Stress can be beneficial
You’ll often hear stress associated with negative impacts on your health, but how often have you looked at it as a beneficial and necessary aspect of your health? Alike exercise and fitness, the stress you overcome in your everyday life can lead to adaptations and changes that can build resiliency.
The challenge for people in using stress as an adaptive mechanism is managing stress and keeping it within a healthy range. As Shakespeare once wrote, “there is no good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. Alike stress, our body’s ability to manage it determines how our body responds in the short and long term. Let’s look at how we can use our everyday challenges and grow from them.
Types of Stress
Stress can be classified as 2 types. On one hand we have acute stress that’s short term, manageable and can be perceived as a healthy challenge. This is known as Eustress. When looking at stress that’s prolonged and anxiety filled, we’re looking at Distress.
This is the type of stress that serves no purpose in our life and can have negative health impacts if not addressed or managed. Stress management can be seen as the tools we use to keep the balance between Eustress and Distress.
Inflammation is highly influenced by stress
When looking at stress from a physiological standpoint, inflammatory markers are influenced by the intensity and duration of stress with acute stressors stimulating immune function and chronic stress having a suppressive effect on immune activity.
The way our immune system directs its resources in times of stress plays a role in our body’s anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory states. Studies have shown that stress influences inflammatory responses in the brain which affects mental health.
Now that we can classify stress levels and have an understanding of the biological effects it has on the body, we can start to identify whether our Eustress is tipping over into Distress. Here’s where stress management strategies can help us with our response to stress.
In our everyday life, we’re jumping in and between our Sympathetic (fight or flight) and Parasympathetic (rest and digest) states. It’s quite healthy to be going back and forth in between states as is how our body reacts and adapts to stressful situations. These two states are part of the Autonomic Nervous System which is responsible for involuntary physiological processes like heart rate, arousal, and blood pressure.
Fun Fact: Your fitness tracker that you wear measures heart rate variability (the time in between heartbeats) which measures how well our bodies adapt to stress. To visualize this, we can see HRV as a measure of how well our body goes between Parasympathetic and Sympathetic states. For anyone interested in quantifying this, a good fitness tracker can provide some insight.
An effective strategy for managing stress is through breathwork. Studies have showed that diaphragmatic breathing has positive effects on physiological biomarkers such as respiratory rate, cortisol levels and blood pressure.
Breathing can Benefit Short- and Long-Term Mental Health
One simple and entry level exercise to try implementing is by breathing into your nose all the way into your belly, then breathing out through your mouth. Paying attention to your breath, how it sounds and how it feels is a way to focus on your breath. Do this for about 5-10 breaths and work up in time as you get more comfortable.
Breathwork doesn’t have to be limited to a sit-down meditation session. Going for a run or walk where you can be mindful of your breathing patterns can also be considered an effective form of breathwork.
Exercise Benefits the Brain
Exercise has been shown to modulate levels of serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline in the body and is an often-underutilized form of stress management. It’s also been shown to have neuroprotective benefits by protecting dopamine .
While working out can have beneficial effects on stress levels in the long run, it’s important to note that exercise can be a stressor to the body and can have negative effects on health when recovery and nutrition are neglected. Using things like sleep, proper exercise selection and nutrient dense food is important in keeping a healthy practice.
Something to incorporate on top of proper nutrition and recovery when working out is finding time to cool down post-. Making sure to put yourself in a parasympathetic state after high intense workouts is also something to consider when managing stress.
Supplements to consider
The list of supplements that benefit stress can be endless. That’s because anything that benefits the body will have effects on how our body handles stress. However, there are a few worth mentioning as they’ve proven to have short- and long-term effects on stress in the body.
Adaptogens particularly Rhodiola
Adaptogens have been shown to give the body what it needs based on its current health state. More importantly, adaptogens help the body “adapt” to stress by bringing your body back to where it needs to be by acting on different intracellular and extracellular pathways. adaptogen that’s particularly beneficial for stress is Rhodiola which can help with stress induced pathophysiological processes.
Some of these mechanisms can be seen in Rhodiola’s ability to increase serotonin in the brain. Rhodiola also seems to promote neuroprotective while enhancing cognitive performance in times of stress.
B-Vitamins particularly B12
B12 levels have been clinically shown to be lower in depressed people. Maintaining B12 levels influences serotonin as it positively influences neurotransmitter formation. Using a B-complex supplement like Platinum Naturals B-Complex not only provides you with a full spectrum of B-Vitamins, but it also enhances their absorption by suspending B-vitamins in healthy oil.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that has calming and sedative effects by binding to neural receptor sites to reduce the excitability of neurons. Other benefits include improvements to heart rate, and blood pressure Find GABA along with other vitamins, minerals and adaptogens in Easymulti Stress multivitamin from Platinum Naturals.
Fish oil’s effects on mental health is mostly seen in the antioxidative properties it has. Both EPA and DHA influence prostaglandins which are hormonelike factors that control the inflammatory response in the body.
High levels of oxidative stress have been correlated with mental health problems. Look for fish oils from trusted sources such as Omega Super 800 and Super DHA which contain concentrated amounts of EPA and DHA.
Finally, consider using magnesium at night to improve sleep while managing inflammation and oxidative stress (which has long terms benefits to mental health). Magnesium’s effects on stress are both direct and indirect as they serve as a cofactor for several enzymes in the body. Magnesium is also important for the activation of Vitamin D which is important to hormonal health.
Physiology of ANS: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1959222/
Anatomy, Autonomic Nervous System: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539845/
Pro-Inflammation and Anti-inflammation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5476783/
Effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31436595/
Rhodiola and Serotonin: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22921986/
Magnesium and Inflammation: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29403302/
Exercise Benefits Brain Function: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4061837/