Top Natural Stress Relievers
- Layer onto everyday life a global pandemic, national stay-at-home orders and the economy nosediving into a recession, and if you’ve never before experienced an anxiety attack, this may just push you over the edge.
- Now more than ever, learning how to keep your stress levels from kicking into overdrive is critically important.
- Work on implementing these stress-busting strategies and you’ll feel more in control, calmer, and happier. And your relationships and physical health will improve too.
by Dr. John Neustadt
Life is hectic enough without a pandemic. Between work, kids, financial obligations like mortgages, rent, paying for food and medicines, and saving for retirement, it’s enough to kick anyone’s adrenals into high gear. Now layer onto that a global pandemic, national stay-at-home orders, and the economy nose-diving into a recession, and if you had never before experienced an anxiety attack, this may just push you over the edge.
Now more than ever, learning how to keep your stress levels from kicking into overdrive is critically important. Not only does stress age our DNA and cripple our health on its own, it’s one of the most common catalysts for health-damaging behaviors. When we’re stressed out, we often sleepless, turn to fatty and sugary snacks for emotional support, and pass up exercise in favor of zoning out in front of the television or scrolling endlessly through social media.1,2
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Work on implementing these stress-busting strategies and you’ll feel more in control, calmer, and happier. And your relationships and physical health will improve too.
Create a Growth Mindset
You can’t roll back the clock and change the past, but you can change how stress will affect your health moving forward. While we can’t change what’s happening to us, we can change the way we interpret and react to it.
How you perceive stress can have an even greater impact on your health than the stress itself. Remember that stress has the power to both enhance and debilitate. It’s up to you to decide how you will let stress affect you.
Cultivating a stress-is-growth mindset allows you to tap into the positive effects that stress can bring including improved concentration, alertness, and energy as well as the mental strength of believing in your ability to handle the stress you’re under.
Start by looking at small stressors in your life as opportunities to grow and retrain your brain to tap into positive, rather than toxic, stress.3,4 Here are two simple ways you can react differently to stress that can turn its negative effects positive.
Instead of asking, “Why is this happening to me?”, ask “Why is this happening for me?”
When a stressful situation occurs, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”
Experiment with these questions. You’ll experience how they can quickly change your perspective and calm your nerves.
Being tired makes everyday life harder and less enjoyable. Not getting enough sleep amplifies small stressors and makes it harder to cope with everyday challenges.
Sleep deprivation increases the stress hormone cortisol and inflammation. Both create additional stress and make you age faster.5 Inflammation tends to be elevated in many diseases, including diabetes and autoimmune diseases. It’s also linked to poorer outcomes for people with cardiovascular disease, retinopathy, and neuropathy.6
When it comes to rest, aim for both quality and quantity. Make sure you’re getting plenty of quality sleep by going to bed at the same time each night and setting the overnight temperature in your home at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Put away your phone about an hour before bed and make sure the space is quiet. You can also get some extra help from a natural sleep aide like Sleep Relief.
Exercise releases endorphins, which are naturally stress-relieving neurotransmitters that produce a feeling of well-being.7 Exercise can also prevent the physical damages stress causes. One example is seen in telomeres, the protective DNA that caps chromosomes.
Telomeres naturally shorten as you age and studies show that the physiological effects of stress –– both perceived and actual physical stress––speed up this aging process and shorten telomeres prematurely. One study found that telomeres in women with the highest levels of perceived stress had aged at least an additional decade compared to women who did not feel they were under much stress.
Other studies show that sustained moderate levels of stress can have the same effect on DNA as perceived high-stress. Shortened telomeres have been linked to chronic disease and premature death, but exercise can help prevent them from shrinking.8,9 Research has associated exercise with longer telomeres, lower perceived stress and better health.10,11
Aim to get approximately two and a half hours of moderate aerobic activity (or about one hour and 15 minutes of intense aerobic activity) each week and work in eight to 12 reps of strength training twice a week.12
Get Into Nature
Sometimes the best thing to do is walk away. Leave your phone––and the potentially stress-inducing calls, emails, and text messages it delivers –– at home and find a slice of green space. Research shows that making a habit of spending even a small amount of time outside lowers stress biomarkers. One study found that people who spent 20 minutes of their day in a place that made them feel connected to nature experienced a more than 21% reduction in cortisol levels.13
Nourish Your Body
A nutritious diet is likely the single most important ingredient for good health. Just like your mindset, food can be both an ally and an enemy in stress management. Stress-eating foods that are loaded with sugar, fat, and empty calories can make you feel even more bogged down and can create chronic health problems down the road. In addition, the body requires more of certain nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin B, selenium, and magnesium when in the stress-induced fight or flight response, making a nutritious diet even more important when you’re combating stress overload.14
Aim for a healthy diet you can eat for your lifetime rather than following fads diet that will inevitably give way to old habits. Decades of research have shown the Mediterranean diet to be one of the healthiest ways to eat.15
This alkaline diet is high in fresh produce, nuts, olive oil, and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s been shown to reduce the risk for obesity, heart disease, dementia, erectile dysfunction, asthma, cancer, death from cancer, all-cause mortality, hypertension, diabetes.16,17 It’s also the foundation for a bone-building, osteoporosis diet shown to reduce fractures by nearly 25%.18
Stop Should-ing All Over the Place
Read books that help you grow and teach you how to implement positive change in your life. Success magazine recently came out with their list of suggested books that will help you focus on your personal growth. Their #1 recommendation was wife Romi’s book, You Can Have it All Just Not at the Same Damn Time.
In her book, Romi talks about the power of staying true to what you want and saying no to the rest. While her book is a love letter to all women to help them create the life they really want, its lessons are equally applicable to men. Her exercises and suggestions teach you how to get laser-focused on your priorities instead of someone else’s and how to stop shoulding all over the place and so you can start living a happier, more authentic life. And when you do that, you’ll naturally be decreasing your stress.
Deal with Reality
Letting problems fester doesn’t make them go away. Many times, it just makes them get worse. So deal with problems head. Doing so puts you in control and in the driver’s seat of your own life and future.
Letting problems build-up creates toxic stress. If you tend to avoid problems or the temporary discomfort that can come by dealing with them, it’s time to recognize that your habits are wreaking havoc on your health and it’s time to deal with reality head-on.
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1McEwen, B. Neurobiological and Systemic Effects of Chronic Stress. Chronic Stress. April 2017; (1). [Article]
2Haigis, M., Yankner, B. The Aging Stress Response. Molecular Cell. Oct. 2010; (40). [Article]
3Phillips, A. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, Perceived Stress. New York: Springer; 2013.
4Crum, A. De-stressing Stress: The Power of Mindsets and the Art of Stressing Mindfully. The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Mindfulness. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell; 2014.
5Irwin, M, Wang, M, Campomayer, C, et al. Sleep Deprivation and Activation of Morning Levels of Cellular and Genomic Markers of Inflammation. Arch Intern Med. Sept. 2006; 166(16):1756–1762. [Article]
6Mullington, J, Simpson, N, Meier-Ewert, H, et al. Sleep Loss and Inflammation. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. Oct. 2010; 24(5): 775–785. [Article]
7National Cancer Institute, Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Endorphin. [Web Page]
8Parks, C, Diane, M, McCanlies, E, et al. Telomere Length, Current Perceived Stress, and Urinary Stress Hormones in Women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Feb. 2009; 18(2): 551–560. [Article]
9Espel, E, Blackburn, E, Lin J, et al. Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. PNAS. Dec. 2004; 101(49): 17312–17315. [Article]
10Puterman, E, Weiss, J, Lin, J, et al. Aerobic Exercise Lengthens Telomeres and Reduces Stress in Family Caregivers: A Randomized Controlled Trial – Curt Richter Award Paper 2018. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Dec. 2018; 98: 245–252. [Article]
11Lin, X, Zhou, J, Dong, B. Effect of Different Levels of Exercise on Telomere Length: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Rehabil Med. Jul 2019; 51 (7): 473-478. [Article]
12U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. How Much Exercise Do I Need? Feb. 2020. [Web Page]
13Hunter, M, Gillespie, B, Yu-Pu Chen, S. Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers. Frontiers in Psychology. Apr. 2019. [Article]
14Singh, K. Nutrient and Stress Management. J Nutr Food Sci. Jun. 2016; 6(4): 528. [Article]
15Castro-Quezada, I, Roman-Viñas, B, Serra-Majem, L. The Mediterranean Diet and Nutritional Adequacy: A Review. Nutrients. Jan. 2014; 6(1): 231–248. [Article]
16Windmer, R, Flammer, A, Lerman, L, et al. The Mediterranean Diet, its Components, and Cardiovascular Disease. The American Journal of Medicine. Mar. 2015; 128(3): 229–238. [Article]
17Hueston, C, Cryan, J, Nolan, Y. Stress and adolescent hippocampal neurogenesis: diet and exercise as cognitive modulators. Transl Psychiatry. Apr. 2017; 7(4): 1081. [Article]
18Byberg L, Bellavia A, Larsson SC, Orsini N, Wolk A, Michaelsson K. Mediterranean Diet and Hip Fracture in Swedish Men and Women. J Bone Miner Res. 2016;31(12):2098-2105. [Article]
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