The feeling is universal: elevated heart rate, tense muscles, racing breath, and an overall sour mood characterizes the effect stress has on the body. But this isn’t an isolated experience felt by a small few. The symptoms of stress are all too common. In 2017, a survey from the American Psychological Association found that 71% of respondents reported experiencing at least one symptom of stress over the past month.
Not all stress is bad. Sometimes we get stressed about a family member’s wedding or about the pressure behind starting a new job. This is a sort of motivational stress, more of anticipation, that our body is well equipped to handle. Long term, or chronic, stress can complicate this story. Over time stress has a measurable effect on both our mental and physical well being.
Muscles react first. Acute stress is often met by a reflex: we tense up. Too much tension can lead to chronic tightness or migraine-type headaches.
The respiratory system follows. Elevated breathing occurs as the airway between the nose and the lungs constricts. For people with pre-existing respiratory conditions like bronchitis or emphysema, this can become an issue.
Stress is a facet of the fight or flight response, which also effects the cardiovascular system. The blood vessels that direct blood to larger muscles and the heart dilate, increasing the amount of blood moving through the body at a given time. Blood pressure skyrockets.
Some people also experience gastro-intenstinal distress. Bloating, pain, and nausea are all common. In more intense scenarios, even vomiting can occur.
At the heart of all of these impacts on various systems is cortisol, the hormone that is released when we undergo stress. In small doses, cortisol is harmless and triggers necessary responses. When we are constantly stressed, however, cortisol hangs around too much and begins to wreak havoc on our long term health. High levels of cortisol have been linked to anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart diseases, sleep issues, weight gain, and memory impairment.
There are three solid strategies that can help mediate chronic stress.
Having a healthy social support network is essential. Confiding in those you trust can lift the burden of stress off of your shoulders, and you’re sure to find out that everyone at some point experiences the same symptoms.
Physical activity is a must. Exercise releases dopamine, takes your mind off of stressors, and is a hobby focused on progress. Positive change can lift you out of a slump.
Finally, never neglect sleep. We need to rest to perform at our best, and a good night’s sleep can better prepare our bodies to handle the physical symptoms of stress.
Both Michelle and I share our experiences with gardening. It’s a stress free activity and way to be outside and with nature. Read more about how Michelle and I enjoy gardening.
Digging in the Dirt
By Michelle Hereford
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors in my yard. The reason is twofold; I’m still working from home so escaping outside regardless of the weather has become my thing. But also, it’s spring, the weather is great, and gardens need tending.
I have a little courtyard/patio area right outside my front door. I recommend everyone carve out a little seating area outside to read a book and enjoy a beverage. It doesn’t take much, a chair or two and anything you can balance a drink on as a table. It’s been getting warm and nice cool beverage is always welcomed. My beverage of choice lately is a from Escape Mocktails. Their sweet potato vodka is wonderful with orange juice. They actually have many wonderful flavors; I really like the Manhattan too.
Once you’ve carved out your hang out spot if you really want to get with nature, just put in a little elbow grease and creativity and create a lush herb garden. Herb gardens are great because fresh herbs are wonderful to add to any meal and the beauty and fragrance of the plants are a bonus to the senses. A potting shelf filled with fresh herbs is a beautiful sight and you’d be surprised at how much usage you can get from fresh herbs. Besides adding basil and oregano to my spaghetti, I even put sprigs of mint in my lemonade and practically every dish needs a little parsley as a garnish.
Our yard is small, I don’t really have an area that I can devote to a garden, so I used pots instead. A potted herb garden is perfect for those in apartments or condos too. I also wanted instant results, so I went to the produce section of my supermarket (I love this tip because I didn’t have to make a special trip to the nursery) and picked up starter plants of basil, mint, oregano, and parsley for just $2.99 each. I came home and potted them using a potting soil with nutrients and I placed them on a potting shelf in my backyard. They will also thrive on a windowsill in your home. It’s so nice to be able to grab my scissors and snip fresh herbs for my drinks and meals.
I used some of the tomatoes a neighbor grew and shared along with my fresh basil to make these adorable little pizzas. I tried to get the tomatoes and basil to look like cherries. If you look real hard and maybe squint a little you might see it. Lol. This was really easy to make. I used ready-made pizza crust, added pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese. Then I sliced the tomatoes in half, placing the cut side down. I used the basil leaves and stems as the “cherry” leaves and stems. It’s just a cute little example of how delicious herbs and homegrown veggies can be used to enhance meals. Digging in the dirt is good for you and definitely therapeutic, also the sense of pride you’ll get when you see your plants thriving is real. Time to get some dirt under your fingernails.
Gardening, One of My Stress Free Activities
by Natalie Jones
I come from a gardening family! All of us have flowers in bloom, spend time on the weekend in the yard and have fun planting a variety of plants. I’ve started to involve my daughter in the gardening activities and I can tell she also enjoys being outside and watching the flowers grow. It’s been fun to come home with different plants and watch the blooms. Recently, it was an orange Iceland poppy flowers. I love the delicate petals and the flowers remind me of springtime as a child.
I’ve been replanting areas in both the front and backyard. Being out in the garden is for sure a stress free activity for me. In the front, I had overgrown rosemary plants. The herb is great as a ground cover and for cooking. The herb is my favorite in dishes like lamb and other Mediterranean foods. The rosemary went wild so I had to take it out. I planted more succulents, cactus and colorful plants. I keep things more low maintenance in the front yard. For the backyard, I’ve updated some plants in pots with more colorful blooms. From the dining table, I can see outside. I wanted to see more colorful plants. Seeing bright, colorful areas makes me happy! See a picture of the colorful blooms I have below.
Like Michelle, I have an herb garden. I’ve had mint that keeps coming back each year. That stuff is so easy to grow! I have 3 different types of mint. The mint is great for snipping off for photos in mocktails. I also have oregano, basil and rosemary. Herbs are a great way to add flavor to things you are eating and drinking.
We made our version of homemade pizza and I added basil and Italian seasoning to mine. My daughter is a little picky with food flavors so I made my own pizza sauce. It was so easy too! I took tomato sauce and tomato paste and mixed the two together until I came up with a thicker sauce. For her sauce I just added salt. Since the tomato sauce and paste had no other added ingredients, I didn’t have to worry about the flavor being something she didn’t like.
We also like to make mini pizzas so these crescent rolls are perfect since they are small! I use them like pizza dough and they come out more flakey. Instead of rolling up the dough, I just flatten it out and cook it for a few minutes. Then, I top it with the sauce and toppings. It’s also fun to have my daughter in the kitchen cooking with me. She’s a great helper and a good way to introduce her to different types of food and cooking. Cooking is also a stress free activity for me!
For our mini pizzas, I enjoy an alcohol free Lagunitas.