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Tips For Coping With Stress And Anxiety Based On Science

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We've all been there: feeling overwhelmed and like we're under pressure. For some people, this is just a normal part of life. But for others, this feeling can be so intense that it becomes debilitating.

It's like the body is constantly preparing for something bad to happen. This can lead to muscle tension headaches, nausea, and even panic attacks. So how can you tell the difference between stress and anxiety? And more importantly, how can you get relief from both?

In this post, we'll explore what causes common stress and anxiety disorders, and look at evidence-based methods for coping with stress and anxiety.

Key Takeaway: 

  1. The feeling of stress is a physiological response designed for our survival. It's also known as the fight-or-flight response.
  2. Stress isn't inherently a bad thing—but prolonged stress can lead to anxiety disorders and increase the likelihood of disease and mental illness. 
  3. Lifestyle changes and seeking professional help are key steps in helping to manage your mental wellness and finding a healthy balance of stress.
  4. Some people are finding that cannabinoid supplementation can help manage healthy stress levels with mood, sleep support, and pain. 

Why Do We Feel Stress?

It's no secret that stress is widespread in our society. It's become the kind of a cliché to say that we're all under too much pressure. But what exactly is stress, and why do so many of us feel like we're constantly under its influence?

Stress isn't a single entity—it's actually a term used to describe a range of physical and emotional responses that we have to events or situations that make us feel out of control or threatened.

When you're feeling stressed, what comes to mind? For most people, it's a sense of tightness in the chest. Maybe your heart races or your head feels foggy. All of these symptoms are caused by the body's fight-or-flight response.

The sensation of stress is a physiological response designed for our survival.

When we recognize a threat, we release stress hormones that increase our heart rate and breathing to provide us with quick reaction times and energy for self-preservation. The problem lies in that the stress response is only meant to be temporary.

While some amount of stress can be healthy and motivating, too much can be really damaging, both physically and emotionally.

Is It Chronic Stress Or Anxiety? What's The Difference?

Although stress and anxiety share many of the same emotional and physical symptoms—uneasiness, tension, headaches, high blood pressure, and loss of sleep—they have very different origins.

Stress is generally understood as s response to external factors such as relationships, financial stress, work deadlines, or an imminent threat—like a hungry predator. Once the threat is resolved, the feelings of overwhelming should resolve.

When people talk about anxiety, they might be referring to a few different things. Sometimes it's used as an umbrella term for all the negative feelings we can have like stress, worry, and fear.

Anxiety is very similar to stress, but it has some key differences. Anxiety is associated with feelings of fear and apprehension and arises from a person's reaction to stress. In a way, we can think of it as having an internal origin. Anxiety is likely to occur when it becomes too difficult to manage stress, and unlike stress, feelings of anxiety persist even after the threat is resolved or long gone.

In more severe cases, chronic stress can develop into anxiety disorders.

Anxiety is a complex emotion and while it's often seen as a negative thing, it can also be a sign that we're paying close attention to our lives and what's happening around us. It's worth exploring what anxiety means to us personally and how we can deal with it in a healthy way.

Signs & Symptoms Of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults in the US each year. There are many different types of anxiety disorders, but all of them involve intense feelings of fear that are out of proportion to the situation.

The most common types of anxiety-related mental illness are:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

While these disorders often occur together, they can also exist on their own.

Signs and symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder include:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Mood swings
  • Sore muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Panic attacks
  • Restlessness

Symptoms of an anxiety disorder can be debilitating and interfere with daily life. If you think you or a family member may have an anxiety disorder, it is important to get help from your family doctor. There are many treatments available that can help you manage your symptoms and live a normal life.

5 Simple Ways To Manage Stress & Mental Health

We all experience stress in our everyday life from time to time. It can be helpful to have some strategies for managing it so that it doesn't get the best of us. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Spend At Least 10 Minutes A Day Outdoors

Nature has a way of grounding us and restoring our sense of peace and well-being.

Researchers believe that this is because being in nature allows us to disconnect from our busy lives and reconnect with ourselves. One study on American college and university students who experienced "feeling overwhelming anxiety" found that spending as little as 10-30 minutes sitting or walking outdoors resulted in a significant decrease in cortisol levels, heart rate, and improved their stress levels and mental health strain [1].

2. Exercise To Build Your Resilience Against Stress

Exercise is a great way to improve your mental wellbeing, and it has a ton of other benefits too.

Many health professionals will recommend 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity of moderate intensity for stress management because it's one of the simplest ways to increase your endorphin levels (feel-good hormones) and reduce the risk for diseases.

Researchers believe there's a link between poor blood flow to the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain involved with emotional processing and stress coping skills—and chronic anxiety and stress. In one study, it was observed that exercise counteracted some of the physiological markers of stress due to an increase in cerebral blood flow which allows us to become more resilient to challenging situations [2].

If you're not one to stick to an exercise routine, reach out to a friend or partner to help you stay committed and motivated.

3. Try Deep Breathing Exercises To Bring Yourself To The Present Moment

Oftentimes when we're feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, it's easy to forget to breathe and center ourselves. Breath work can be an incredibly effective way to calm the mind and body—and it's one of the oldest relaxation techniques with many proven benefits.

Deep belly breathing exercises are simple, easy to learn, and can be done anywhere, anytime for instant stress relief. While it may seem simple, slow breathing exercise training has been shown to improve perceived stress levels, heart rate, and blood pressure in a controlled clinical trial [3].

4. Reach Out To Your Social Support System

Having strong social bonds can help you get through tough times where you're feel stressed. Being in the presence of good company can help reduce feelings of loneliness and depressive symptoms [4].

Reach out to your friends and family members for support—they may be just what you need to get through this tough time.

Additionally, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor. You don't have to go through chronic stress or anxiety alone.

5. Try Adding Natural Health Supplements To Support Your Mental Health

There are a number of different supplements that can be helpful in reducing stress levels, such as magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, cannabidiol, and other hemp-based cannabinoids (more on this later).

Vitamins and minerals are needed for all healthy cell functioning, including regulating systems that are involved with our mood and stress.

Supplements like ashwagandha, l-theanine, and magnesium are all naturally derived compounds that have been shown to improve the body's ability to regulate stress [4,5,6].

Not all dietary supplements are safe for everyone, and some people with underlying conditions may be at higher risk for severe side effects when using even naturally derived supplements. If you're interested in adding supplements to your wellness routine to support mental health, seek advice from your doctor first.

What Does The Research Say About Cannabinoids & Mental Health?

Cannabinoids are another area where there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation. Some people believe that cannabinoids are a cure-all for mental illness, while others believe they are dangerous and should be avoided. So what does the research say about cannabinoids for anxiety and stress relief?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is the main cannabinoid derived from hemp plants. You can find CBD in the form of sublingual oils, capsules, gummies, tea, and other edible goods. It's become a popular supplement many people are taking to improve sleep, muscle tension, and reduce stress.

CBD and other hemp-derived cannabinoids work by supporting a system in our body that's designed to keep our vital functions in a state of balance (homeostasis) called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS has been called the bridge between the "body and the mind."

This system consists of free-floating neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids, receptors (CB1 and CB2), and enzymes that work together to regulate communication between cells involved in our immune system, nervous system, all our organs [7].

Related Article: CBD For Stress

CBD and other cannabinoids like cannabinol (CBN), and cannabigerol (CBG) have also been observed in studies to have unique properties that may help increase feelings of overall contentment, relaxation, sleep quality, and pain.

Here are some interesting findings worth checking out related to cannabinoids, anxiety, and depression:

  • CBD has been shown to increase GABA activity in the brain, inhibiting the body's physiological stress response [8].
  • Chronic pain can cause higher levels of stress hormones in the body. CBD, CBG, and CBN have been observed to influence the perception of pain, helping to reduce sensation and muscle tension [9, 10].
  • Patients with generalized anxiety disorder given 400 MG of oral CBD showed a decrease in subjective anxiety symptoms [11].

Are Cannabinoids Safe?

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive component of marijuana plants that induces a high. Many people use marijuana to help them unwind from a stressful day, and while there are no known lethal cases of THC toxicity, the psychoactive nature of this compound is also known to increase feelings of anxiety, negative thoughts, and nervousness.

CBD, CBN, and CBG are non-psychoactive compounds that are generally well tolerated and considered safe, but they can still have undesirable side effects if you take the wrong dose or a poorly made product.

Some of the negative effects of non-psychoactive cannabinoids include nausea, headache, changes in appetite, upset stomach, and drowsiness. To avoid these effects, make sure you're purchasing high-quality extracts made from hemp crops with less than 0.3% THC with third-party lab tests to prove its purity from contamination.

You also don't want to shock your endocannabinoid system with high doses of cannabinoids straight off the bat, so build your doses up slowly to allow your ECS to adjust to the supplemented cannabinoids.

The Takeaway: Healthy Ways To Lower Stress Levels

Mental health is a complex and personal topic and one that is often misunderstood. In the past, it has been shrouded in stigma and misinformation. But as we learn more about mental health, we come to understand that it is just like any other aspect of our health.

Mental illness can be treated effectively with lifestyle changes, therapy, medication, and we're starting to see more and more research being published on the potential benefits of cannabinoids for mental health.

The pillars of building good stress management skills are adopting healthier lifestyle habits, a good social network, and adopting a more positive outlook on your circumstances. If you or anyone you know is struggling with stress and anxiety, you don't have to go through it alone. Make sure you seek proper support and guidance from a health care professional.

Resources:

  1. Meredith, G. R., Rakow, D. A., Eldermire, E., Madsen, C. G., Shelley, S. P., & Sachs, N. A. (2020). Minimum Time Dose in Nature to Positively Impact the Mental Health of College-Aged Students, and How to Measure It: A Scoping Review. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2942.
  2. Elbau, I. G., Brücklmeier, B., Uhr, M., Arloth, J., Czamara, D., Spoormaker, V. I., Czisch, M., Stephan, K. E., Binder, E. B., & Sämann, P. G. (2018). The brain's hemodynamic response function rapidly changes under acute psychosocial stress in association with genetic and endocrine stress response markers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(43), E10206–E10215.
  3. Naik, G. S., Gaur, G. S., & Pal, G. K. (2018). Effect of Modified Slow Breathing Exercise on Perceived Stress and Basal Cardiovascular Parameters. International journal of yoga, 11(1), 53–58. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_41_16
  4. Speers, A. B., Cabey, K. A., Soumyanath, A., & Wright, K. M. (2021). Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on Stress and the Stress-Related Neuropsychiatric Disorders Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia. Current Neuropharmacology, 19(9), 1468-1495.
  5. Kimura, K., Ozeki, M., Juneja, L. R., & Ohira, H. (2007). L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biological psychology, 74(1), 39-45.Chicago
  6. Boyle, N. B., Lawton, C., & Dye, L. (2017). The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety and stress—a systematic review. Nutrients, 9(5), 429.Chicago
  7. Alger B. E. (2013). Getting high on the endocannabinoid system. Cerebrum : the Dana forum on brain science, 2013, 14.
  8. Hasler, G., van der Veen, J. W., Grillon, C., Drevets, W. C., & Shen, J. (2010). Effect of acute psychological stress on prefrontal GABA concentration determined by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. American Journal of Psychiatry, 167(10), 1226-1231.
  9. Wong, H., & Cairns, B. E. (2019). Cannabidiol, cannabinol and their combinations act as peripheral analgesics in a rat model of myofascial pain. Archives of oral biology, 104, 33-39.
  10. Crippa, J. A. S., Derenusson, G. N., Ferrari, T. B., Wichert-Ana, L., Duran, F. L., Martin-Santos, R., ... & Hallak, J. E. C. (2011). Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report. Journal of psychopharmacology, 25(1), 121-130

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