’s causing you to be stressed right there with you. Why? Because you are still thinking about that stressful thing which is causing the neurons to fire in the same way. In other words, as far as your brain is concerned you may as well still be exposed to the ‘stressor’.

It doesn’t really matter what’s going on around you – what matters is what’s happening in your internal world.

While this is the cause of chronic stress and stress hormones for many of us though, it can also be our salvation in many ways. The key is to realize that it’s not actually stress itself that is bad for us but rather our experience of that stress.

If you can keep yourself in a stressful situation but keep your mind off that stress – by changing your focus or by changing your interpretation of the events – then you can prevent the stress hormones from being released nevertheless.

So for instance, if you’re in a stressful situation but you focus on the relaxing evening you have planned later, or you keep reminding you that the situation isn’t that bad – you will actually end up feeling much more relaxed and at ease as a result.

This happens to be the whole idea behind CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy – so if you struggle with stress hormones this can be a good solution.

Trigging Anti-Stress Hormones

Another strategy is to focus more on producing hormones that prevent stress rather than focusing on combating the ones that do.

For instance, if you produce serotonin, then you’ll get the effects of a natural antidepressant and natural anesthetic that will make you feel much happier.

How do you increase your production of serotonin? This is actually how many antidepressants work, though they can have a number of unwanted side effects. Instead then, you can rely on lifestyle changes that are all known to help trigger the release of serotonin.

Exercise is one way that you can immediately increase your production of serotonin and other endorphins. Likewise, so too can spending time with friends and family, watching comedies or doing anything altruistic.

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