Stress has become a common occurrence in everyday life, and it actually takes many forms. For example, chronic stress (the stress of everyday life) is different from distress (stress with negative connotations such as divorce, injury, financial issues and more). The top causes of stress in general as reported by The American Institute of Stress include job pressure, money, health, relationships, poor nutrition, media overload and sleep deprivation. It’s no coincidence that functional medicine works to improve a multitude of health problems (such as stress) by developing therapies that work through a number of those factors including nutrition, sleep, and relationships.
With an astounding 77 percent of people regularly experiencing physical symptoms caused by stress and the $300 billion it costs employers as a result of missed work or stress-related health care, stress is not something to take lightly. People experience a variety of symptoms as a result of stress including fatigue (51 percent), headache (44 percent), upset stomach (34 percent), and more. Stress also rears its ugly head in other forms such as anxiety, constant worry, depression, insomnia, weight gain and frequent colds.
However, the good news is that small amounts of stress can actually do the body good. Very small amounts of stress have been reported to improve focus, increase energy and boost the immune system. It’s the persistent stress that causes health problems. But stress can be managed and controlled in many natural ways including:
Attitude Adjustment — The American Institute of Stress posts the following quote by Greek philosopher Epictetus on its website: “People are disturbed not by a thing, but by their perception of a thing.” This is a profound statement and quite helpful when it comes to doing a mental “check–in.” Yes, stress is a real thing, but how one reacts to it can either minimize or exacerbate it. For those experiencing daily stress, shift the focus not to what is going wrong but rather all the things that are going right. Simply being grateful for what one has in life goes a long way toward reducing stress.
Use Food as Medicine — As one of the core elements of functional medicine, nutrition holds the key to unlocking optimum health. Eating right plays a large role in stress management because many people turn to food (usually empty calories found in processed foods, sugar and or caffeine) to soothe themselves when they are feeling particularly stressed. Instead of reaching for these ingredients that can send the body into further stress and inflammation, focus on eating regular meals each day starting with a good breakfast and enjoying foods such as fish that is low in mercury, organic chicken and free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive and coconut oils, and, of course, lots of fruits and vegetables.
Get Some Shut-Eye — Another crucial component of the functional medicine approach, sleep can help combat stress along with meditation. People should aim to get seven hours of restless sleep each night. Meditation practices such as sitting or lying down, closing the eyes and taking several deep breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth) and repeating a positive and soothing mantra can also help relieve stress in just a matter of minutes.
Sweat it Out — It’s no coincidence that exercise (another functional medicine factor!) also helps combat stress in a healthy and natural way. It doesn’t take a massive effort to accomplish destressing through exercise. A brisk walk or jog around the block, a few minutes of yoga, or some quick jumping jacks and jumping rope are enough to keep stress at bay.
Stress is a common denominator for many people. How each person handles it varies vastly — and that truly can make all the difference between those who experience health issues as a result of stress and those who don’t. To fall into that latter category, practice the aforementioned natural approaches for fending off stress!