Rigorous handwashing. Antibacterial gels. Coughing into our elbows. There are so many things we do to avoid being exposed to — or exposing others to — germs. We freely accept that these microscopic objects are lurking out there, just waiting to sneak into our bloodstream and knock us off our feet for a few days. Who wants to get sick?

At the same time, we seem to be blissfully unaware of the things we do and think that have an even bigger effect on our health and well-being than that stray germ your daughter brought home from preschool. They’re the things in our lives that cause stress, like teh past year we’ve all lived.

There’s a strong connection between the mind and the body, and stress can affect both. Many of today’s most prevalent chronic diseases — heart problems, cancer, diabetes — can be triggered or worsened by stress.

Ever developed a headache after a particularly trying day? Become nauseated in a particularly tense situation? Been unable to sleep in the middle of the night? In those situations and many others, your brain is generating chemicals in response to your thoughts, and chemicals are affecting the way your body feels.

Stress, depression, and other negative emotional states can cause people to experience all sorts of pains and discomfort. When you’re in a situation that makes you angry or nervous, your brain releases cortisol, which increases the heart rate, narrows the blood vessels, and causes inflammation. When you’ve been in a stressful situation for a long period of time — say a really bad week at work — your body’s immune system weakens, making it harder to fight off illnesses. Among the symptoms that are often caused by stress or anxiety are headaches, nausea or stomach aches, fast breathing, trembling/shaking, sweating, and muscle pain.

The good news? Just as your mind can lead your body to bad places, you can also use your mind to make you healthier and keep you that way. What sorts of things can you do?

  • Learn how to relax. Mindful practices such as breathing exercises, grounding, and mindful movement can help you train yourself to replace with stress with calm.
  • When you exercise, your brain triggers hormones that help to relieve stress. The movement also strengthens your muscles, lungs, and heart. Even a daily walk is a big help!
  • Skimping on sleep can make you cranky and build your stress. Shutting down social media and technology and allowing your brain to rest will help with the energy you need for the responsibilities you have.

Not sure how to start down the right path? Care to Change regularly offers classes to help you learn how to apply mindfulness to your daily life. In addition, I’m happy to meet one-on-one with people to help them develop a program of exercise and stress relief that’s suited to their needs. Why not make an appointment today?

Ginger Boyce worked in clinical research before deciding to teach trauma sensitive yoga and movement as a way to help with mental health challenges.

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