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Stressed out? 4 simple ways to manage stress naturally

Stressed out? 4 simple ways to manage stress naturally

Article Summary 

Somewhere between 75 to 90 percent of all physician visits are conditions related to stress. When left unchecked, stress can wreak havoc on our health. Recognizing the causes of stress and implementing a few simple lifestyle changes can prevent problems in the long-term. Regular movement, focused breathing, a healthy diet, herbs, and aromatherapy are simple ways to manage stress naturally. 

 

 

Stress is one of the leading causes of imbalance today. Research indicates that somewhere between 75 to 90 percent of all physician visits are conditions related to stress [1]. Career, money, relationships, health, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and digital overload are but a few common culprits of stress. 


While our bodies can adapt to stress in the short-term, when sustained, stress can wreak havoc on whole-body health. Common health conditions related to stress may include; cognition and memory issues, insomnia, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, pain, sexual dysfunction, digestive disorders, immunodeficiency, and even delayed wound healing [2]. Yikes!


For most, chronic stress is a significant player in many health concerns, and taking measures to address stress levels can help the body reclaim balance naturally. 


The stress we face today is not going anywhere, which is why we must find natural strategies to manage stressors that fit in with our lifestyle. While we can't always control sources of stress in our lives, we can change how we react to them. Our bodies are designed to experience and handle stress, which is why we respond to it so strongly. Being able to recognize when stress is taking over and regaining control may help to prevent its effects on our health long-term. Instead of reaching for prescription medication when our anxiety levels skyrocket, we should be employing a few simple habits that we can practice daily to prevent stress before it takes hold. 

1. Exercise

Exercise is an effective stress relief because it triggers the release of 'feel-good' chemicals, otherwise known as endorphins, which act as natural painkillers and mood lifters. Studies claim that regular exercise may promote positive changes in mental health and our ability to cope with stressful encounters [3]. Regular movement helps to regulate various essential bodily processes, including circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycles), mood, and blood sugar levels [4].  Not only is exercise great for physical wellbeing, but active individuals are claimed to be healthier in general because they engage in other positive lifestyle habits. 

Like any new habit, you want it to be sustainable. If time is an issue, aim for three 15 minute movement sessions to break up your day. Consider doing a power workout before your shower in the morning, a walking meeting during the day, or a guided yoga sequence after work.


2. Focused Breathing

Not all of us have the physical ability to do yoga, nor do many of us have the focus required to clear our minds and sit still for long periods. A simple practice, focused breathing is excellent for those of us who need to reclaim balance without completely disconnecting ourselves from the responsibilities of our day. Believe it or not, taking a moment to catch a few focused breaths can significantly lower stress levels. 


Breathe in through the belly and slowly exhale through the mouth. Sound familiar? Research indicates that focused breathing may help to relax emotions and improve concentration [5]. 


Here are some quick relaxation techniques to get you through the day.

Source: Harvard Health Publishing [6].

When you've got one minute: Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in. Pause for a count of three. Breathe out. Pause for a count of three. Continue to breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each inhalation and exhalation.

Or alternatively, while sitting comfortably, take a few slow deep breaths and quietly repeat to yourself "I am" as you breathe in and "at peace" as you breathe out. Repeat slowly two or three times. Then feel your entire body relax into the support of your chair.

When you've got two minutes: Count down slowly from 10 to 0. With each number, take one complete breath, inhaling and exhaling. For example, breathe in deeply, saying "10" to yourself. Breathe out slowly. On your next breath, say "nine", and so on. If you feel lightheaded, count down more slowly to space your breaths further apart. When you reach zero, you should feel more relaxed. If not, go through the exercise again.

When you've got three minutes: While sitting, take a break from whatever you're doing and check your body for tension. Relax your facial muscles and allow your jaw to open slightly. Let your shoulders drop. Let your arms fall to your sides. Allow your hands to loosen so there are spaces between your fingers. Uncross your legs or ankles. Feel your thighs sink into your chair, letting your legs fall comfortably apart. Feel your shins and calves become heavier and your feet grow roots into the floor. Now breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly.


3. Nutritious Diet

Research continues to prove that diet plays a crucial role in emotional and physical wellbeing. However, our abilities to make healthy food choices can become compromised when under stress. Evidence shows that a balanced diet may help counter the negative effects of stress by strengthening the immune system, improving emotional response, and reducing blood pressure. According to research by UCLA, essential nutrients for stress reduction include omega 3, vitamin C, and magnesium. These nutrients may help to balance hormones, balance blood sugar, and promote sleep [7]. 

Here are a few foods that support stress: green leafy vegetables, oatmeal, avocado, nuts, seeds, salmon, and dark chocolate. 

For recipe ideas, head to our blog: Three simple recipes for reducing stress

4. Soothing Herbs and Essential Oils

Making healthful food choices and using the right herbs can help individuals cope with the taxing effects of stress and restore health and wellbeing.


'Adaptogen' is the term used to describe herbs that help the body adapt to stress. Adaptogenic herbs are claimed to balance, restore, and protect the body, making it easier for our bodies to handle stress by regulating hormones and physiological functions. Herbs like ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), and Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) are readily available at most health food stores in the form of a tincture or powdered herb [8].  

'Nervine' is a term used to describe soothing herbs that act directly on an overactive nervous system to soothe feelings of nervousness and anxiety. Comforting herbs like chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) typically prepared as a tea, are often recommended for everyday stress complaints like jitters, restlessness, and poor sleep. For best results, take these herbs in the evening or at the first sign of stress [8].

 

We often associate essential oils with the inhalation of soothing aromas that lessen nerves and promote relaxation. Yet when used on the skin, their actions on stress can be profound. Essential oils like lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), sandalwood (Santalum album), and clary sage (Salvia sclarea) are proven to support inflammation, immune function, hormone balance, sleep, and even digestion. For immediate stress relief, I recommend a brief massage of the neck and temples with a soothing blend, like that found in our Essential Rub. The act of self-massage with soothing essential oils helps to distract the mind from present stressors while releasing healing compounds into the bloodstream that soothe and allay feelings of distress. 

 

References

  1. Ashworth, M. (2019). How Does Stress Affect Us?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 17, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/how-does-stress-affect-us/
  2. Mariotti A. (2015). The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future science OA, 1(3), FSO23. https://doi.org/10.4155/fso.15.21
  3. Salmon P. Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: a unifying theory. Clin Psychol Rev. 2001;21(1):33–61.
  4. Levy J. (2017) Always Stressed? Here Are 8 Natural Stress Relievers to Try Now. www.draxe.com
  5. Arch J.J., Craske M.G. Mechanisms of mindfulness: Emotion regulation following a focused breathing induction. Behaviour Research and Therapy. 2006;44(12):1849–1858.
  6. Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Mini-relaxation exercises: A quick fix in stressful moments. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/mini-relaxation-exercises-a-quick-fix-in-stressful-moments
  7. Wongvibulsin S. (2014) Eat Right, Drink Well, Stress Less: Stress-Reducing Foods, Herbal Supplements, and Teas. Explore IM. https://exploreim.ucla.edu/nutrition/eat-right-drink-well-stress-less-stress-reducing-foods-herbal-supplements-and-teas/
  8. Groves M. (2016) Body into balance: An herbal guide to holistic self-care. Storey Publishing.
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