Stress Relief Guide

Managing Stress, Anxiety & Headaches

The healthy way that our bodies deal with stress involves an immediate response to the trigger of stress, which is then turned off after the trigger is gone. The problem arises when stress triggers are always present, and the body does not turn off the response. This means that the body is constantly flooded with stress hormones such as cortisol. Chronically being in this state puts you at a greater risk for developing hypertension, heart disease and poor immune function.

What is stress anyway? Stress is the body’s natural response to changes and challenges. The body responds to stressful events with an innate “fight or flight” response which causes a rush of adrenaline that speeds up your heart rate and breathing, giving you a burst of energy.

Acute stressors only affect individuals in the short term, while chronic stressors affect individuals over a period of time.

The first stage of stress is termed the alarm stage. This is when the stressor is first detected and the body’s initial response is a state of alarm. During this stage the fight or flight reflex is activated and stress hormones are produced.

The effects of stress also vary with time, with alarm being the first stage. This is when the stressor is first detected and the body’s subsequent response is a state of alarm. It is during this stage that the fight or flight reflex is activated. Both cortisol and adrenaline are produced at this time.

If the stressor persists, the second stage of the response kicks in – the resistance stage. It is here that the body begins to adapt to the strains of the environment, though this state is not sustainable as the body’s resources are quickly used up.

The third and last stage is exhaustion, where all of the body’s resources are gone and normal bodily function ceases. If this stage is extended, long term damage may result to the body, and especially the immune system.

Chronic Stress Accelerates Aging

Your bodys' chromosomes have telomeres on their ends – the telomeres consist of junk DNA that simply gets worn down each time the chromosome replicates. These protective ends bare resemblance to the plastic tips on shoelaces. Without telomeres, chromosomes would get "frayed", causing disease and ultimately death.

The wearing down of the telomeres corresponds to aging. Protecting your telomeres allows you to extend your lifespan, thus slowing down aging. It's important to avoid behaviors and substances that wear down your telomeres, and engage in behaviors that protect them. For instance, stress has been scientifically proven to accelerate the rate of telomere shortening, causing us to age faster.

Common causes of stress

Most people experience stress and anxiety to some degree. Stress and anxiety are natural defense mechanisms, but they can get out of hand. Stress affects everybody from time to time, but chronic stress is bad for your health. Common causes of stress include:

  • Sensory input
  • Lack of control over one’s environment
  • Relationship conflict
  • Deception
  • Major life events
  • Life experiences such as poverty, unemployment, heavy drinking and lack of sleep
  • Workplace and academic stress

Symptoms of poor stress management

Poorly managed stress can show up in a number of ways. Some of the most common symptoms include the following:

Physical symptoms

Trouble sleeping • Muscle aches • Tension headaches • Fatigue • Gastrointestinal issues such as IBS • Cardiovascular problems • Ulcers

Behavioral symptoms

Anxiety • Loss of enthusiasm or energy • Irritability and depression • Procrastinating• Overeating or under eating• Smoking or drinking in excess• Withdrawing from friends, family and interests • Overloading your schedule to avoid facing problems• Lashing out at others• Spending hours in front of the TV or computer

Stress Management Techniques

Before you can learn how to deal with stress, you need to pinpoint the sources of stress in your life. You need to examine your thoughts, habits, and attitudes. Do you blame stress on a temporary issue or do you think of it as a permanent fixture in your home or work life? Do you blame stress on things outside your control or do you see it as an unavoidable part of your life.

You may want to keep a written record of the things that stress you out daily to identify patterns. Few things will be impossible to change. By getting rid of stressful things in your life, you will be able to lower your burden of stress. Alternately, you should try to change the way you deal with stressful situations, and try to put a positive spin on that which you can’t change.

Regardless of where your stress comes from, you must accept responsibility for the role you play in creating and maintaining stress over time. Only with practice will you be able to really control your stress level, thus controlling your overall health.

Physical exercises like deep breathing and yoga, as well as visiting spas and various forms of alternative medicine. Taking up a hobby, engaging in artistic expression, and spending quality time with family and pets is another set of methods to deal with stress.

The Essential Four

Focus on four practices that will do wonders for you. Health isn’t only about the lack of disease - it’s about feeling good each day. It’s true that these lifestyle choices help ward off illnesses, but they can also make you feel clear, alive, and full of energy.

Breathe: Taking a few deep breaths has an instant calming effect on our minds, and is a great stress management technique which can be used anywhere. This is because pranayama breathing increases the parasympathetic output from our nervous system, helping the mind to relax instantly.

Physical activity is great for stress management, it bumps up the production of feel good hormones, called endorphins. These endorphins are responsible for the feeling they call “runner’s high”. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise will make both your mind and body healthy.

Meditate: A few minutes of guided meditation is enough to calm you and restore some inner peace.  This creates mental tranquility which eliminates the stream of jumbled thoughts that often crowd your mind.

Sleep Well: Getting a good night’s sleep is essential, so you can be ready for the day ahead and give your brain the much needed break it wants.

Anxiety Attacks - How to stop anxiety attacks

Anxiety is what we feel when our body is responding to stress. People often experience a general state of worry or fear before confronting something challenging such as a test, examination, recital, or interview. These feelings are easily justified and considered normal. In most people anxiety will help them deal with the demanding situation they are in, but in some people anxiety can become overwhelming, interfering with sleep and daily activities and can be classified as an anxiety disorder.

What is an anxiety disorder?

Common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, phobias and panic disorders. In generalized anxiety disorder patients suffer from non specific anxiety with no particular source. Phobias are characterized by anxiety attacks triggered by an identifiable and specific cause (e.g, fear of heights).

Panic disorders on the other hand have a stronger physical manifestation, they are characterized by brief attacks of intense terror and apprehension which is often accompanied by profuse sweating, trembling, confusion, nausea, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, tachycardia and often spells of fainting.

How do I manage generalized anxiety?

The key to managing anxiety is to manage stress. Stress management should be an essential part of your daily routine. Everyday life places numerous demands on us as well as constant stimulation; all of which places a great deal of stress on our mind and body leading to great deal of anxiety.

What if I am having a Panic Attack?

During a panic attack our sympathetic nervous system goes in overdrive, leading to an outpour of stress hormones, most notably adrenaline which brings about the “Fight and Flight” response. This surge in hormones leads to the typical symptoms that one experiences, such as racing heart rate, palpitations, profuse sweating, shallow and fast breathing, dizziness, light headedness and tingling sensations.

The best thing you can do if you find yourself in the middle of a Panic Attack is to control your breathing by doing Pranayam. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, first by pushing out your abdomen, thus allowing your diaphragm to move down and your chest to expand. As you exhale through your nose, allow your diaphragm to relax, by gently pulling in your abdomen and emptying the base of your lungs, then allow the rest of your chest to deflate.

Pranayama relieves anxiety due to its physiological effect on the nervous system. Breathing deeply and slowly activates the hypothalamus, connected to the pituitary gland in the brain, to send out neurohormones that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body which reverses the symptoms one experiences during a panic attack.

How Can I Use Pranayama to Reduce Headaches?

There are over 150 different types of established headaches with tension headaches, migraines, cluster headaches and sinus headaches being the most common ones. Although a lot of factors are responsible but lack of oxygen, caused by poor breathing, is one of the hidden, yet most direct, causes of headaches and relief is just a few breaths away.

Poor breathing causes lack of oxygen in our blood stream and toxins begin to accumulate in our system. This combination leads to dilation of blood vessels in our brain which brings upon headache. Pranayama will fill your lungs with air and help maintain oxygen levels that the body needs to function optimally.

pranayama for headaches

We've put together a Pranayama course that you can use with our app and that will help you relax when you're in pain. Remember, it is best to do Pranayama when you are not in pain, rather than only doing it when your symptoms arise.

Go to our app's custom setting and set up the following patterns.  You can try either the beginner, intermediate, or advanced courses.

breathing patterns for headaches