This is a no-brainer: many people experience stress over the course of their days, for a multitude of reasons. In fact, 22 percent of Americans reported experiencing extreme stress in 2011, according to the American Psychological Association.
Feeling stressed out can do more to your body than make you feel anxious; studies have repeatedly found stress to be the root of chronic diseases, such as depression, cardiovascular disorders and infectious diseases. A series of chemical reactions happens in your body when you're stressed, decreasing the hormone's cortisol ability to regulate inflammation, which has also been linked to weight gain. Finding ways to reduce stress can improve your mental well-being in the moment you're feeling stressed and beyond.
"When you 'feel' stress reduce, you are feeling your heart rate calm, your brainwaves organize, your vessels dilating, and your physiology and emotional state return to neutral" after the body's ramped up response to a stressor, said Dr. Cynthia Ackrill of the American Institute of Stress and WellSpark, a leadership development firm. "A number of activities have stress reducing effects for multiple reasons."
Some stress management activities can increase DHEA, a hormone that regulates inflammation. "DHEA has the opposite effect of cortisol and the ratio of cortisol to DHEA is important to balance," said Dr. Ackrill, although she stresses (no pun intended) the importance of addressing what's causing the stress in your life as opposed to relying solely on stress-reduction activities to manage it.
We asked our readers what instantly lowered their stress; Dr. Ackrill weighed in and explained the calming effect of each of these activities.