By: HAVN Life Wellness Expert, Heather Lillico
Whether it’s about the state of the world, your job, or your relationships, stress is inevitable. The effects of stress on the body can be sneaky and far reaching. Let’s discuss how stress ages us, and simple tips to manage it…because you don’t need more items on your to-do list.
How does stress age us?
When we live in a state of stress the hormone cortisol is high. This leads to a host of problems that age us faster such as increased blood pressure, blood sugar dysregulation, loss of muscle mass, and weight gain.
Chronic stress also increases inflammation in the body. Not only does premature skin aging follow (eek wrinkles!), but also memory and mood issues (1). Feeling constantly overwhelmed can also disrupt sleep, a key restorative process for the body.
Simple tips to help
Nothing is tied to your nervous system quite like your breath. You can feel what happens when you get stressed out, breathing quickens and shallows. This type of breathing is associated with the fight/flight nervous system. If you slow down the breath and breathe into the belly you’ll switch over to your rest/digest nervous system. When you hang out in this side of your nervous system the body feels relaxed and cortisol will lower.
Make it manageable: Place one hand on your stomach right above your belly button. Breathe in through your nose and send the breath down into your belly. Take a big sigh out the mouth. Do this 4 times in a row.
This ancient Chinese practice dates back to around 2000BC and is used to activate meridians or energy channels in the body. The best part is it’s so simple to perform. You can do this while at your desk at work, or when you’re a passenger in a car. There are many points linked with lowering stress, such as between the eyebrows, on the inner wrists, or on the hands. My favourite on the go is the union valley point (2).
Make it manageable: Activate the union valley point by grabbing the webbing between your thumb and index finger. Lightly pinch that meaty point with your opposite thumb and index finger. Gently massage it and hold for 5 seconds. Release and perform the other side. Make sure you take slow, deep breaths. This point is especially relaxing if you text a lot as these muscles get tight.
Smell a scent
It’s often said that smell is the strongest sense tied to memory. Have you ever smelled something and been mentally transported to another time? For me, smelling Britney Spears Fantasy perfume immediately brings me back to high school days. In fact, when we smell something it activates the limbic system, an area of the brain with the amygdala and hippocampus, responsible for emotions and memory, respectively (3). Because of this link we can use relaxing scents to calm the body. My go-to scent is lavender which can reduce anxiety and promote feelings of calmness. If you want to feel relaxed yet focused try out orange oil. Or if you’re looking for sleep support chamomile, ylang ylang, or bergamot are all great choices.
Make it manageable: keep a bottle of an essential oil in your purse, at your desk, or in your nightstand. Bring it out and waft it in front of your nose a few times. Inhale deeply with slow breaths.
Take an herb
While the mushrooms Chaga and Reishi immediately come to mind for the inflammation side of stress, Rhodiola is probably my favourite herb to target the hormones of stress. This adaptogen lowers cortisol and helps the body be more resilient when stress is present (4). It has also shown DNA repair effects, a key factor in maintaining health as we age.
Rhodiola is currently being studied for its ability to extend the lifespan, and research found it can increase the lifespan of fruit flies by about 25% on average (5). A great benefit of rhodiola’s response to stress is that it can improve symptoms of burnout and fatigue. If you have more energy in the day think of all the other self-care practices you’d be motivated to try!
Make it manageable: With HAVN Life’s Rhodiola extract formula you take 1 capsule three times per day. I tie them to my meals so I remember!
The biggest thing to remember with any of these practices is that small changes can yield big results. You don’t need to set aside hours each day for your stress relief. Work in what’s manageable and focus on consistency each and every day.