Have you been feeling stressed lately? You’re not alone. Surveys have found that, especially in the last two years, there’s been a lot of it going around. While stress is a natural part of life, it’s important to understand how too much of it can affect your health and wellbeing. Here, we explore some of the latest findings in stress research and dive into what tools experts recommend adding to your stress relief toolkit.
Symptoms of stress
The World Health Organization defines stress as “any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain.” For you, it might show up in the form of an inability to relax, sleep issues, altered eating patterns, difficulty concentrating or perhaps an increased heart rate. Everyone responds to and recovers from stress differently, so it’s worth trying a few different coping strategies until you find one that works for you.
What research says about stress
The latest research on stress shows that people have (unsurprisingly) experienced a significant increase in stress over the last two years. According to a 2022 survey by the American Psychological Association, financial stress is the highest it’s been since 2015, 63% of people said their lives have forever been changed by the pandemic, 81% of people said that global uncertainty was a source of their stress and 80% linked their stress to the war in Ukraine. In short, it's more important than ever to have a good understanding of how stress can impact us – and what we can all do to better cope with it.
What has research suggested in terms of how stress can impact health?
Stress can impact your health in several ways. Researchers have concluded that it can affect memory, the immune system, cardiovascular health and the function of the endocrine system (an internal system made up of hormone-producing glands that help your body function). The effects of stress on human development have also been noted in several studies. One study by researchers from Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center found that single exposure to acute stress can change brain function and, as a result, potentially impact motor function. Another study by researchers from the University of Copenhagen discovered that stress can control our genetics – turning on genes that would otherwise be turned off, which could potentially impact cellular development, identity and growth. Research has even found that chronic stress can speed up the aging process that our cells go through.
Research about stress management
Ok, so you know that the world (and likely you) have experienced a lot of stress recently and you know that too much stress isn’t good for you. But how do you manage stress? In 2015, a research paper on stress management among students concluded that ten weeks of affordable, group stress management training had a significant positive impact on psychological wellbeing. The takeaway? Building your own stress management toolkit is a great place to start if you’re trying to figure out how to deal with stress. A qualified and experienced counselor/therapist can help you to build up this skillset – or you might want to try some of the research-backed stress management techniques below.
According to Penn State researchers, a diet that contains plenty of walnuts and walnut oil may help your body to better cope with stress. Get snacking!
Researchers have found that mindfulness meditation can support attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and a sense of self – which ultimately helps stress management.
Try cognitive behavioral therapy
Research involving the participation of school teachers has found that cognitive behavioral therapy can help to relieve stress. Psychology Today defines CBT therapy as, “a form of psychotherapy that focuses on modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts by interrogating and uprooting negative or irrational beliefs.”
Exercise is widely recognized as a natural stress reducer – particularly aerobic exercise. That being said, any type of exercise is better than none, according to Harvard Health.
Spend time in nature
Studies have found that spending time in nature – even if it’s within an urban environment – can support attention, mood and physical activity: all things that are anti-stress.
Combat cell stress
Stress contributes to oxidative (cell) stress, which basically means your cells (the building blocks of your mind and body) can’t function at their best. MitoQ has been scientifically shown to combat cell stress.