Mental Health Minute: Stress and Self-Care


Stress triggers our “fight-flight-freeze” response where our heart rate increases, we breathe heavier (requiring more oxygen), our blood vessels constrict, and stress hormones like cortisol flood our systems. While consciously we know a grizzly bear isn’t chasing us, once our stress response is triggered, our bodies can’t tell the difference. Frequent stress contributes to chronic conditions including: hypertension, headaches, depression, anxiety and can make other chronic conditions, like asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and insomnia, worse.

There is good news, we do have choices to make. The good news is that just as we have a stress response, we also have a relaxation response where our breathing and blood pressure slows down. I’ve included some empirically based relaxation methods, sometimes it helps once you know why something works:

Go for a 10 minute walk in nature -- Walks boost endorphins which reduce stress hormones. Walking in a park or other natural green space can put your body into a meditative state due to the phenomenon known as “involuntary attention” where something holds our attention while simultaneously allows for reflection.

Step away from screens -- Uninterrupted computer use has been linked with stress, lost sleep, and depression. Also, late night computer use has been linked to stress. Taking a break from screens every few hours has been found to reduce stress from uninterrupted screen time.

Put down your Smartphone -- Smartphones are associated with increased stress levels. As HealthDay explains, “[people feel] a relentless need to immediately review and respond to each and every incoming message, alert or bing [which increases stress]”.

Web-based stress management apps -- If you can’t put down your phone, try one of the stress management apps, like guided meditation. These apps have been found to decrease stress levels and increase emotional well-being scores.

Laugh -- Whether it be at a funny viral video or a funny Classic; the important thing is that you laugh. The Mayo Clinic explains, “Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.”