Stress relief explained simply

Prof. Dr. Verena Briner, FRCP
Prof. Dr. Verena Briner, FRCP
Healthy Lifestyle
Stress makes you sick, burdens your body and mind and is difficult to control. The survival instinct of the human being becomes his greatest enemy. But stress relief is possible and not so difficult - if you know how.

For a long time mankind was dependent on surviving in the wilderness. To achieve this, humans have developed amazing abilities to increase the chances of survival in dangerous situations: stress. The blood supply is increased, hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol are released and literally all senses are sharpened. Positive stress is a phase of peak performance. The body mobilizes amazing forces and can even go beyond its limits to survive in danger.

Today, fortunately, only very few people are ever in such a situation. But the body still reacts to feelings of threat and anxiety in the same way. The dangers of modern man are completely different though. Ironically, stress itself has become a threat over time. Today it is considered one of the most important health risk factors for people in the western world.

But first back to the beginning.


What happens in the body during stress

In order to understand the process of stress relief, one must first learn, what happens in the body when one is stressed. The nervous system reacts automatically to a situation that is perceived as dangerous or oppressive. The body is put on alert: pulse and breathing become faster, body temperature rises and the sweat glands are stimulated. The body now works under maximum oxygen supply and is "stretched to the tips of the hair". With the help of the released cortisol, the body is now able to release more energy and feel less pain at the same time. Once the danger is averted and the situation is over, adrenaline and cortisol are broken down again and the body's reactions are reduced to a normal level. Relaxation or exhaustion are the result.

Unless the process takes on a life of its own. When continuous alarm prevails and moments of high tension and anxiety are no longer followed by relief, then the stress begins to eat away at the substance. And then it is no longer positive. The body can no longer break down the stress hormones and is increasingly overtaxing itself. The blood overacidifies, long lasting can be weakened among other things also the thyroid gland and the sex organs. The consequences can be dramatic.

Reasons for stress in everyday life

The causes of acute stress and psychological strain are as diverse as the people themselves. But there are some patterns. The focus is often on the job and the difficulty of reconciling private life and career - the so-called work-life balance. If the double burden of an own family is added, the performance and deadline pressure increases. In addition, there are also conflicts, whether private or professional, as well as constant availability and media attention.

And last but not least, feeling stressed is sometimes also the result of unhealthy nutrition, too little exercise and an ever higher, often unfulfillable demand on oneself. In general, many people who suffer from acute stress have a discrepancy between will and ability. It is not always easy to accept and endure this discrepancy.


smiling woman in a field


Typical symptoms

Often the consequence of this psychological strain is a physical or mental reaction.

High susceptibility to disease, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular complaints, muscle cramps and tension are just the most common physical symptoms. From a physiological point of view, they can arise directly from the enduring extreme state of the organism. In addition, there are the natural stress symptoms, such as a high pulse and a large amount of adrenaline.

However, the psychological and psychosomatic consequences of stressful times are almost more symptomatic. Many suffer from sleep disorders and a feeling of dissatisfaction. They increasingly feel overtaxed and have less and less time for themselves, apparently without being able to change the situation. This leads to an inner restlessness, a constant feeling of pressure and sometimes to aggressive behaviour.

In extreme cases, this can ultimately lead to serious illness. The so-called burnout has almost become a widespread disease and is usually directly related to too much psychological stress at work. Depression is also increasingly diagnosed. They can extremely restrict the lives of those affected.

It is therefore all the more important to deal intensively with stress relievers.

Methods for coping with stress

Some people may think that stress relief is very easy: Simply relax a little while, avoid annoying tasks and set yourself new, positive goals. Right?

Unfortunately not quite. Because once the level is too high, stress relief must be tackled consciously and in a controlled manner. The first and most important step is therefore the insight that stress has become a problem. Creating awareness for the topic, questioning one's working and living habits and talking about it with friends, family and confidants is the first step towards improvement. Stress must be recognised and communicated as such so that it can be reduced and ultimately avoided.

Only then can a healthy, positive work-life balance be restored. This means saying no and consciously opting for personal moments and against professional or other tasks. This is not about ignoring obligations, but about deciding for oneself and not for someone else in case of doubt.


Our Programmes for Stress relief

Active recreation

An important tool for coping with chronic stress is to consciously create moments of relaxation. 
Sport is a very effective tool against stress. Although at first it can be counterintuitive to take extra time for sport, exercise is a rest for body and mind and brings you to other thoughts. In addition, the body releases numerous happiness hormones when you start to move and thus actively relieves stress.

Yoga, meditation or Pilates are also very effective means of reducing stress. For these exercises a good body feeling and sufficient rest is necessary. Both can help you relax, concentrate on yourself and forget or at least reduce the stressful issues.

The numerous relaxation exercises go in a similar direction. Very popular at the moment are for example mindfulness trainings and breathing exercises, which aim at concentrating on the pure perception of one's own body, one's feelings and one's environment without any evaluation.

Passive recovery

Besides these possibilities to actively take care of one's own relaxation, there are of course also topics that run more in the background and can still be very effective.

One way to reduce stress is to consciously bring about changes, for example in the working environment. External stress factors such as noise sources, temperature, environment and sometimes even the work content can be optimised during the discussion. Also the conscious argument with break times, To-do lists and generally with the time management can be very helpful.

The importance of everyday factors, especially nutrition, is often underestimated. A balanced, healthy diet is not only important for those who want to lose weight. Reducing sugar and unhealthy fats, eating vegetables and fruit in sufficient quantities and eating regular meals directly increases physical health. And a healthy body also directly helps with the stress management.

Regular and adequate sleep is also important. Everyone has a different need for sleep, but attention should be paid to this. Some short sleepers get along well with only six hours regularly, others need up to nine hours. But training is of no use: If they need eight hours to be fit, they should also sleep eight hours - body and mind will thank you for it.

Although it should go without saying: Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and the like are of course not a suitable remedy for stress - on the contrary. The body is heavily burdened by toxins. Substances that are supposed to promote performance and mood should therefore be avoided at all costs.

Holidays for stress management

A last, important element is the holiday. Stress relief is not a thing for a weekend and it usually takes a while before a change in lifestyle actually takes effect. However, this change is necessary for a lasting success of stress reduction.

A longer holiday can be a good start. And it is worthwhile to consciously plan stress-relieving activities. Whether it is a hike in nature, a wellness cure or a beach holiday: it is important that you find your way around and actually use your holiday to cope with stressful situations. If you simply stay at home for a week and perhaps even check your professional e-mails from time to time, you should not be surprised if the desired relaxation does not occur.

In the Waldhotel, for example, we offer the Mindfulness Pro program for this purpose. Its aim is to explore your resting potential with professional and experienced help and to find a lost balance again. During this time body and mind can recharge their batteries and relieve stress. You will also learn how to live a more relaxed and stress-free life in your everyday life.

And then you can put your foot down again - but this time consciously and with full tanks.