Wellness Tip: Reducing Your Stress Load
May 13 - 19 is National Women's Health Week. Carolina Breast Friends is marking the week by publishing simple tips that can help you and your loved ones improve wellness. Check our social media pages and the news section of this site for pointers to wellness tips all week.
Stress. We all have it. And research shows that the phrase "can't handle the pressure" is more accurately applied to our bodies than our minds. This is because when threatened or stressed, our bodies mount a chemical response. This response can affect our emotions, but it begins and ends in the body. And when our stress response stays activated for long periods, it can affect our physical wellness in serious ways.
The body is intended to respond to stress and then return to routine, balanced functioning. But when stressful events persist or recur frequently, the body is shortchanged the chance to rebalance, and something called allostatic load starts to build. Think of it like what happens to a dryer when the lint trap never gets fully emptied. Over time, the lint continues to build and the dryer works harder and harder to get the job done, eventually running the motor down.
That's how it is with the body and stress. High allostatic load prevents the body from regaining balance, and the resulting state can wear down our systems. The consequences can range from elevated blood sugar to high blood pressure to a compromised immune system.
What makes up our individual allostatic load is far from simple. Genetics play a role, as does our outlook as well as the events that happen to us. How we live, what we eat and whether we are active or sedentary are all part of the package.
So what can you do to reduce the load? Here are a few proven tips:
Increase fiber, decrease sugar. Many people reach for starch or sweets when feeling stressed, but the resulting insulin spike can combine with stress hormones in ways that put further stress on the body.
Get consistent exercise and generous rest. Mild to moderate regular exercise can help regulate stress hormones and blood pressure. If you're not able to move well--for example, if you're at a point in breast cancer treatment where you're not physically able to exercise--try gentle stretching even from a seated position. Adequate sleep is also important for reducing allostatic load.
Be deliberate about downtime. Seek a few moments of space--each day or following stressful events--to help your body's stress responses power down. For example, if you're a breast cancer Survivor, plan for quiet time following a doctor's visit by sitting in the healing garden at the Pink House or prepping a quiet spot at home to still yourself and decompress.
Breathe it out. Breathing is one element of the stress response system that you can consciously affect. Start there with slow, deep and measured breathing as a way to "hack into" your stress response.
Strengthen social connections. Studies show that people with more social ties accumulate less allostatic load, making social interaction an important factor in reducing the physical effects of stress. But this doesn't have to mean attending a slew of social functions, especially if you're not able to get out and about. The quality of the connections matter more than the quantity. For example, if you're experiencing breast canncer, Carolina Breast Friends offers programs where you can make connections with other breast cancer Survivors. You can pick the one that best suits you or you can ask to be matched with a mentor who has been where you're going and can be in touch one on one.
While we can't remove all stressors from our lives, it's still possible to reduce our overall allostatic load in a way that can aid the body's resilience and wellness.
In addition to programs that improve wellness by helping you reduce isolation and refuel your spirits, Carolina Breast Friends also offers services like Restorative Yoga, Healing Touch, Myofascial Release and gentle strength training--all free of charge to breast cancer Survivors at any point in their journey. Click here to see our Calendar of Events for details.
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