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Eva M. Selhub, M.D. Headshot

When the Body Screams: Help! I Am in Stress!

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You either feel good, or you don't. Life is either moving smoothly, or it isn't. You either have what you need, or you don't. You either think you are enough or have enough, or you don't

When you don't, you are in stress.

When you are in stress, your body will let you know by causing you some kind of discomfort -- physical, emotional, mental or psychological.

This is how your body speaks to you. Experiencing hunger? The body is letting you know it needs food. Feeling tired? The body is letting you know it needs rest. Feeling frustrated? The body is telling you to reassess your situation because you are not getting your needs met and perhaps you may need to turn elsewhere.

The body first communicates subtly, in whispers -- a pang in the neck, a tingle in the stomach, feeling run down or out-of-sorts. It speaks to you through emotional symptoms -- like overwhelming sadness or experiences of annoyance. It communicates through your own thoughts, be they judgmental notions toward yourself or worries regarding your future.

Through discomfort of one kind or another -- physical, mental, emotional or psychological -- the body lets you know that there is an underlying problem it would like you to address. It has to do it this way, otherwise you would not know that it was time to eat, sleep, or change positions. For instance, if you sat in the same position for 10 hours and your body did not register some sort of discomfort consciously for you, you would not move and your muscles would atrophy,

Now imagine that your body did register discomfort, but you could not move because you were trapped. The mild discomfort would become outright pain. Your mild irritation might turn into outright panic. Your body is no longer whispering and you are now screaming! Help!!

This is what happens when stress accumulates and is not taken care of: The stress response which uses every system of your body goes into over-drive so that your body will break down.

Your goal is therefore to find as many ways as possible for your brain and body to release endorphins, other hormones and neurotransmitters like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin, which can turn this stress response off.

Here are 8 things you can do:

1. Exercise: Releases endorphins, other hormones and neurotransmitters, like serotonin. Find an activity that you will do -- the more fun, the more likely you will do it. Find a buddy!
2. Nutrition: Avoid too much of foods that increase inflammation in the body like processed foods, simple sugars, trans-fats and baked goods made with white flour for example (small amounts are okay). Instead, choose foods that lower inflammation like dark leafy greens, whole grains, omega-3 rich oils, turmeric, and proteins that are not too fatty.
3. Meditate: Research is very strong on how effective any type of meditation practice is on turning off the stress response. Choose from a variety of methods including, tai chi, yoga, transcendental meditation, vipassana, mindfulness, visual imagery, listening to meditative music, etc. You can pick up a CD and just let it guide you into relaxation.
4. Sleep: If you are getting adequate sleep, you will feel rested upon awakening. On average, you need around 8 hours of sleep, which may vary from individual to individual. It also doesn't have to be all at once. So take a nap if you are tired.
5. Laugh: Studies show that a simple smile will send messages to your brain to involve neurons and other brain centers to help you reduce activity of the stress response. Laughter is even better as a good belly laugh will help you use up calories too!
6. Support: Humans are social animals. Connecting to others and having their support has been found to help many medical conditions and help people live longer, as well as turn off the stress response. Turn to your community -- be it the folks in your religious or spiritual group, or social club (book, golf, sewing, etc.)
7. Love: The research is getting stronger, showing that love in its many forms -- romantic, platonic, maternal, spiritual, and altruistic -- is good for you. In the state of love, oxytocin, morphine-like products, dopamine and the like are released in higher amounts into your brain and body, turning off the stress response and helping you feel better. So go hug and get hugged or perform a random act of kindness. In this way, not only will you feel better, but you will help someone else feel better too.
8. Engage: Engage in an activity you love. When you are engaged and happy, your mind is no longer experiencing fear and stress, but rather enjoyment and flow. Take a class in something you have always wanted to learn just for fun or simply make the time, even if it is only 10 minutes a day, to do something creative that you enjoy.

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