How to Release Stress and Relieve Inflammation

8 minute read

Psychological stress can wreak havoc on your life and your body. Stress places us at greater risk for depression, as well as heart disease and other serious health conditions.

Chronic stress is thought to be linked to the body’s inability to regulate the inflammatory response. Inflammation is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol and when this hormone is not able to perform properly, inflammation can get out of control.

Acute and Chronic Stress

Acute stress is something our body can handle because it is actually essential for our survival. Chronic stress is essentially an acute response that does not turn off, which ends up being dangerous. While the “flight or fight” response keeps us safe, when we are constantly in this state it does more harm than good.

The temporary increase in energy to prevent us from getting harmed does come at the expense of the body’s processes but only temporarily, which makes it less of a health threat.

When the situation becomes chronic, the stress hormones remain in the blood at elevated levels. High concentrations of cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine amplify the flight or fight response, which causes increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate, increased blood sugar and decreased immunity. This constant state of alertness has devastating effects on the body and predisposes it to a variety of serious illnesses.

Elevated blood pressure places harsh demands on the cardiovascular system which puts you at higher risk for heart disease. Your kidneys produce excess aldosterone which promotes the retention of water and salt, raising blood pressure and strain on the cardiovascular system.

Elevated cortisol levels increase susceptibility to viruses and bacteria because of their interference with the immune system’s inflammatory response.

Cortisol and Inflammation

Prolonged stress impacts the ability of cortisol to do its job because it decreases tissue sensitivity to the hormone. Cortisol is, therefore, not able to regulate the inflammatory response, which gets out of hand. Runaway inflammation has been linked to the progression of many serious diseases.  

People who experience chronic psychological stress are more susceptible to colds and other viruses. The symptoms that are felt are often not caused by the virus but are a product of the excessive inflammation occurring throughout the body.  

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Chronic stress additionally alters our genes, causing the immune system to become overly reactive even when there are no stressors present. Chronic stress causes chronic inflammation, which leads to the development of more diseases.  

Disease causes more stress and again, more inflammation, which worsens the disease. The cycle continues and our health declines. The best way to stop these chronic diseases is to stop the out-of-control inflammatory response. And the best way to do this is to manage the stressors in your life more effectively and limit your daily exposure.

How to Relieve Stress

Exercise: By putting your body through physical stress, you can actually relieve your mental stress. Exercise lowers the stress hormone levels in your body, as well as releases hormones like endorphins, which are known to elevate your mood.

Exercise also helps to build confidence which promotes mental well-being. Daily exercise can help you sleep better at night and a rested mind and body are generally stress and anxiety-free.

Supplements: There are several supplements available that have been proven to relieve stress. The more common ones include:

♦ Lemon balm

♦ Antioxidants, such as astaxanthin

♦ Green tea

♦ Valerian

♦ Kava-kava

Light a candle: Burning a scented candle or aromatherapy can reduce stressful feelings and promote a sense of calm. The most calming scents include lavender, rose, sandalwood, frankincense, geranium, orange blossom, bergamot, and roman chamomile.

Reduce caffeine intake: Caffeine, a stimulant found of coffee, energy drinks and tea doses can promote anxiety in high doses and sensitive individuals. Everybody has a different threshold for the caffeine they can tolerate, so if you notice the jitters, it may be time to cut back. Coffee is a staple for most people’s morning routines, so it is worth noting that, within moderation, you will be fine.

Write things down: Keeping a journal or just writing out your thoughts from the day helps to release any stress that built up during the day. Additionally, you should follow up any release with a list of things you are grateful for to refocus your mind away from anxious and negative thoughts.

Chew gum:  Chewing gum is thought to cause brain waves that resemble those of relaxed people, also promoting blood flow to the brain. So grab a stick of gum the next time you feel a little stressed out and chew your way back to a healthier state of well-being.

Get some quality time: Make time to see your friends and family during stressful times. A solid network is essential to getting through tough times and more social connections have been linked to lower levels of depression and anxiety.

Additionally, good times with friends or family promote the release of oxytocin which is a natural stress reliever.  

Laugh more: There is a reason they say laughter is the best medicine. Laughing can help to relieve stress by bringing more oxygen into your body, relieving the stress response and relaxing your muscles. Over time, laughter helps support a healthy immune system and a better mood.  

Take up yoga: Yoga helps to increase body awareness and helps to focus the mind. Overall, yoga has been linked to enhanced moods and is more effective than several of the leading antidepressant drug therapies.    

Meditation and mindfulness: Mindfulness helps you to stay anchored in the current moment. Stress and anxiety are generally caused by worry over our past actions or fears for the future. By training your mind to stay in the present, you avoid all those uncomfortable emotions and stay stress-free.

Cuddle: Cuddling up with a loved one or any physical contact releases oxytocin and reduces cortisol. You will experience a lowering of blood pressure and heart rate. Stress literally will melt away.  

Soothing Music: Music can have a very relaxing effect on our body. Slow-paced instrumentals induce relaxation by calming the body and reducing blood pressure and heart rate.  

Deep breathing: The flight or fight response causes elevated blood pressure and heart rate but these can be reversed by taking a few deep breaths. Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response.

You can try several deep breathing exercises such as abdominal breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing, and paced respiration.

The Bottom Line

Any of the above methods can help you to get control over your body and stop chronic stress from taking over. When you stop chronic stress, you stop chronic inflammation, which essentially puts your body back in a healthier state. Stress is an inevitable part of life but the better equipped you are to handle it, the less damaging it will be.

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