Stress Side Effects and the Top 5 Ways to Decrease Your Load
By Don Colbert, MD
Stress is one of those things in life that is good for your body and brain, but only in small amounts. Temporary stress makes you sharp and gives you energy. Like caffeine, it helps you focus on whatever is required of you.
Mild to moderate short-term stress enhances memory.1 However, chronic long-term stress has the opposite effect. When stress becomes severe, memory declines.2 This unrelenting type of stress is often found in people with anxiety, depression, chronic illness, PTSD, and chronic pain. I’ve even seen chronic stress be caused by worry, stressful jobs, bad marriages, family dynamics (sick child, child on drugs, family member in jail), the commute to work, and harmful routines.
Long-term stress is harmful to your body in many areas, causing:
• belly fat
• elevated blood sugar levels
• higher cholesterol levels
• hormone deficiencies
• hormone imbalances
• increased blood pressure
• increased cortisol levels
• increased risk for disease
• weakened immune system
• weight gain
Stress doesn’t just hurt your body. It hurts your brain too.
∙increased risk of cognitive issues3
∙decreased memory performance4
∙death of neurons in the hippocampus
∙glucose absorption in the brain is inhibited (primarily in the hippocampus, where it’s sorely needed)
∙damaged hippocampus function: forgetting, depression, memory loss, and more6
Chronic stress keeps your body and brain in a heightened state of unrest. It’s like being “on” or in emergency mode all the time. The body and brain simply can’t handle the pressure over time.
How to Handle Stress
My advice for those under chronic stress is always the same: Learn to cope with your stress, handle your stress, avoid more stress, and deal with/remove your stress.
Yes, it’s easier said than done, but doing nothing is not an answer either. Though some stress is unavoidable, you would be surprised how many people just keep going, not evaluating or changing anything in their daily routines. That’s not wise or healthy.
Truly, if you want different results, you must do something different. That especially applies to all areas of your health.
My Top Five Tips to Decrease Stress
All efforts to decrease your stress require your proactive participation. With that understanding, my top five tips to decrease stress include:
1. Laugh it out.
I’ve written out prescriptions for belly laughter to some of my patients. It may look like this:
Prescription: ten belly laughs daily. Thirty to sixty minutes before bedtime, listen to Brian Regan (“I Walked on the Moon” and other videos), Jeff Allen, Jeff Foxworthy, Jim Gaffigan, or John Pinette.
2. Burn it off.
Exercise is another proactive and very effective way to deal with stress. Numerous studies have found that physical exercise improves memory function and reduces stress because exercise causes your body to release endorphins, which are a natural antidepressant hormone.7
3.Get in God’s rhythm.
Get in God’s rhythm. That means to get in His Word, pray, meditate, talk to Him, ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, and listen. I like to visualize God’s Word. In my times of mediation, I visualize a scripture in my mind as it might have happened. It makes it come alive, and an active imagination is good for the brain. Every time I do this, I am replaying God’s Word in my mind. Spending time with God brings me peace and helps decrease my stress every day.
4. Cut back.
Is your life too busy? If so, it would be wise to cut back. These short-term decisions bring long- term benefits. For example, not long ago, I cut back on my work hours. That gave me a window of time that I filled with more exercise. Adding regular exercise to my routine helps combat stress, but it also helps with my plans of lowering my risk for Alzheimer’s or dementia. My short-term decision is extending my life!
5. Stop the little bad habits.
Many little bad habits can add up to a big amount of unnecessary stress. Stop or decrease your time listening or watching the news (it’s always negative). Stop multitasking (focus on one thing at a time). Stop being unsure of your next step (make to-do lists). Stop creating or leaving messes behind (be organized, clean up after yourself). Stop technology from holding you captive (unplug, go outside, be free from your phone). Stop going solo (be social and include others).
Stop overscheduling (time to breathe is good). You are not a “human doing” but a “human being.” Stop the excessive doing and just be still. Be still and know God!
As always, getting to the root of the problem and fixing whatever is causing stress to your body and brain is the best answer. It may take you time to do so, but you must do so. Stress on your body and brain is simply not an option you want to live with any longer.