Everyone experiences stress at some point. Your body’s response to stress is helpful in many situations such as avoiding injury, keeping your energy high to meet a deadline, or waking up enough to take care of your baby in the middle of the night. However, when your stress lasts weeks or months, it becomes chronic and is extremely harmful to your body. Unfortunately, many people in our society continually live in high-stress conditions and have the health symptoms to prove it. If you live with chronic stress, the impact on your health can be minimized by recognizing your symptoms and taking steps to manage your stress and the way you respond to stressful events.
What are the signs and symptoms of stress?
This may seem easy to figure out, but there are actually many different types of problems that can be caused by stress. WebMD provides this list of common signs and symptoms of stress.
Emotional symptoms of stress include:
Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
Physical symptoms of stress include:
Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
Aches, pains, and tense muscles
Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
Frequent colds and infections
Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
Cognitive symptoms of stress include:
Forgetfulness and disorganization
Inability to focus
Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
Behavioral symptoms of stress include:
Changes in appetite -- either not eating or eating too much
Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as nail-biting, fidgeting, and pacing
What long-term impact does stress have on your health?
Chronic stress negatively influences your immune system, making it more difficult to fight off infection and leading to higher levels of inflammation. Once inflammation becomes chronic, it may cause inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and psoriasis. Chronic stress can also worsen existing health problems.
Over time, chronic stress can lead to diabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal problems, acne, psoriasis, eczema, permanent hair loss, menstrual problems, sexual dysfunction in men and women, mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and cardiovascular disease which includes high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
How can you manage stress?
The good news is that there are many ways to manage stress. The Mayo Clinic recommends getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco use, excess caffeine and alcohol, and illegal substances. Spending time with friends and family, keeping a sense of humor, setting aside time for hobbies, and practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, prayer and meditation, journaling, yoga, tai chi, massage, and enjoying time in nature are excellent strategies for alleviating stress.
Time in Nature
Interestingly, the scientific community has recently begun researching the health effects of spending more time in nature and are finding that the benefits are even greater than previously believed. Forest Bathing and Earthing are two techniques getting more publicity these days, with good reason.
Earthing, sometimes referred to as grounding, is the practice of maintaining direct physical contact with the electrons on the Earth’s surface. It may include walking barefoot outside, sitting or lying directly on the ground, or “sitting, working, or sleeping indoors connected to conductive systems that transfer the Earth's electrons from the ground into the body” (1).
The idea behind earthing is that the human body runs on electrical current. Your heartbeat, brain, and neurotransmitters rely on electrical signals to function, and every cell in your body has an electric charge and conducts an electric current. Skin acts like a conductor, bringing free electrons from the earth’s surface into your body. This can help stabilize your internal bioelectrical environment which is important in the healthy functioning of its systems.
A group of scientists and doctors complied information from scientific research about Earthing and published a paper on their findings in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health. The results are astonishing and G. Chevalier, et al. concluded that “The research done to date supports the concept that grounding or earthing the human body may be an essential element in the health equation along with sunshine, clean air and water, nutritious food, and physical activity.” Here are just a few of the scientifically documented benefits of Earthing reported by G. Chevalier, et al. (1).
A blind pilot study included 60 adults with sleep disturbances and chronic joint and muscle pain. They slept on conductive mattress pads for one month, half of which were connected to an Earth ground and half which had a sham ground. Of the half who slept on the grounded pad, 74% reported improvement in pain, 82% had improved muscles stiffness and pain, 85% fell asleep more quickly than normal, 93% gained better quality sleep, and an astonishing 100% woke feeling rested. This is in contrast to the half that were not grounded, who reported zero increase in pain and stiffness and only 13% reported improvement in the other areas.
Earthing accelerated the immune response after vaccination.
Delayed-onset muscle soreness results from acute inflammation of overtaxed muscles following intense physical activity. Although there is no treatment to reduce the recovery period, massage, hydrotherapy , and acupuncture can reduce the pain. However, a study found that individuals who remained grounded for 72 hours after the exercise had a muted white blood cell response, indicating less inflammation, and a far lower perception of pain.
Another study on the effect of grounding showed that being grounded during one night of sleep changed the concentrations of certain minerals and electrolytes in blood serum. These changes indicated that Earthing for a single night reduces primary indicators of osteoporosis.
Blood viscosity is reduced by Earthing. Reduced blood viscosity supports reduction of inflammation and improved delivery of oxygen to tissues.
Earthing calms the autonomic nervous system which regulates heart rate, respiration rate, and digestion. It has also been found to “improve blood pressure, cardiovascular arrhythmias, and autoimmune conditions such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis (1).”
Dr. Stephen Sinatra of The Earthing Institute presented evidence that earthing is a key component in preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses. This is due to the fact that the electrons that you absorb from the earth reduce electrical imbalances and oxidative free radicals which are involved in chronic inflammation and many diseases. Earthing helps control blood glucose levels and many people with diabetes are able to reduce or withdraw insulin after grounding regularly.
Forest bathing can bring all kinds of images to mind, but the name is simply the literal translation of a Japanese term, shinrin-yoku. It means bathing in the atmosphere of the forest, taking it in through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Forest bathing is a chance to relax and leave behind devices, technology, and the stress of our modern lives. In fact, you do not even need a forest. Anywhere you can immerse yourself in nature will provide some measure of the benefits. The key is to be fully present in the moment and pay attention to the information your senses provide. Discover what you love most, the scent of a certain type of tree, the shadows of light filtering through the trees, or the sound of aspen leaves rustling in the wind or ocean waves. Once you know what is calming to your mind, make it a habit to go there and take the time to relax.
Scientific studies show that forest bathing has positive effects on physical health and mental wellbeing. A group of doctors and scientists in Japan conducted a study on the effects of forest bathing. In the study, 155 people participated in day-long forest bathing sessions. Their blood pressure, pulse rate, and nervous system functions were measured before and after each forest bathing session, in addition to completing a brief form profiling the state of their mood.
After forest bathing sessions, all participants had significantly lower blood pressure. Mood scores also improved, with all participants reporting less anger, hostility, depression, confusion, tension, anxiety, and fatigue. Positive mood changes were more significant in participants with depressive tendencies (2). Other studies have been conducted and produced similar results.
Your life may be incredibly busy, but if you incorporate time in nature into your daily routine, you will reap the benefits in your health. Scientific evidence proves the numerous benefits you gain from forest bathing and earthing. Anyone who has walked in the woods or along the beach knows the peace and joy they can bring when you allow yourself to be present in the moment. Find a peaceful bit of nature and go there. Better yet, while there, walk barefoot if you can. Not only will you reap the mental and physical benefits, but you will also reduce your stress and its harmful effects.
Melynda has been practicing Family and Pediatric Medicine since 1995 as a Certified Family and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. She is a compassionate healthcare provider who believes in caring for each patient in a unique, holistic and individualized manner. She specializes in Preventative and Integrative healthcare for the entire family and believes that educating her patients to prevent disease and promote health is of the utmost importance. She previously practiced in San Diego, California, and has enjoyed serving patients in her local community of Temecula since 2000.
1. Chevalier, G., Sinatra, S. T., Oschman, J. L., Sokal, K., & Sokal, P. (2012). Earthing: health implications of reconnecting the human body to the Earth's surface electrons. Journal of environmental and public health, 2012, 291541. doi:10.1155/2012/291541
2. Furuyashiki, Akemi, Keiji Tabuchi, Kensuke Norikoshi, Toshio Kobayashi, and Sanae Oriyama. (2019) "A comparative study of the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku) on working age people with and without depressive tendencies." Environmental health and preventive medicine. 22 June 2019. doi: 10.1186/s12199-019-0800-1