Help to Reduce Stress Levels

What are the Causes of Stress? 

Fast faced living, demanding job roles and feeling stressed is all too common in modern times. Feelings of stress are normally triggered by things happening in your life which involve being under lots of pressure. There are times in our lives that we all need help to reduce stress levels.

Facing big changes or not having much or any control over the outcome of a situation. Also having responsibilities that you’re finding overwhelming but unable to explain. Conversely not having enough work or a change in your life can be stressful. Stress is generally caused by a combination of small pressures which build up over time.

Stress Perception 

The amount of stress you feel in different situations may depend on many factors. Your perception of the situation and if you have had similar previous experiences. Your self esteem and how you’re thought processes work (if you tend to interpret things positively or negatively). Moreover your emotional resilience to stressful situations and the amount of other pressures you are faced with at the time. In addition, the amount of support you are receiving to deal with these stressful situations.

What is a Healthy Amount of Stress? 

Everyone is different and so are their stress perceptions. So a situation that is perceived to be stressful to one person may not be to another. Stress in itself should not be viewed in a negative context. Some is healthy and is necessary for our very own survival. However an excess of stress can adversely affect your health. It is when the individual internal reactions cannot response well to stressors. This is when you feel overwhelmed and unable to deal with everyday simple tasks .

Stress Factors 

Stress contributing factors are varied from illness and injury, bereavement and long term health problems. Moreover getting married or going through a break up and difficult relationships with family and friends. In addition, exams and deadlines, job, housing and money issues can all contribute. Modern lifestyles expose us to less rest, more noise, more information and more toxins as stressors with reduced support systems to cope with them. Stressors are not just psychological, inflammation, obesity, insulin resistance and endocrine disturbances can also be stressful.

Stress and Nervous System 

Your automatic nervous system consists of your sympathetic (fight or flight) and your parasympathetic (rest and digest). Your stress response is characterised by the rapid activation of your sympathetic nervous system. This produces adrenalin and cortisol promoting alertness and attention (fight or flight) response. When this happens, the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) is reduced, which slows down or stops the digestive and reproductive systems.

What Stress Does to Your Body?

In short bursts this is a healthy response however sustained sympathetic activation will have a detrimental effect on your body. It will affects us all in different ways. Below we have given some insight into how stress can affect us physically, mentally and change our behaviours.     

Stress Physical Symptoms 

For the majority of people the first thing you do when you are stressed is elevate our shoulders, when you do this over a long period of time you will develop muscle tensions or pains. You may grind your teeth (consciously or subconsciously) which can result in jaw pain and headaches. Stress will get us to breathe shallowly from our upper ribs rather than from your diaphragm. Excessive breathing creates a low level of carbon dioxide in your blood and can cause dizziness, fast heartbeat and chest pain.

Fight or Flight

Over activation of the sympathetic nervous system will cause adrenal exhaustion with tiredness and weight loss. Conversely the parasympathetic nervous system will be inhibited which can give digestive issues (like irritable bowel syndrome). Similarly thyroid issues (fatigue and weight gain) and reproductive issues (decreased libido and menstrual issues). Stress also effects your immune system (your body’s ability to fight infection and toxins). Therefore making you more susceptible to autoimmune inflammatory diseases.

Stress Mental symptoms 

Mentally you can feel overwhelmed, experience difficulty concentrating and struggle to make decisions. You may feel like you are constantly worrying and forget things. Moreover you can feel uninterested in life, experience anxiety and depression.

Stress Behavioural Changes 

A stressed person will be irritable, snappy and sleep too much or too little. Moreoverexperience appetite changes with eating too much or too little. You will avoid certain places or people and drink more alcohol or smoke more.

Help to Reduce Stress Levels

As you can see stress affects different people in different ways. Therefore having a stress management plan which addresses all domains would be an effective strategy.

Can Osteopathy Help to Reduce Stress Levels

Firstly seeing an Osteopath should be a therapeutic calming experience by telling them your worries. Then receiving hands on treatment for your muscular tensions. An Osteopath will articulate the joints of the spine where the autonomic nervous system emerges which should feel relaxing. They will address you muscular tensions through gentle muscular stretching. An Osteopath will encourage diaphragm breathing through lower rib stretches, joint manipulations and go through breathing exercises. Calming you and your nervous system down should have a positive effect with your digestion. An Osteopath will give home based stretching and strengthening exercises to help manage the physical effects of stress.

Could a Change Of Diet Help to Reduce Stress Levels

Cortisol and blood glucose have an intimate relationship. When you are stressed cortisol mobilises glucose into your bloodstream. Caffeine, drugs and alcohol amplify your sympathetic nervous system and therefore produces further cortisol production. Skipping meals or eating snacks rich in simple carbohydrates will further increase your cortisol levels creating negative cycles. Oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity. Smoking, drinking alcohol, lack of exercise and not sleeping enough can lead to oxidative stress. A naturopathic Nutritionist will look at your lifestyle, current eating habits and question how best to reduce your oxidative stress and cortisol levels. A nutritionist will develop a personalised nutritional plan that will include small changes which over a period of time will make a big difference to your symptoms.

Can Pilates Help to Reduce Stress Levels

There has been studies to suggest the benefits of mindfulness and exercise for relaxation. Mindful movement (the combination of meditation and movement) can really help to reduce stress. It works particularly well for people who struggle staying still and finding to meditate so this is a nice alternative. In Pilates you will focus your attention on flowing movements and your breath for a hour which is calming and therapeutic. You will improve your body awareness and your mind body connection through challenging but calming exercises.

Pilates can make you more present and therefore help you manage your stress more effectively. Moreover you will leave sessions feeling less stressed and energised. Pilates improves your mood as physical activity causes endorphins to be released and causes a positive feeling in the body. Activity can enhance wellbeing through a better sense of better self-confidence and the ability to rise to a challenge. Pilates classes are a great exercise to include as part of your stress reduction plan. 

Stress and Talking Therapy 

Cognitive behavioural therapy, mental and physical relaxation can reduce stress (Cochrane 2015). Talking therapy will help you understand your thought patterns and recognise your triggers. Write down a list of your triggers to understand what aggravates your stress. Understand your stress responses, do you experience headaches, high blood pressure and poor memory. Furthermore do you feel depressed, have digestive problems and put on weight. Write down things you can and cannot control. For the things you cannot control cross them off the list as there is no point worrying about them. Focus your energy and efforts on things you can control. When we are stressed, we can get caught up in unrealistic thoughts that stress us out even more. Therefore make a list of your unrealistic thoughts that in retrospect are simply not true. You then have the ability to change your thoughts to become realistic.

Stress Reduction Activities

Having activities that help relax the mind and body is very important. Find an activity that you enjoy as you are more likely to keep it going. Pilates, Tai chi and yoga are good examples of low impact exercise working on the mind-body connection. Dancing is another great form of exercise. Box breathing exercises, listening to relaxation music and prayer (if you are religious). There are lots of self care apps to help reduce your stress (Stress Tracker and Breathe2Relax).

Lifestyle Changes to Help to Reduce Stress Levels 

Look at your current lifestyle and identify your stress triggers. This will be the first step in order to make positive stress reduction changes. Top tips of finding time for relaxation and spending quality time with your friends to share your worries and laugh. There is evidence that changing work schedules may lead to a reduction of stress (Cochrane 2015). Therefore finding balance in your life with a good work life balance would be good idea. So ensure you get enough sleep, be active with regular walks or exercise and eat healthily. Find a support network with friends or local MINDsupport group (MIND 2020).


NHS Choices (2020)

Cochrane library (2015) Preventing occupational stress in healthcare workers

MIND (2020) Stress

Can Osteopathy Help to Reduce Stress Levels

Yes Osteopath should be a therapeutic calming experience and we aim to achieve a life balance to reduce any stress levels.

Can Pilates Help to Reduce Stress Levels

Yes low impact Pilates is great for reducing stress levels along with improving your physical strength and confidence.

Could A Change Of Diet Help to Reduce Stress Levels

Cortisol and blood glucose have an intimate relationship. When you are stressed cortisol mobilises glucose into your bloodstream. Caffeine, drugs and alcohol amplify your sympathetic nervous system and therefore produces further cortisol production. We can tailor a nutritional plan tailored for individual needs and help to reduce stress levels.

First Published Wellthy Clinic Blog