“It’s been a tough week!” said a neighbor when I wished her a relaxing weekend. “Two people in my department were on vacation and another had a family emergency…so my colleague and I had to do their jobs as well as ours. I can’t wait to get rid of my stress.
Summer isn’t over yet, according to the calendar, but the post-summer stress is already evident. The causes are many: students are returning to school, so working parents have to juggle their own schedules to match those of their children. The holidays are over for most, and people now have to return to their offices full-time and face long commutes. In short, time does not seem to stretch long enough to take care of too long a list of things to do.
One response to the heightened stress demands of September’s arrival is to announce to yourself (or anyone who will listen) the state of your stress. Anyone who hears the statement “I’m so stressed today!” should feel empathy because the feeling is so familiar. Indeed, it is rather surprising that the concept of biological stress, i.e. the body’s response to situations that cause hormonal changes, dates back to 1936 and was not popularized until the 1950s. Nobody in Shakespeare or in an opera libretto filled with all sorts of calamity claims to be stressed (although many have to experience something that can only be described as stress). It was Hans Selye who observed symptoms in patients such as fatigue, lack of desire to work, loss of appetite and need to lie down as bodily responses to stress. In addition to identifying the hormones in the body whose activity is impaired by acute stress, Selye has written about how an individual’s behavior changes over time when faced with chronic stress.
Today, most of us recognize within ourselves how we react to events that we define as stressful. It can range from something trivial like traffic congestion to something more traumatic like illness or job insecurity. Our reactions can include mood swings as well as a physical response. Our heart rate may increase; we may sweat, shake, feel faint, be unable to process information, lose our ability to eat or even sleep. A friend was almost the victim of a computer scam; she thought she would have to pay a ransom to keep her computer running. Thankfully that didn’t happen, but she described her response as visceral: “I nearly passed out, my blood pressure must have been in the triple digits and I was sweating. It took me a few hours to feel again.”
There seems to be an unlimited number of commercially available pain relievers, especially for those who suffer from chronic stress. Pharmacies, health food stores, the Internet and restaurants specializing in “healthy foods” offer dozens of remedies that can be drunk, swallowed, rubbed or smelled. An inhaler is available with instructions to reduce stress by extending exhalations and then inhaling one of three flavors available. A skin patch containing “premium hemp extract” Ashagandha (a shrub that grows in Asia and Africa), passionflower (a climbing vine grown in the United States) and other no-name ingredients will also relieve stress. , according to its label. Minerals like magnesium, zinc, potassium, and vitamin B are sold as supplements to reduce stress. Other options include a device that sends gentle vibrations through the body, moisturizers that calm, and even a stress relief paste that will help you relax as you knead and knead it. (It unfortunately cannot be cooked or eaten.)
And then there are the traditional therapies: petting your dog or cat, of course, or going for a walk, bathing, perhaps with scented bath salts, meditating, exercising, playing or listening to music. , color or make collages, and talk with friends or a therapist. . The simple act of giving yourself time off from brain activity is an effective way to reduce stress from the pressures of a busy lifestyle. An article from the Scientific American suggested that withdrawing even briefly from the constant need to engage your brain can significantly reduce stress. The author quoted meditation teacher Michael Taft, who recommended giving your brain space and time to be inactive. Relieving the brain of the need to process information, make plans, deal with constant problems and just think will not only reduce stress but, according to the article, possibly increase creativity and focus.
Eating is often used as a way to reduce stress. People often eat when they are upset, frustrated, anxious, bored, tired, worried, angry or depressed, i.e. when under stress. Eating is a distraction similar to walking, talking on the phone, or playing with a pet. And it may be the default behavior under stress, mainly because it works. If the effect of eating under stress was unpleasant or had no effect at all, the behavior would not be repeated. But so-called emotional overeating is commonplace because the act of eating itself acts as a distraction from stress and/or can actually improve mood.
High-fat foods appear to dampen emotional reactivity, although their effects have not been well studied. But carbohydrates can decrease stress because their consumption increases serotonin in the brain. We found a high-carb drink that was significantly effective in reducing stress associated with premenstrual syndrome. Mood enhancement and stress relief may be associated with increased serotonin activity; indeed, antidepressants that prolong the activity of serotonin have been developed to relieve the most severe forms of PMS.
The good thing about eating carbs for stress relief is that it’s natural, it doesn’t require buying special exotic herbs, inhalers, or patches, and carb-rich foods are easy to find. home or at work. The downside of eating carbs for stress relief is that they are often processed with high-fat ingredients like oil, butter, or lard; they are not packaged in stress-busting sizes; and instructions to wait 20-30 minutes after eating before feeling calm and relaxed are missing. Perhaps one day soon, small boxes of low-fat snacks like breakfast cereals will be packaged in the appropriate amount for stress relief (25-30 grams of carbs) with the appropriate instructions. Decreasing stress by eating cereal for breakfast might not be as exotic as consuming a Southeast Asian weed or wearing a vibrating headset, but it’s certainly more practical.