During this uncertain and challenging time, it is natural and appropriate to experience greater stress and anxiety. However, when stress becomes overwhelming and ongoing, it is important to take steps to calm the body and mind, so that it does not wreak havoc on your health. Chronic stress can have a profound impact on the body. In fact, 95% of all illness is caused or worsened by stress. Chronic stress can damage your immune response, disrupt sleep, increase your risk of insulin resistance, stroke, heart attack and heart disease, impact hormone balance, hinder memory and concentration, contribute to weight gain and digestive disorders, increase pain, hurt skin, hair, and teeth, enhance the aging process, cause inflammation, and is linked to chronic disease.
Long-term stress and anxiety can lead to adrenal fatigue, where your adrenals work incredibly hard to keep up with the brain’s signals to produce stress hormones. Ultimately, this can lead to adrenal dysfunction and burnout. Learning how to reset your stress response is a critical component of health and wellness. Stress management techniques and healthy habits can quickly shift you from an activated fight-or-flight response, to a restorative state.
Six Effective Stress-Busting Tips
1. Focus on eating well – During stressful times, it can be tempting to overindulge in sugary and salty processed foods. While these foods can seem to provide a sense of brief comfort, they are designed to be addictive, are not very filling, and lack nutritional value. And, these foods can often increase anxiety, moodiness, fatigue, inflammation and weight gain. Eating regular meals that consist of nutrient-dense foods provides important vitamins, minerals, amino acids, electrolytes and antioxidants to support health and healing. Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, free-range eggs, organic chicken, whole grains, nuts, seeds, etc., are nutritious and provide the body with important nutrients to help you fight stress. Examples of stress fighting foods include:
• Foods high in B vitamins – grass-fed dairy, cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, organic poultry, nutritional yeast, green leafy vegetables.
• Mineral rich foods – cruciferous vegetables (broccoli), avocados, nuts, seeds, beans, dark leafy greens, whole grains, mushrooms, organic dairy.
• High protein foods– grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, organic yogurt, beans, free-range eggs, nuts, seeds.
• Healthy fats / omega-3 essential fatty acids – wild-caught fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil.
2. Schedule daily “relaxation time” and “worry time” – Relaxation can counteract the harmful effects of chronic stress by slowing breathing rate, relaxing muscles, and reducing blood pressure. Activities such as meditation, deep breathing, listening or playing music, creating art, receiving a massage, soaking in a bath with Epson salts and lavender, taking a nap, enjoying a cup of tea, or reading a book, can activate your body’s relaxation response. Make relaxation a healthy habit by setting aside 15-30 minutes each day and unwinding with a peaceful activity.
Another helpful way to manage stress and anxiety is to set aside daily “worry time.” Giving yourself 15-30 minutes each day to allow your concerns and fears to surface can help you have a safe place to acknowledge your fears and help you create specific action plans to address them. In addition, knowing that you have this dedicated time each day can help add focus to the rest of your day. Studies show that individuals who dedicate time to their worries have reduced anxiety levels and improved sleep.
3. Get moving – Exercise (aerobics, running, yoga, tai chi, Pilates, martial arts, hiking, biking, dancing, gardening, etc.) is one of the best stress relievers and can help with anxiety by releasing powerful endorphins in the brain. The benefits of exercise include regulating metabolic and psychological processes, reducing inflammation in the brain, supporting circadian rhythms, improving insulin sensitivity, enhancing mental processing, supporting sleep, and lowering one’s risk for depression. No matter what activity(s) you choose, movement is an essential component of stress relief and can help increase emotional resilience.
4. Prioritize sleep – Stress and sleep are closely linked. Restful sleep is an essential part of health and gives your body and brain important healing time. Getting between 7-9 hours of sleep each night can help to increase productivity and concentration, lower your risk of weight gain, lower your risk of heart disease, benefit mental health, enhance immune health, reduce inflammation, increase exercise performance, and reduce anxiety. Take necessary steps to support your sleep: set a regular schedule, optimize your sleep environment, avoid electronics near bedtime, reduce caffeine intake, enjoy a cup of herbal tea, practice deep breathing, supplement with melatonin, etc.
5. Get outside – Spending time in nature has been shown to help relieve stress and anxiety, improve mood, and boost feelings of happiness and well-being. Researchers have found that as little as 10 minutes in a natural space can have a variety of therapeutic benefits. In addition, sunlight has been shown to boost vitamin D production as well as increase blood levels of endorphins.
6. Supplement – Stress puts extra demands on the body and can deplete important micronutrients, such as B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, antioxidants and trace minerals. To make matters worse, many people have suboptimal levels of these nutrients to start with. Taking a high quality multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D3, and probiotics is highly recommended for ongoing daily support. In addition to these basics, I highly recommend the following supplements:
• Pathway Adrenal Support – This comprehensive formula contains key herbs such as rhodiola, ashwagandha and eleuthero, along with select vitamins and amino acids to support the body’s stress response. Take two capsules daily.
• Relaxation Support – This calming formula provides a blend of relaxing herbs including lemon balm, chamomile, skullcap, plus vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Take 2 capsules 1-2 times daily.
• Pathway Vitamin C – Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that promotes adrenal gland health. Ascorbic acid has been shown to help regulate cortisol levels and reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress. Take 1 tablet twice daily.
• Pathway Mellow Mag – Magnesium supports the adrenal glands, calms the nervous system, promotes hormone balance and relaxes your muscles. This highly absorbable, quick-acting magnesium effervescent drink provides the body with deep relaxation support. Available in both cherry and lemon flavor. Dissolve 1 scoop in water daily.
Photo from here, with thanks.