Is it just me or is everyone more stressed these days?
No. It’s not just you. We are in the middle of a stress epidemic.
In 2010 the American Psychology Association (APA) warned chronic stress was at dangerous levels. Americans were complaining about moderate to high stress, with 44 percent reporting increased levels over the previous five years. Almost a third of the children surveyed reported stress-related symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches or trouble with asleep. (1)
Things have only gotten worse in the intervening years according to a special report by Everyday Health ominously entitled The United States of Stress 2018.
“Our research shows that chronic stress is a national epidemic for all genders and ages, particularly those who are 25 to 35 years old,” said the article. “To unpack this problem is a matter partly of mental health and partly of physical health. Here’s the hard truth: The causes and solutions to chronic stress are a complex mixture of socioeconomic, environmental, genetic, physical, and spiritual factors.”(2)
According to a 2010 Statistic Canada’s survey, 27 percent of workers described their lives on most days as 'quite a bit' or 'extremely' stressful. Almost 3.7 million working adults went through a regular day feeling a high level of stress. Another 6.3 million (46 percent) said they were 'a bit' stressed. (3) These feelings shouldn’t be discounted, warns the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research. According to an international study involving 7,268 participants, people who complain about chronic stress have twice as much risk of a heart attack. (4)
What is causing your stress
Stress comes from various sources of differing natures. Illness can be a stressor. So can a wedding. Getting fired, getting a new job, having a baby, losing a loved one . . . all qualify as stressors. The stimulus can be as minor as an off-hand comment made by a co-worker, or as significant as the death of a loved one. Stress over an argument, a work deadline, or unpaid bills, can affect the body just as strongly as a true life-or-death situation involving a charging bear. Although everybody is at risk of becoming chronically stressed there are dramatic differences based on social factors such as income and wealth, education, and racial or ethnic groups. These differences in health begin early in life—even before birth—and accumulate over lifetimes and across generations. (5)
The cost to society in terms of productivity and health care expenses is enormous. According to an extensive APA study, chronic stress costs the U.S. Economy $300 billion every year. (6)
What does stressed out even mean?
Stress in itself is not a bad thing. The body is designed to switch between stress and non-stress modes. When the body is at rest the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is in control. This is often referred to as the body’s ‘rest and digest’ or ‘breed and feed’ functions. This includes such things as sex, salivation, lacrimation, urination, digestion, and defecation.” (7) The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) controls the body's responses to a perceived threat and is responsible for the "fight or flight" response. (8) For example, the pressure of competition can force an athlete to run or jump faster. A deadline can make a writer more creative.
Stress is sometimes divided into two categories - eustress (positive stress) or distress (negative stress.) Eustress motivates, focuses energy, is short term, is perceived as within coping abilities, feels exciting and improves performance. Distress, on the other hand, causes anxiety or concern, can be long or short term, is perceived as outside of our coping abilities, feels unpleasant, decreases performance and can lead to mental and physical problems. (9)
“The problem with stress is that it’s such a big concept,” says Elizabeth Brondolo, co-author of the APA’s Stress and Health Disparities study. “When people think about it, they often get overwhelmed or they’re not sure how to conceptualize it or how to measure it or how to think about really what the clinical implications are,” she told Healthline. (10) Stress is present in so many aspects of everyday life that the topic can seem too big to study, she pointed out. There is no consensus on how to define stress, how to classify stress exposure, or even how to measure it in research. (11)
Not all stress is created equal
The APA recognizes three different types of stress: acute, episodic acute and chronic. Acute stress, the most common, is short-term. It is often caused by thinking about the pressures of events that have recently occurred, or upcoming demands in the near future. For example, those who have recently been involved in an argument or have an upcoming deadline may feel stress. That stress will be reduced or removed once these issues are resolved. Episodic acute stress refers to frequent acute stress. This often happens to people with too many commitments and poor organization. These include a tendency to be irritable and tense, and this irritability can affect relationships.
Chronic stress, the most harmful of the three according to the APA, occurs when a person doesn’t see an end to his stressor and stops seeking solutions. “Chronic stress can continue unnoticed, as people can become used to it, unlike acute stress that is new and often has an immediate solution. It can become part of an individual's personality, making them constantly prone to the effects of stress regardless of the scenarios they come up against.” (12)
What exactly does it do to the body?
When a person encounters a perceived threat — an angry driver gestures rudely, for example — their hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of the brain, sets off an alarm system in the body, says the Mayo Clinic. “Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts the adrenal glands, located atop the kidneys, to release hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases heart rate elevates blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances the brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation, and fear.” (13)
The American Institute of Stress describes it like this. “The hypothalamus located in the brain gets the ball rolling, instructing the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones rev the heart which sends blood rushing to the areas that need it most in an emergency, such as muscles, heart, and other important organs.” (14)
These are some of the key changes that happen to a body under stress.
- blood pressure and pulse rate increase
- Breathing speeds up
- digestive system slows down
- immune activity decreases
- muscles become tense
- heightened state of alertness
So why is chronic stress such a bad thing?
There is a very long list of emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to chronic stress, says the American Institute of Stress. The list includes depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, immune system disturbances that increase susceptibility to infections, viral linked disorders ranging from the common cold and herpes to AIDS and certain cancers, as well as autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In addition, stress can have direct effects on the skin (rashes, hives, atopic dermatitis, the gastrointestinal system (GERD, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis) and can contribute to insomnia and degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. (15)
Lets just say chronic stress isn't your body's best friend
“In fact, it’s hard to think of any disease in which stress cannot play an aggravating role or any part of the body that is not affected (see stress effects on the body stress diagram) or. This list will undoubtedly grow as the extensive ramifications of stress are increasingly being appreciated.” (16)
“Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in the body. It can suppress the immune system, upset the digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems,” warns HealthGuide.org. (17)
“Stress doesn't only make us feel awful emotionally," says Jay Winner, MD, author of Take the Stress Out of Your Life and director of the Stress Management Program for Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara, Calif. "It can also exacerbate just about any health condition you can think of."
The short list of health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include :
- Depression and anxiety
- Pain of any kind
- Sleep problems
- Autoimmune diseases
- Digestive problems
- Skin conditions, such as eczema
- Heart disease
- Weight problems
- Reproductive issues
- Thinking and memory problems
What are the warning signs?
It is possible to be chronically stressed without realizing it. People can become so used to being stressed, they don’t realize there is a problem until they are in the midst of a health crisis. Below are some of the common symptoms of chronic stress. Experiencing one or two of the symptoms is not necessarily a cause for concern. Checking too many of the boxes however could be a sign that stress has become problematic.
- Changes in appetite (eating less or more)
- Change to sleep habits (sleeping too much or not enough)
- ‘Nervous' behaviours - twitching, fiddling, talking too much, nail biting, teeth grinding, pacing, and other repetitive habits
- Catching colds or the flu more often or other illnesses such as asthma, headaches, stomach problems, skin problems, and miscellaneous aches and pains
- Diminished enjoyment of sex
- Feeling tired and worn out
- Worrying and feeling anxious (which can sometimes lead to anxiety disorder and panic attacks)
- Feeling out of control, overwhelmed, confused, and/or unable to make decisions
- Experiencing mood changes such as depression, frustration, anger, helplessness, irritability, defensiveness, irrationality, overreaction, or impatience and restlessness
- Increasing dependence on food, cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs
- Neglecting important things in life such as work, school, and even personal appearance
- Developing irrational fears of things such as physical illnesses, natural disasters like thunderstorms and earthquakes, and even being terrified of ordinary situations like heights or small spaces.
How much can I handle?
How much stress is too much differs from person to person. Some people shrug off disappointment and adversity while others crumble in the face of small frustrations. Some people thrive on a high-stress lifestyle. There are some key characteristics that seem to help people be less vulnerable to stress. People who have confidence in themselves and their ability to influence events and persevere seem more stress resistant. An optimistic spirit and a sense of humour are also valuable. Also, a belief in a higher purpose and the ability to handle change can help, as does a person’s ability to deal with emotions. A strong network of supportive friends and family members seems to be an enormous buffer against stress. The more isolated a person is, the greater their risk of having stress issues.
How can I up my game when it comes to dealing with stress?
Stress tolerance can be improved. One study of heart attack survivors found that taking a stress management class slashed the risk of a second cardiac event by 74 percent. There are a number of key strategies for preventing and controlling stress.
A good night’s sleep
“Following a regular sleep routine calms and restores the body, improves concentration, regulates mood, and sharpens judgment and decision-making. You are a better problem solver and are better able to cope with stress when you’re well-rested. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, reduces your energy and diminishes mental clarity” says Sleepscore labs.
High cortisol levels at night interfere with the release of melatonin, a hormone that is essential for the regulation of sleep-wake cycles. Poor sleep itself can further influence your cortisol, causing levels to rise at times when they would otherwise be low. It also alters sleep cycles, decreasing time spent in light and deep sleep, and increasing time in REM sleep, advises Sleepscore. These changes to your normal sleep architecture cause disruptions to the normal patterns of brain waves that occur during REM and the other stages of sleep. Stress can cause the brain waves related to concentration, creativity, and dreaming to change. Too much time in REM sleep can also cause daytime sleepiness and fatigue, which can further disrupt normal sleep cycles and mood. (18)
Sleep your way out of stress
“Sleep is a necessary human function — it allows our brains to recharge and our bodies to rest. When we do not sleep long or well enough, our bodies do not get the full benefits of sleep, such as muscle repair and memory consolidation. Sleep is so crucial that even slight sleep deprivation or poor sleep can affect memory, judgment, and mood,” warns the APA. And people aren’t sleeping as well as they used to, it warns. “American adults report sleeping an average of 6.7 hours a night — less than the minimum recommendation of seven to nine hours. In addition, 42 percent of adults report that their sleep quality is fair or poor and 43 percent report that stress has caused them to lie awake at night in the past month.” (19) )
“There is no way to hack sleep. There are no shortcuts. You need to fall asleep quickly and to sleep soundly,” says Mike Kesthely who as well as being a full-time firefighter and paramedic is also CEO of Nova 3 Labs a nutrition and training company that focuses on diet, exercise, and natural supplementation.
You are what you eat
According to the Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences, a well balanced diet has powerful stress-reducing benefits that improve brain functioning, shore up immune function, lower blood pressure, improve the circulation, and reduce toxins from the body. “Some specific nutrients play a very important role in reducing the levels of cortisol and adrenalin in the body and also the stress chemicals that activate fight and flight response. They are complex carbohydrates, proteins (tryptophan, phenylalanine and tyrosine, theanine) Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Magnesium, and Selenium. These nutrients play a very specific and important role in stress management. (20)
“When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. So it stands to reason that if your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers—and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress,” says the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). (21)
Research has shown that a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress while eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids can be protective.
Chronic stress is waging a war on your body
A body under stress has greater physiological demands, requiring more energy, oxygen, and circulation. This increases the need for things like vitamins and minerals. “The irony of stress is that people suffering stress need a more nutritionally dense diet but often opt for comfort foods (like sugary and fatty foods) lacking in the necessary nutrients, consequently inducing a situation of nutrient depletion that further compromises the metabolic systems. Stress not only influences the choice of food of a person but also the quantity of the food eaten,” says an article in the Journal of Nutritional and Food Sciences. (22)
“Sugar is one of the first worst things for stress when it comes to diet,” says nutritionist Dr. Josh Axe in an article for runtastic. “That’s because when you eat sugary foods, blood sugar levels spike, and the body must release more cortisol to balance blood sugar. The problem is that increased cortisol can also cause sleep issues, decreased immune response, headaches, and unhealthy food cravings.” (23) He recommends replacing process foods and foods with added sugars with whole foods that keep blood sugar stable, “which means fewer mood swings, reduced stress, and a happier body.”
Sugar alternatives are no better than sugar, perhaps even worse, he warns. “These artificial sweeteners can lead to health problems like headaches, metabolic disease, and cardiovascular disease.” They can also result in an addiction to sugary foods by training the taste buds to savor unnatural sweetness. They also have side effects that can lead to stress, he warns. “Aspartame, for example, is found in more than 6,000 foods and drinks and in 500 prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and it causes migraines, mood disorders, and manic episodes. And just like other types of sugar, these artificial sweeteners don’t do your blood sugar any favors.”
Endorphins to the rescue
Physical activity produces endorphins - the brain's feel-good neurotransmitters. In addition to decreased feelings of pain, secretion of endorphins leads to feelings of euphoria, modulation of appetite, release of sex hormones, and enhanced immunity response. Higher endorphin levels reduced feelings of pain and fewer negative effects of stress, says Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD in a MedicineNet article.
Studies show that even five minute of aerobic exercise is effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing cognitive function, says the ADDA. “This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.”
“Meditation in motion,” is how to The Mayo Clinic describes the stress-fighting ability of exercise. “After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you'll often find that you've forgotten the day's irritations and concentrated only on your body's movements. As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything you do.” (24)
Exercise alone won't save you
Of course, physical fitness doesn’t make athletes invulnerable to stress. On top of the regular issues faced by everyone, jobs, relationships, rush-hour traffic they are adding the extra burden of extreme physical stress to their regular routine. “Stress is a factor of life that affects everyone, but athletes tend to suffer from it more than non-athletes, due to the amount they are required to balance, between schoolwork, practices, and games, as well as family pressures and everyday life,” says the U.S. Sports Academy. Chronic stress is often dismissed as over-training by athletes who have lost their enthusiasm, concentration and face declining performances. It is often easily resolved by taking a training break but it can become a severe handicap.
Athletes and trainers need to work together to identify what has caused the stress and use appropriate coping mechanisms such as relaxation, and goal setting, say sports researchers. (25) If stressors are not dealt with properly it can affect not only performance but physical and emotional health in general.
Knowledge and preparation
The more someone knows about a stressful situation—including how long it will last and what to expect—the easier it is to cope. For example, if a patient has a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less stressful than if they were expecting to be on their feet and dancing the next day. Making a to-do list helps. Procrastination leads to inefficient haste which makes things more stressful.
Also, identifying the source of stress - habits, attitude, and excuses, for example, can be very helpful. “While it’s easy to identify major stressors such as changing jobs, moving, or a going through a divorce, pinpointing the sources of chronic stress can be more complicated,” says HelpGuide. “It’s all too easy to overlook how your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors contribute to your everyday stress levels. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines, but maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that is causing the stress.” (26)
Get a social life
Talking face-to-face with another human can trigger stress-releasing hormones, says HelpGuide. “Even a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can help calm and soothe the nervous system. Spend time with uplifting people and don’t let responsibilities get in the way of a social life. If you don’t have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections.” (27)
Engage your senses
Another fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. “The key is to find the sensory input that works for you. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.” (28)
Learn to relax
Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the polar opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, these activities can reduce stress and boost feelings of joy and serenity. The simple act of breathing deeply can have an immediate calming impact and it can be done anywhere at any time. Being in the moment also has an immediate impact. Stress is often caused by thinking about something that might happen in the future or something that has already occurred.
Changing perspective and seeing things in a more positive light is another mental trick that can provide immediate relief. The elevator isn’t working? Great, a chance to get some exercise on the stairs. Stuck in a waiting room? Time for yourself without any obligations. Concentrate on the things that are going right in your life, not the things that are going wrong.
The stress-busting power of adaptogenic herbs
Adaptogens are herbs that support the body’s natural ability to deal with stress. They have been used for thousands of years in Chinese and India’s ancient Ayurvedic mind-body health system. The term was coined by Russian researchers who have studied them extensively for use in their athletic and space programs. Adaptogens have been defined as metabolic regulators which increase the ability of an organism to adapt to environmental factors and avoid damage from such factors.” An adaptogen should decrease stress-induced damage, be safe and produce a beneficial effect even if the number of administrations is more than required, be devoid of any negative effects such as withdrawal syndromes and not influence the normal body functions more than necessary, notes one study on the benefits of ashwagandha root. (29)
Researchers suspect one of the ways adaptogens work is by increasing a protein responsible for defending against physical and emotional stressors. “There’s even evidence that adaptogens may actually reduce the circulation of cortisol through the body. The varied benefits of adaptogens are achieved gradually and gently without letdowns or energy crashes, although some, like rhodiola, can provide an immediate energy boost. (30) Adaptogens that have gained attention in modern medicine include Panax ginseng, ashwagandha, rhodiola and schizandra. Some of the varied benefits of adaptogens include:
- Improved overall well being
- Increased energy
- Optimized organ function
- Reduced stress response
- Increased inner strength
- Improved blood sugar levels
- Optimized protein synthesis
- Reduced inflammatory cortisol levels
- Improved cholesterol ratios
- Regulated hormonal balance
What about caffeine? A cup of coffee chills me out.
Some people can benefit from a moderate amount of caffeine in their diet, but for many others, it actually increases the stress response.
Caffeine affects hormones. Its impact can be felt within a few minutes of ingestion and it stays in the system for hours. It can inhibit absorption of adenosine, which calms the body, thereby creating feelings of alertness which can be counterproductive if trying to sleep. It injects adrenaline into the system which provides an immediate boost but can lead to feelings of fatigue and depression later on. It increases the body’s cortisol levels which can lead to weight gain, moodiness, heart disease, and diabetes. It also increases dopamine levels, acting in a way similar to amphetamines which can make you feel good immediately after ingestion but can cause low mood after the effect wears off. It can also lead to dopamine manipulation. (31)
Caffeine also has a well-documented impact on the quality and length of sleep. Caffeine can stay in the system for eight hours or longer. It is recommended that caffeine intake be limited to the first part of the day to avoid sleep disruption at night.
The rise in blood pressure and heart rate that caffeine can cause often increases feelings of anxiety. Cutting out caffeine is one of the first recommendations for those suffering from anxiety. (32) It’s important to remember that caffeine isn’t restricted to coffee. It’s also in soft drinks, certain types of tea, energy drinks, over-the-counter pain relievers, and even chocolate. It’s very easy to get too much caffeine in a day without even knowing it.
What about television, the internet, or computer games?
Research indicates that television and social media have a negative impact on stress, but playing computer games in moderation can actually help people unwind.
“We are starting to look at media use as a cause of depletion. In times of smartphones and mobile Internet, the ubiquitous availability of content and communication often seems to be a burden and a stressor rather than a recovery resource,” says Leonard Reinecke of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany. (33)
It's true a little TV might help reduce stress
The evidence suggests that although a small amount of time spent watching television might be helpful, it most often leads to increased stress levels. One 2014 study found that TV often amplifies existing stress by inducing feelings of guilt and wasted time, especially if the person feels that the show is unworthy. (34) Sports viewers have to be extra careful. One study showed that people watching a sport’s event had the same amount of cardiac stress as if they were actually playing the sport. (35)
“We’ve found that self-proclaimed binge-watchers exhibit higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression,” she said. “There are also studies out of Harvard showing that among people who spend two hours watching TV the risk of diabetes goes up by 20 percent, the risk of heart disease by 15 percent and early death by 13 percent,” says Jessica Kruger, clinical assistant professor of community health and health behavior in the University of Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professionshttp. (36)
Most television shows - horror shows, thrillers, dramas, reality, and even documentaries - do not promote positive emotions. They most commonly provide very realistic depictions of stressful situations which are specifically designed to increase stress levels. These shows often portray people as being unrealistically beautiful, smart, strong, strong, sexual which can also promote stress long after the television is turned off. People watching television may feel stress because they think they should be spending their time in better ways. Television also increases stress levels it interferes with sleep. People stay up late watching a show and when they do go to sleep they have trouble winding down. Television also decreases the amount of time for exercise. Commercials often promote unhealthy eating habits.
Is instagram better than netflix?
Social media accounts are no better for stress than television. In fact, anxiety caused by being unable to check your Facebook or Twitter account has become a recognized disorder. “Social media anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that is similar to social anxiety disorder. “According to the experts, almost 20 percent of people with social media accounts cannot go more than three hours without checking them,” says the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
“Overall, about 30 percent of those who use social media spend more than 15 hours per week online. This can greatly reduce your ability to enjoy real life. It can also cost you relationships, jobs, and an education if you spend too much time online. If you are spending several hours a day on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you are not going to have enough time to work, study, or spend time with loved ones. You may have social media anxiety disorder and it can also affect your health, both physically and mentally,” it warns.
Information can be toxic
A report from researchers at New York University and Stanford University found that people who deactivated their Facebook account for four weeks were less informed after that time, but happier.
“Using a suite of outcomes from both surveys and direct measurement, we show that Facebook deactivation (i) reduced online activity, including other social media, while increasing offline activities such as watching TV alone and socializing with family and friends; (ii) reduced both factual news knowledge and political polarization; (iii) increased subjective well-being; and (iv) caused a large persistent reduction in Facebook use after the experiment,” said researchers. (37)
Playing computer games, on the other hand, seems to help some people deal with stress. A 2010 study at Texas A&M conducted by Associate Professor Dr. Christopher Ferguson showed that both men and women who play violent video games long-term seem to be able to adopt mental skills to handle stress, become less depressed and get less hostile during stressful tasks. (38)
“It probably won’t come to a surprise to gamers that playing games may reduce stress,” said Ferguson. “It does seem that playing violent games may help reduce stress and make people less depressed and hostile.”
What about marijuana?
There is surprisingly little evidence about the impact of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the main active ingredient in cannabis - on stress levels, although many claims have been made that it reduces tension and anxiety. "Very few published studies have looked into the effects of THC on stress, or at the effects of different levels of THC on stress,” says Emma Childs, associate professor of psychiatry at the UIC College of Medicine. (39)
A new study demonstrates that dosage may make a difference. Those who received low doses of THC reported less stress after a psychosocial test than those given a placebo. Also, their stress levels dropped faster after the test. However, those receiving the higher dose of THC reported a more negative mood before and during the task. Beforehand, they were more likely to rate the psychosocial task as challenging or threatening. Also, the moderate-dose group paused more during the mock interview than the placebo group did.
A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, suggests smoking cannabis can significantly reduce short-term levels of depression, anxiety, and stress but may contribute to worse overall feelings of depression over time, reports Science Daily. (40) A recent article in Psychology Today warned that cannabis addiction was linked to higher levels of cortisol during boys undergoing puberty. (41) At this point, cannabis’s effect on sleep seems highly variable, depending on the person, the timing of use, the cannabis type and concentration, mode of ingestion and other factors. (42)
How about alcohol?
Booze is not an effective way of dealing with stress. An occasional glass of wine might provide a temporary boost at the end of an especially difficult day, but an occasional glass of wine easily becomes a daily glass of wine and a daily glass of wine easily becomes two daily glasses of wine, and then three.
According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older in the U.S. had alcohol use disorder. This includes 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women. (43) In 2010, alcohol misuse cost the United States $249.0 billion. (44) Alcohol can increase the production of hormones that cause anxiety and stress. It can also increase blood pressure and heart rate which triggers stress-like symptoms. It can lead to medical and psychological problems and increases the risk of developing alcohol use disorders. Many alcoholic drinks are also packed with sugar. Alcohol also significantly impacts sleep patterns.
Aren’t there are anti-stress pills?
Because stress manifests as a function of the body and brain, both of which are essentially chemically driven systems, a wide variety of medications or synthetic dietary supplements are used to help with stress relief and prevention. More than 76 percent of American adults take some form of synthetic dietary supplement and the industry is expected to grow to more than $278 billion by 2024. (45) However, the evidence is slim that many of these synthetic nutrients provide the promised health boost. Some can actually be harmful. Synthetic supplements are known for potentially harmful additives, “megadosing,” and improper absorption. (46)
Medicines are often necessary for stress-related problems. These include sedatives (also referred to as tranquilizers, hypnotics, and/or anxiolytics), antidepressants, and beta-blockers. These all come with great risks. (47) Many of the medications that are useful for stress relief are also addictive. Serious behavioral and health problems are possible and even likely to occur as a result of using such substances unless care is exercised.
The Bottom Line
Acute stress is necessary and good. Workout, push yourself and grow. Chronic stress is bad and can make you sick. Reduce worrying, dietary stresses and poor lifestyle choices. Make use of natural tools to help you better process stress and feel your best. But in the end, don't stress about stress ;)
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