According to the National Institute of Mental Health, we define stress as the brain’s response to a demand. While there are many reasons why the body triggers this response, it is often because of change, positive or negative. Severe problems can occur if stress goes on for too long and it can take a toll on your body mentally and physically.
That’s why relaxation is so incredibly important. Practicing meditation and yoga are two terrific ways to beat stress and stay relaxed. And even the simple acts of breathing deeply or getting a good night’s rest can bring you to a relaxed state that prevents stress.
To discuss the major health benefits of relaxation, I chatted with Dr. Jennifer Weinberg, MD, MPH, MBE. She is a preventive and lifestyle medicine physician, yoga instructor and the Founder of the Simple|Pure|WholeWellness Method. Dr. Weinberg promotes relaxation on a daily basis, and knows just how important it can be to your health.
Managing your stress levels and relaxing can help balance the nervous system and hormones. This in turn leads to a healthier mind and body.
Regular relaxation practices can benefit those who are overweight. “Chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol stimulate the appetite and also encourage more calories to be converted into fat in the body, “ explains Dr. Weinberg. “In a stressed out body, fat tends to become deposited preferentially around the abdomen, which is a metabolically unfavorable situation. Belly fat secretes and alters hormones like insulin, which contributes to a dangerous spiral to metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.”
Dr. Weinberg also explains that stress has been linked with heart disease, high blood pressure, poor diets and inactivity. Staying relaxed can help prevent many life-threatening diseases.
Relaxation can help you better concentrate and help with focus, memory and brain fog. “Studies show that chronic stress impairs the prefrontal cortex of the brain which is crucial for abstract thought, cognitive analysis and detecting appropriate responses,” adds Dr. Weinberg.
A study at Washington University conducted by David Holtzman found that stress boosts proteins in the brain that increase the risk of dementia. By relaxing, you can prevent these proteins from being released.
Managing your anxiety, especially during instances such as taking a test can help you reason during the examination. “When you're anxious, your brain responds to this stress by triggering a flood of hormones like cortisol and epinephrine,” explains Dr. Weinberg. “These chemicals are great when you need to run away from danger or fight off a foe, but they aren't supportive of intuitive, insightful thinking or problem solving.”
During times of stress, menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes are typically worse. “With chronic stress, the body produces more cortisol and other stress hormones which steal the major precursors of hormones including progesterone, estrogen and testosterone,” adds Dr. Weinberg. “This can lead to imbalances in the ratio of sex hormones, which is a major contributor to hot flashes. An effective stress management practice to promote regular relaxation and develop healthy coping mechanisms is especially important to women approaching or in menopause.”