How Stress Affects Eye Health

Welcome to our blog series about stress! We include research, health facts, and solutions to handling stress in each article.

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When stress affects our immune systems, weight loss goals, and heart health, we expect it. What we usually don’t expect is how stress affects our eye health. In today’s digital age, our favorite multitasking tools can cause something called “digital eye strain.” This condition, is growing more and more common among computer users.

A Modern Problem

When we use several digital devices, we develop digital eye strain: neck and back pain, headaches, and tired, irritated eyes. These symptoms can grow worse as days and weeks pass while we continue to use digital tools for both work and play.

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Experts attribute the pains of digital eye strain to technology: work follows us everywhere through our laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Because of this, we create makeshift workplaces on sofas and at coffee shop tables. These areas are not designed for the ergonomics that could help to relieve neck and back pain. But how is someone in our technology-run age supposed to avoid digital tools when they surround us on the streets, in our homes, and in our workplaces?

Three Practical Solutions

To stop the pains of digital eye strain without quitting work, some have found it helpful to set a timer that chimes every 30 seconds. (We recommend the 30/30 app available on iPhones and Androids!) When the timer chimes, it’s a reminder for us to look away from our screens. Look out the window or across the room and focus on a specific point while counting to 20 seconds. This brief reprieve helps our eye muscles and nerves to focus on something different, engaging new muscles and releasing the ones that spend too much time staring at a close-up screen.

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Another solution is to take time for creativity. When we avoid digital screens, even just for a little while, and we paint or sketch or exercise instead, we create a relaxed space for our entire selves – including our eyes. Refocusing our eye muscles on paper or the road instead of a bright screen rests our eyes.

Stress, Eye Health, and Nature’s Trail Wellness Center

For more information about relieving stress and improving your eye health, schedule an appointment with our naturopathic doctor at Nature’s Trail Wellness Center. We look forward to seeing you!

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How Stress Affects Weight Loss And Insulin

Welcome to our blog series about stress! We include research, health facts, and solutions to handling stress in each article.

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When our brains send stress hormones throughout our systems, our bodies also release glucose (sugar) as well as fats from storage. This gives our muscles fuel. Unfortunately, with chronic stress, typically it isn’t our muscles that need the extra fuel boost, and the cortisol makes us crave junk food more than ever.

Because of our “fight or flight” response to stress, our appetite increases. Our bodies think they’re preparing to run away from a threat, but with chronic stress, our systems don’t need more fuel. This makes us hungrier, even if we’re still sitting at our desks all day.

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Too Much Cortisol

Cortisol, one of the stress hormones, increases with stress. When this cortisol isn’t used to “fight or flight” the perceived threat, it remains in our systems. As the perceived threat (chronic stress) continues, our bodies continue releasing cortisol. The ongoing cycle is bad for our overall health but also for our eating habits.

The more cortisol we have in our systems, the higher our insulin levels climb. Our blood sugar continues to drop. Then we keep eating fatty, sugary foods to cope with the stress.

It doesn’t help that the junk food we eat is called “comfort food” for a reason: when we eat sugary, fatty foods, our bodies respond by releasing chemicals. Researchers think these chemicals have a calming effect on us. This further reinforces our harmful eating patterns, as we continue eating junk food to feel the relaxation of those chemicals.

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Solution: Food Diary

One potential solution for overeating during stressful times is to keep a food diary. When we write down every item that we eat during the day, we become more conscious of our diets. The more we think about what we’re eating, the more likely we are to choose a vegetable or fruit instead of the cookies or donuts in the work lunchroom.

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Instead of rushing into the breakroom and gulping down your own lunch plus three donuts and four cookies, we should try taking a full lunch break. We can take this time to write our meal in our food diaries. Using our lunch times differently can make us feel more relaxed for the rest of the work day.

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Stress And Weight Gain Solutions At Nature’s Trail Wellness Center

For additional information about how stress affects our systems, visit Nature’s Trail Wellness Center to speak with our naturopathic doctor.

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This Is Your Brain On Stress: And What You Can Do About It

When we experience stress, our brains are often the first victim. Our prefrontal cortex is particularly vulnerable because it is so important in handling stress. This part of our brain tells us how to physically react to stress, and it tells our bodies how to react biologically.

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A 2012 study from Yale University shows that healthy people with more stress in their lives had approximately 10% less gray matter in their brains than people who had fewer emotional stresses in their lives. This is very important because gray matter, mostly located in the medial prefrontal cortex, is where nerves are housed in the brain. Gray matter is crucial to how we handle daily life – and stress. When we have less gray matter, we are not able to successfully cope with stresses in our lives.

When stress is overwhelming and chronic, our brains and our biology begin to change. As the high levels of stress continue, nerve cells begin to shorten. Imagine a tree; healthy trees have many branches, and when those branches are cut off, the tree is damaged. Brains are similar – our brain nerves are like the tree branches, and when they shorten or are cut off, our brain loses connections and develops worrisome gaps.

Researchers believe that losing these connections is one of the many reasons that chronic stress is associated with many mental health conditions, including reduced memory.

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How To Improve Your Brain On Stress: Positivity

The good news is that our brains are dynamic. We are always learning and changing, and so are our brains. The best solution is therapeutic strategies, which rewire our brains and regrow our nerves (tree branches) to help us better handle stress and improve our mental connections.

One of the best mental frameworks that fights stress is a positive mindset. Positive approaches can help us see stress as a challenge to control and overcome rather than an overwhelming threat. Optimists tend to handle stress much better than pessimists; pessimists tend to give up as soon as they’re faced with stress, while optimists are able to make stress less personal (“This project will fail” versus “I’m failing with this failing project”) and more short-term.

Our brains can only hold one emotion at a time. Rather than worrying, it is better to acknowledge the negative thought and then focus on a positive one in its place.

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Brains And Stress At Nature’s Trail Wellness Center

Do you want to learn more about how to better handle the stress in your life? Make an appointment with our naturopathic doctor to learn more about being healthy despite chronic stress!

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Stress: Different Coping Mechanisms For Everyone

Welcome to our blog series about stress! We include research, health facts, and solutions to handling stress in each article.

Each individual has different stress coping mechanism. Each of these mechanisms has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Which of these do you practice when you’re faced with stress?

The Problem Solver

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Many people like to solve problems, including stress. While some are content to talk about stress as a way to “vent” and feel better, others want a more constructive approach. If the problem can’t be solved, these people typically compartmentalize their stress to avoid their emotions; they escape into sports, work, family, or other activities. Unfortunately, this can lead to isolation and loneliness, maximizing the negative effects of stress.

The Venter

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When some people face stress, they talk. They talk to their friends, their families, their coworkers, and strangers on the street to discuss their problems. While they feel temporary relief, this strategy can make them focus on the negative. This coping mechanism can also stop people from finding realistic solutions to their problems.

The Escape Artist

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Stress triggers our “fight or flight” response. Unfortunately, we cannot fight many of the stresses in our daily lives (unemployment, bills, technology, traffic, etc.) and so our “flight” response becomes escapism. To escape daily stress, people may temporarily turn to alcohol and other substances. Over time, gradually people use more of the substance and more frequently.

The Behaviorist

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Stress presents an emotional burden, causing negative reinforcing behavior. This spiral begins with stress and gradually affects positive behaviors. When these people experience stress, they are less likely to exercise, eat properly, sleep enough, and spend time with positive social networks.

Solutions

All of these differences aside, there are a few positive habits that everyone can use to better handle stress in their lives.

  • Sleep: In our busy lives, all of us could use more sleep, which is one of the best ways to naturally relieve stress. Most people only get a few nights of good rest each week – and this only causes more stress. When you sleep, your brain strengthens memories and repairs itself. The old saying of “sleep on it” is true – your brain handles conflict resolution while you sleep, leading to a more peaceful day. Set a goal for 8 hours of sleep every night.

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  • Positivity: Research shows that positive thinking can help us deal with stress. Avoid thinking of yourself as a victim – instead, focus on the ways that you can proactively learn from a situation and move on. Train your mind to be more positive, and choose a friend or your own support group to keep yourself on track with positivity.

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  • Pacing: It can be too easy to assume that we have more than just 24 hours in a day, making us overschedule and overcommit beyond what we can handle. Find a planner that works for you (we love the Passion Planner!) to better pace your activities. Set realistic times for different tasks and activities and watch your stress decreases.

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Different Coping Mechanisms With Nature’s Trail Wellness Center

To learn more about reducing stress with various natural methods, speak with our naturopathic doctor. Begin enjoying life when you can proactively decrease your stress!

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Stress: How Chronic Stress Affects Women

Welcome to our blog series about stress! We include research, health facts, and solutions to handling stress in each article.

Stress affects everyone differently, particularly women. Today, women frequently fulfilling multiple roles. When this factor is combined with women’s unique physical responses to stress, the results can affect their long-term, overall health.

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How Chronic Stress Affects Women…

Compared to men, women’s sympathetic nervous systems have a stronger reaction to stress, with higher heart rates and greater adrenaline rushes. Before puberty, women respond to stress more like men do, suggesting that there are unique interactions between female sex hormones and stress hormones.

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…Physically

Physically, women are more susceptible to stress-related illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome and autoimmune diseases. Stressful lifestyles also interrupt women’s menstrual cycles and cause infertility. Chronically high levels of stress hormones can impact the hypothalamus, which manages the hormones involved in ovulation. This leads to an irregular menstrual cycle and infertility.

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…Emotionally

Compared to men, women experience stress at an emotional level, causing anxiety, short tempers, and overwhelmed feelings, which are normal female reactions for women with chronic stress. Women are more likely to overthink and worry, often resulting in mood disorders, depression, anxieties, chronic fatigue syndrome, and eating disorders. Women are two times more likely to develop depression than men.

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…Psychologically

As physical and emotional factors accumulate, behavioral patterns mirror emotional patterns. Women may experience negative reinforcing behavior and stop exercising or eating healthily. Stress, emotions, and behaviors can create a cycle that is difficult to overcome. Not only does this damage overall health, but proper exercise and nutrition help people cope with stress, foiling women’s efforts to cope with chronic stress.

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A Solution For Women With Chronic Stress

Social connections are one of women’s biggest strengths in battling chronic stress; by building connections and communities, women use social resources to make ideas into practically applicable strategies. Researchers believe that this female need for connection is because of how stress hormones mix with oxytocin – commonly called the “cuddle chemical” – and estrogen.

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When stressed, women “tend-and-befriend,” nurturing their closest loved ones. First they guarantee their loved ones’ safety and then call their friends to discuss the stressors, building connections to solve the problem. If women feel too stressed for social connections, they turn to isolation and become more vulnerable to stress and its results – especially depression.

Women Can Learn Chronic Stress Approaches At Nature’s Trail Wellness Center

Schedule an appointment at Nature’s Trail Wellness Center to learn more about managing the chronic stress in your life.

Please comment below to let us know how you deal with stress. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Stress: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Welcome to our blog series about stress! We include research, health facts, and solutions to handling stress in each article.

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Most of us realize that stress is bad for us, but very few of us fully recognize that chronic stress is just as harmful as poor nutrition or no exercise. Even fewer of us realize that there is both good and bad stress – and a healthy way to deal with both.

How Stress Works

We all know the signs of stress – halting breath, sweating, changing heart rates, and more. Behind these symptoms is the “fight-or-flight” hormonal response. When we encounter a stressful trigger, our brains automatically floods our bodies with stress hormones called cortisol and noradrenaline. Stress hormones help us adapt to what the brain sees as a threat. Gradually, our brains and bodies address the stress, allowing the parasympathetic system to return our hormones to normal.

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With momentary stress, this hormonal response is helpful because it can enhance our focus, but with long-term or chronic stress, the parasympathetic system cannot restore the body’s balance. This can cause serious health concerns.

Any long-term stress is chronic stress. Unfortunately, chronic stress deteriorates our natural biological approaches for handling stress as well as our ways for turning stress into positive results. In fact, chronic stress only makes us feel worse; because the parasympathetic system can never give the body relief, people under chronic stress feel drained and irritable.

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Good Stress and Bad Stress

You may have noticed that when you’re excited about an activity, you experience the same signs of stress as when you dread an activity: halting breath, sweating, changing heart rates, and more. This is because your brain and body can’t distinguish between good stress and bad stress.

Good stress can be short- or long-term: moving to a new city, receiving a job promotion, having a baby, getting married, going to college, traveling alone for the first time, going to the movies with friends, training for an athletic event, and more.

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Bad stress can also be short- or long-term: dealing with unemployment, stumbling through an embarrassing moment, earning poor grades, learning of a loved one’s death, living in a noisy, dangerous area, working in a negative or stressful environment, and more.

Our brains and bodies don’t differentiate between the stresses that make us happy (planning a wedding, moving for an exciting new job) and the stresses that make us sad (being unemployed, working in a negative environment). This means that either good or bad stress produce the same chronic “fight-or-flight” stress response, regardless of the trigger.

One Solution For Stress

There is no way to completely eliminate stress from our lives, but we can learn to deal with it in creative, healthy ways. Beyond eating nutritious, balanced meals and maintaining a regular exercise routine, it is always a good idea to express gratitude. It may seem childish to think of saying “thank you” when your boss drops extra work on your desk at 4pm on a Friday, but gratitude reduces cortisol. By expressing thankfulness, we can improve our relationships and experience better connections with people.

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Chronic stress is known for increasing blood pressure, lowering immune systems, causing sleepless nights, and reducing life satisfaction; in contrast, studies show that gratitude lowers blood pressure, enhances the immune system, increases quality of sleep, and boosts life satisfaction. It’s important to counteract stress’s negative side effects by expressing gratitude in our daily lives.

If your stress is too big for gratitude to help, consider using natural herbal supplements to find relief.

Stress Solutions At Nature’s Trail Wellness Center

Schedule an appointment with our naturopathic doctor to learn more about natural remedies for handling stress.

Please comment below to let us know how you deal with stress. We look forward to hearing from you!

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