(CNN)People have been living in a storm of stress during the ongoing pandemic and political turmoil, which has had a negative impact on our well-being.
A little bit of stress is good, and essential for survival, but severe or prolonged stress can increase the risk for stress-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer's disease, cancer and others.
Chronic stress is thought to contribute to excess inflammation throughout the body that plays a critical role in the onset and progression of stress-related disease, along with elevated levels of the hormone cortisol.
"Some concerns with consistently high levels of cortisol include elevated blood glucose levels, weight gain, increased appetite, GI issues, hypertension, and suppression of the immune system," explained Felicia Porrazza, a Philadelphia-based registered dietitian who helps stressed-out clients find natural ways to improve their overall wellness.
Dr. Caroline Messer, a New York City-based endocrinologist, always talks to her patients about managing stress. "It's unbelievably important for their sense of wellbeing," she said.
"Often when patients come in with hair loss, fatigue and insomnia, they assume there's a direct hormonal underpinning, but these symptoms can actually be stress-mediated with a secondary increase in cortisol levels," Messer said.
Here's how to start making healthy changes to reduce your stress levels.
Meditation practice leads to decreased physiological markers of stress in a range of populations, according to a 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis of 45 studies. Specifically, meditation can help to lower cortisol levels, blood pressure and heart rate.
A consistent meditation practice also helps us better respond to stressful situations, according to Ellie Burrows Gluck, a Vedic meditation teacher and the co-founder and CEO of MNDFL, a meditation studio in New York City that also offers live-streamed, at-home practices with meditation experts at MNDFL TV.
To meditate, simply bring your full attention to your breath, inhaling and exhaling through the nose. When your mind starts to wander, come back to your breath without judgment.
If you would like some support for your meditation practice, a guided meditation app can help you get started. Martha McKittrick, a New York City-based registered dietitian who provides nutrition counselin