Use Your Mind to Control Stress & Depression
Unrelenting stress will eventually kill you. Countless studies around the world have pinpointed stress as a primary factor in diseases and conditions that damage your physical health.
Experts estimate more than 75% of doctor visits in the United States are directly related to out of control stress manifesting physically.
Non-physical signs of stress are well documented. They’re a clear sign that something isn’t right and you need to address stress in your life directly – and quickly. More than likely, it will be other people in your life who notice these changes in you before you do.
7 Mental and Emotional Signs of Stress
- Poor concentration or memory
- Slower cognitive function that impacts decision-making and logical thinking
- Racing thoughts, restlessness, or constant worry
- Feeling overwhelmed or helpless
- Loss of interest in activities you once found pleasurable
- Mood swings that include sadness, frustration, or irritability
- Withdrawal from friends, family, or co-workers
Ignoring stress is a recipe for disaster. Left unchecked, these feelings can increase your risk of substance abuse, high-risk behavior, depression, and suicide.
Over time, mental and emotional stress will begin to show itself physically. It will gradually wear down your body in ways you might not recognize until your system is in distress.
In other words, learning how to control stress is literally life or death.
Chronic stress raises your risk of…
- Chronic fatigue
- Many forms of cancer
- Heart disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Auto-immune disease
- Sleep disorders
- Lung disease
- Neurodegenerative disease
- Digestive distress
- Chronic pain
- Mouth disease
- Eating disorders
- Bone and muscle loss
- Irregular menstruation
- Erectile dysfunction
- Weakened immune system
- Long-term disability
- Hormone dysfunction
- Mental illness
Learning how to control stress now is critical to your quality (and quantity) of life.
Researchers theorize that stress and the resulting inflammation are a root cause for every major disease and condition that plagues mankind.
In response to stress, your body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. You’re designed to handle spurts of acute stress that ease over a few hours or days.
It’s when this drags on and becomes chronic stress that your basic bodily functions are affected. That’s when those hormones are stuck in the “on” position and your system is flooded with them. It sends your immune system into overdrive and stimulates a chemical chain reaction.
Every cell inside you is at risk and women are more drastically affected than men.
Physical Manifestation of Emotional State
Researchers with the University of Pittsburgh identified the brain signals that determine how your body responds to stress.
It’s a powerful study that provides scientific data to prove the mind-body connection.
The team discovered that stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional states can actually alter your organ function. It provides a physical explanation for conditions that are considered psychosomatic (all in your head).
“One way of summarizing our results is that we may have uncovered the stress and depression connectome,” explained Peter L. Strick, Ph.D. and senior author.
By following the participants’ neural signals, the team found the physical thread of a stressful situation taking place to dealing with it to recalling it later.
Dr. Strick said, “Because we have a cortex, we have options. If someone insults you, you don’t have to punch them or flee. You might have a more nuanced response and ignore the insult or make a witty comeback. These options are part of what the cerebral cortex provides.”
Some areas of your brain are lit up when it senses pending conflict or remembers past conflict.
“This observation raises the possibility that activity in these cortical areas when you re-imagine an error, or beat yourself up over a mistake, or think about a traumatic event, results in descending signals that influence the adrenal medulla in just the same way as the actual event.”
This could be critical in determining future treatments for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). The way you think, the stress in your life, is now shown to follow a physical path inside your brain.
Future studies in this field will be fascinating.
Diet (Still) Matters
Even if you learn to use your mind to control stress, you cannot neglect your diet. Caring for your body from the inside out is crucial to long-term health and happiness.
Choosing the right foods to feed your body will also fuel your spirit. You’ll look better, feel better, and be better at the cellular level. Here are some of my favorite “food medicines” to lift your spirits and keep you balanced as you conquer your hectic daily life.
10 Mood-Lifting Foods to Control Stress
- Leafy greens
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, halibut, sardines)
- Probiotics (yogurt, kefir, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut)
- Seeds and nuts
- Coconut oil
- Marine algae and vegetables (spirulina, chlorella, brown algae, seaweed)
- Lemon water
Don’t forget sunshine! If you’re feeling stressed or depressed, spending a few minutes in sunshine (hands and face bare) gives your body a much-needed boost of vitamin D.
You’ll probably always have some stress in your life. It’s part of dealing with long commutes and power outages and sick kids and deadlines. It doesn’t have to be chronic and it doesn’t have to damage your mental, emotional, and physical health.
3 Tips to Managing Stress in a Pinch
- Aromatherapy: Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to the inside of your wrists and at your temples. If you have a diffuser, use it! Aromatherapy is a quick and effective way to settle your mind.
- Exercise: You don’t have to go to the gym or get all sweaty to get the positive endorphin rush from exercise. If you’re at work, take a walk around the building or walk the stairs.
- Breathe: Stop and take a long, slow breath. Hold it for ten seconds and exhale. Repeat for one minute. It’s amazing that something as essential (and powerful) as breathing is overlooked.
Refuse to allow out of control stress to rule your life. You’re in the driver’s seat so take the wheel and get out of the stress zone for good.
Richard P. Dum, David J. Levinthal, Peter L. Strick. Motor, cognitive, and affective areas of the cerebral cortex influence the adrenal medulla. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016; 201605044 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1605044113