Too Much Stress? – Try Yoga for Natural Stress Relief

Stress and burnout are a daily reality for many people. Too much stress puts our  fight or flight response into overdrive, wearing down our mind and body, leading to depression, anxiety, or insomnia, or even physical disorders. Experts estimate that up to 80% of diseases can be linked to too much stress.

The body’s fight or flight  stress response served us well in prehistoric times. When we encountered life-threatening situations, our body kicked into overdrive, raising heartbeat and blood pressure, and overriding all other metabolic processes to mobilize the body’s energy to either face the danger straight on or head for the nearest hide-out.

However, in today’s fast-paced pressure-cooker world, the fight and flight response for the most part is not the best recourse for dealing with situations that expose us to too much stress. When your boss yells at you, neither hitting him with a club, nor running away is likely to be that helpful.

When we are under stress, the adrenals glands release the stress hormone cortisol (among other) to prepare the body for action. Cortisol helps increase blood sugar by converting proteins to energy and releasing glycogen, freeing up the body’s energy resources to deal more effectively with the “danger” at hand. 

However, when we are exposed to too much stress over long periods of time, as is the case for an estimated 85-90% of the population, the excessive release of cortisol takes its toll on the body. Over time, high levels of stress-induced cortisol eats away at our muscle tissue and bones, slows down healing and cell regeneration, and blocks other, vital biochemical processes from completion. Excessive cortisol also impairs digestion, metabolic function, mental functions, and weakens the endocrine system. Coritsol even attacks our immune systems.

In addition to the negative effects of cortisol, our adrenal glands grow tired from working so hard. Eventually, “adrenal fatigue” develops, resulting in a state of physical exhaustion during the day, and high anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure at night. This kind of adrenal burnout is is one of the key ways though which stress negatively impacts our bodies, paving the way for that 80% of maladies science traces back to stress and tension.

If you suffer from too much stress, what can you do? Effective stress managment is a challenge for most people, because we can only control our environments to an extent. Yes, you’d like to get rid of your boss, but short of quitting your job (which would be even more stressful), most people don’t have any other options.

In short, for the most part, we can’t control our environment. However, what we can control is how our body responds to the stress and pressure of daily living. If you are naturally more peaceful and calm inside, stress and burnout won’t affect you to the same degree.

This is one reason why yoga often acts as a natural stress relief technique. Yoga is therapy for stress and burnout because it shifts the nervous system from the fight or flight mode into the opposite response. During a relaxing yoga practice for stress, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in. This is the part of our nervous system responsible for relaxation and rejuvenation. The parasympathetic response is associated with decreasing cortisol levels;  lower blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rates. This is one of the ways in which yoga counteracts too much stress. People who practice yoga regularly also experience less of the depression, anxiety, and overall tension that often accompany too much stress.

Most importantly, yoga offers stress managment because it decreases the “perceived stress” in our environment. This means that while our environments will continue to expose us to the same level of stress and burnout, our body and mind won’t be perceiving it as too much stress and will be able to deal with the pressures and tension of normal existence in a more constructive way.

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