In today's society, there are so many sources of stress that it can be quite difficult to remain calm and relaxed. It seems like every day there is something new to learn, there are more responsibilities to tend to, or more pressure to look a certain way. As we constantly strive for perfection and efficiency, our mental health can become affected. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 40 million adults are affected by anxiety in the United States alone, and many of them don't have the coping mechanisms to overcome it . Stress management can significantly improve these symptoms, with certain activities that can help you relax and decompress from your everyday responsibilities.
How Does Stress Affect The Brain?
We tend to think of stress as a mental state with no physical manifestation when in reality it can significantly change our bodies and brain. In fact, our brains are constantly changing throughout our lives. Sometimes, this can be a good thing, like when we learn something new. In this scenario, our brain forms new circuits to develop our new skills or to consolidate memories.
In some cases, acute stress can be beneficial for our brains, since it creates neural circuits and determines behavior patterns that will be needed in the future . However, once stress becomes chronic, it can elicit macroscopic changes in certain areas of the brain. These changes are not beneficial and are similar to those found in patients with depression. They involve areas like the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, and the amygdala, leading to problems with memory, mood and anxiety .
The Effects Of Stress In Your Overall Health
Stress doesn't just affect the brain, it also affects your overall health and can impact your quality of life and lifespan. One of the most studied effects of stress is how it can compromise the cardiovascular system. During a stressful situation, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. This is the part of the nervous system responsible for fight-flight responses. This activation leads to the release of norepinephrine, a chemical substance that can act as a hormone or neurotransmitter, and has many effects on all of the body systems. In regards to the cardiovascular system, it increases your heart rate, blood pressure and your heart's contractility. In people who suffer from chronic stress, the sympathetic nervous system is constantly activated, which leads to an increased risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases .
There is also a direct link between stress and our immune system. Researchers have found that during stressful situations, our bodies release cytokines. These are chemical substances that are normally released during infection and elicit inflammatory responses. This low-grade inflammation caused by the release of cytokines has been linked to diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disorders, depression and anxiety .
Tips For Stress Management
Stress is not just a matter of feeling anxious, it also has damaging effects on your overall health and brain structure, and should be treated with the severity it entails. It is important to look for stress relievers that can help you in your everyday life. Some examples to follow include reducing your caffeine intake, which includes beverages like coffee, tea, some sodas and energy drinks. Caffeine stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, and although this can be beneficial when you are trying to temporarily improve your concentration and attention, it can be bad for people who suffer from chronic stress.
The best thing you can do to relieve stress is to exercise regularly. During exercise, our bodies release endorphins, which are chemicals that make us feel good and reduce stress and anxiety . Lately, it has become very popular to pair exercise with infrared saunas, which are a new trend in the wellness industry.
Infrared Therapy And Stress
Infrared saunas offer a lot of benefits to your overall health, and many of these benefits have to do with the release of chemicals during these sessions. For example, infrared saunas promote the release of endorphins, so they can boost the effect of exercise in reducing stress . They also promote the release of nitric oxide, which can help mitigate the effects of stress on the cardiovascular system by decreasing your blood pressure .
It is difficult to escape stress in today's world, but there are many ways to reduce its symptoms and the effects it has on our health. Infrared saunas offer a comfortable way to do this from home, and pairing it with regular exercise will give you fantastic results!
 Jim Stone. (2017). "5 Sources of Stress and Anxiety in the Modern World." Psychologytoday.com, Psychology Today, 30 March 2017 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/clear-organized-and-motivated/201703/5-sources-stress-and-anxiety-in-the-modern-world.
 Bruce McEwen. (2017). "Neurobiological and Systemic Effects of Chronic Stress." Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, National Center for Biotechnological Information, 28 August 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573220/.
 "Protect your brain from stress." Health.harvard.edu, Harvard Health Publishing, August 2018, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/protect-your-brain-from-stress.
 Habib Yaribeygi, Yunes Panahi, Hedayat Sahraei, Thomas Johnston, Amirhossein Sahebkar. (2017). "The impact of stress on body function: A review." Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, National Center for Biotechnological Information, 21 July 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/.
 Agnese Mariotti. (2015). "The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication." Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, National Center for Biotechnological Information, 1 November 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5137920/.
 Kerri-Ann Jennings. (2018). "16 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety." Healthline.com, Healthline, 28 August 2018, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/16-ways-relieve-stress-anxiety#TOC_TITLE_HDR_12.
 Kukkonen-Harjula K, Oja P, Laustiola K, Vuori I, Jolkkonen J, Siitonen S, Vapaatalo H. (1989). "Haemodynamic and hormonal responses to heat exposure in a Finnish sauna bath." Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, National Center for Biotechnological Information, 1989, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081.
 Shui Shanshan, Wang Xia, Chiang John, Zheng Lei. (2015). "Far-infrared therapy for cardiovascular, autoimmune, and other chronic problems: A systematic review." Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, National Center for Biotechnological Information, October 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4935255/.