Treating Stress as a Social Problem with Holistic Alternatives

In today’s society, we thrive on performance, competition and perfection, which leads to an inevitable increase in stress levels. Normal, healthy levels of stress can be positive but too much of it can cause damage that is often underestimated, and it is a rising social problem that should be closely evaluated. These days, society and the workplace put an unparalleled level of pressure on people. The stress that we experience every day is essentially caused by several phenomena that are inherent to today’s society, including, among others:

• intensified workload to increase productivity gains;
• constant search for perfection
• obsession with competition
• difficulty balancing work, personal life and family life
• major changes in values and social standards.
Stress is something that touches all ages, races, and social groups. No one can ever completely avoid it. However, some people are more resilient and less affected by it than others. Stress is the body’s normal reaction to daily events. Fundamentally, stress is a human defense mechanism, but it is important to not let it take over. Sources of stress can range from physical, psychological, emotional or social stressors; either temporary or chronic. A stressful event can either be a happy one (wedding, birth, travel, etc.) or an upsetting one (getting fired, going through a divorce, the loss of a loved one, etc.).
When faced with stressful situations, the human body reacts by releasing various hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. In its initial phase, stress can cause symptoms such as palpitations, lump in the throat, anxiety, distress, etc. These symptoms are usually short term. But after a long period of time, uncontrolled stress can be harmful to one’s well-being and health; symptoms can then be of a physical, emotional, psychological or behavioural nature. Here are a few examples:

• sleep disorders
• muscular tension
• digestive disorders
• irritability
• agitation
• depression
• anxiety
• burnout
• increased isolation
• relationship problems
• work absenteeism
• lower performance
• loss of self-esteem

In addition to more common short-term effects, stress also contributes to the development of several chronic diseases, such as heart disease, vascular disease and cancer.

Stress is a part of life for everyone and although it cannot be eliminated completely, it can be managed by a number of natural, more holistic methods. Typically, a person’s first reaction is to begin a regimen of anxiety or depression medication. While these options can be helpful in the short term and for treating ongoing major depression, numerous studies have shown that Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) and other medications particularly benzodiazepines and narcotics, can be quite harmful to the body and brain in various ways including reducing the brains ability to produce the “feel good chemicals” such as endorphins and dopamine naturally. The reality is that most sources of depression are not purely chemical and can be managed naturally by fine-tuning your lifestyle choices. Because of these harmful side effects, many people opt for more holistic ways of managing stress, anxiety and depression such as:

Exercise – exercise will improve overall health and help promote a general sense of calm and well-being by the release of endorphins, thus boosting confidence and lowering stress levels. Regular exercise can also decrease the production of stress hormones including cortisol and therefore help to better manage stressful situations.
Relaxation – learning relaxation techniques including meditation and yoga will help to relax both mind and body, which is essential in the quest for better stress management. Relaxation can lower heart rate and blood pressure and increase blood flow to organs and muscles, allowing an individual to feel more in control of a situation. Dr. Andrew Weil, a well-known physician of integrative medicine swears by meditation and breath work along with other holistic techniques including the ingestion of anti-inflammatory foods, as proven methods to reducing stress levels.
Essential Oils and Aromatherapy– An essential oil is a liquid that is generally distilled (most frequently by steam or water) from the leaves, stems, flowers, bark, roots, or other elements of a plant. The chemical composition and aroma of essential oils (lavender, rosemary..etc.) can provide valuable psychological and physical therapeutic benefits. These benefits are usually achieved through methods including inhalation and application of the diluted oil to the skin. The list of benefits goes on for miles including better immunity, lung function, digestion, sleep, and reduced levels of anxiety and stress. They support an overall efficient functioning of the mind, body, and spirit.
Massage– Though massage used to be thought of as an indulgent luxury, it is now recognized as a powerful therapeutic tool. In addition to decreasing anxiety and tension and alleviating stress naturally, massage eases pain, relieves aching joints and muscles, improves range of motion, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, facilitates recovery from injuries, and lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Many insurance plans now cover it because it is that effective. As a chronic sufferer of neck and shoulder pain myself, I try and do this regularly and it makes a HUGE difference.

Acupuncture– If you’ve never experienced acupuncture, the idea that needles could relieve, rather than cause pain and anxiety may be hard to fathom. But the sterilized, disposable needles used in acupuncture are so thin that patients rarely feel anything more than a slight tingling sensation. After the needles are inserted, the lights are lowered, soft music is played, and you experience complete, healing relaxation. A course of acupuncture is a wonderful way to melt away stress and anxiety.

Reflexology– It’s no secret that reflexology is a very soothing and relaxing experience. But additionally, it is actually a therapeutic modality that provides tremendous benefits when used alone or in conjunction with other treatments. Many have reported good results with reflexology for the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, digestive complains, headaches, and other conditions in which stress plays a role.

Basic lifestyle checks are also recommended. It is important to set boundaries in your life; meaning try to avoid taking on more than you can handle if you can help it. Take time for yourself even if it’s a few minutes a day to take part in something you enjoy. Also make sure you get plenty of sleep since we all do a better job of coping with stress and anxiety after a good night’s sleep. For improved sleep, it is recommended to turn off the TV and other electronics at least an hour before you intend to be asleep as well as take a warm shower/bath or some other light activity. Dimming the lights also helps by stimulating your body’s natural production of Melatonin; the hormone that induces sleep. A natural melatonin supplement is also recommended to help with insomnia as well as Valerian Root. Drinking a cup of chamomile or other tea with calming benefits before bed can also assist with difficulty falling asleep.
You also need to be sure to take a potent multivitamin and mineral supplement daily. This will give you the vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal health, vitality, and energy.
Consider Supplements That Lower Stress
1. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid produced naturally in your brain. In addition to functioning as a neurotransmitter and fostering communication between nerve cells, GABA controls anxiety by toning down “excitatory” stimuli in the brain. Plus, it boosts dopamine and serotonin levels, which helps create an overall sense of calm.
2. Relora®, which is a combination of two botanical extracts (Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense) that have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat anxiety and stress, has been shown to modulate the stress response and lower cortisol.
3. L-theanine, an amino acid found almost exclusively in green tea, is widely known for its relaxing properties. It increases alpha brain waves, producing a state of calm alertness. L-theanine also boosts production of GABA.

Stress is a problem that undoubtedly infiltrates our society in numerous ways. It manifests itself at the office, at home and in our relationships with others, and it can also affect our loved ones. We should all take the time to re-evaluate our stress level for the well-being of our society and ourselves. While you can’t always eliminate stressors from your life, you can alter your reaction to them. By using holistic ways to manage stress, your body will begin to develop healthy responses making you more equipped to cope with everyday stressors. All of these methods I shared have been found to decrease stress and anxiety and, as a result, improve your overall health. It is best something that works for you and do it regularly in anticipation of a less stress ridden society.

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