By Dr. Josh Axe | DR.AXE.COM
Stress: We all deal with it, yet we know how much better off we’d be — both physically and mentally — if we could only get it under control and find stress relievers that really work. While stress can be a positive, motivating factor at times (such as when you’re under pressure to perform well at work or to ace an important exam), more and more research shows that chronic stress impacts the body in ways similar to a poor diet, lack of sleep or sedentary lifestyle.
Would you believe that 75 percent to 90 percent of all doctors office visits are related to conditions caused by stress? (1) How exactly does stress negatively affect our health in so many ways? It mostly boils down to changes in our hormones, which then cascade to an increase in inflammation and various other problems.
Related Article: 5 Fun Alternatives to Yoga and Meditation For Stress Relief
Uncontrolled stress experienced over a long period of time is considered “chronic,” dangerous and capable of increasing someone’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain or obesity, mental disorders, autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, and even cancer.
Let’s face it, the stress we face today isn’t going anywhere, which is exactly why it’s more important than ever to find natural ways to bust stress that work well for us. If you’re up against large amounts of stress in your life (and who isn’t?), studies show you can greatly benefit from carving out more time in your busy schedule for things like regular exercise, meditation, spending time outdoors and keeping up with fun hobbies.
We can’t always control sources of stress in our lives, but we change how we react to them. The good news is this: The human body is actually designed to experience and handle stress, which is exactly why our bodies react to it so strongly. With some practice, we have the power to learn to use certain elements of stress to our advantage (for example, the fact that stress keeps us more alert and attentive), while better controlling other negative reactions (like digestion problems or giving in to cravings for unhealthy foods).
Related Article: Julie Schiffman Discusses EFT for Stress Relief
So, what are the best stress relievers available to us, and how can we ensure we don’t allow stress to control our lives? If you adhere to the following eight practices, you’re sure to feel less pressure and better manage your stress on a daily basis.
8 Natural Stress Relievers to Try Now
1. Exercise and Yoga
One of the best stress relievers available to us is exercise, a natural remedy for anxietybecause it releases powerful endorphin chemicals in the brain, which act like the body’s built-in painkillers and mood-lifters.
Research suggests the negative effects of stress on the body seem to be exaggerated in people who are inactive, a phenomenon called”stress-induced/exercise deficient” phenotype. Because we react to stress by experiencing changes in our neuro-endocrine systems, regular exercise is protective because it regulates various metabolic and psychological processes in the body, including reinforcing our natural circadian rhythms, sleep/wake cycles, moods and blood sugar levels.
Exercises improves insulin sensitivity, can help someone become more aware of their hunger levels, improves confidence/self-esteem, and leads to better mental processing and a lower risk for depression. (2) Can’t sleep? Well, exercise can help with that too, which is very important considering quality sleep is needed to regulate hormones and help the body recover.
Yoga has been shown to have similar benefits, reinforcing the “mind-body connection,” improving how people (especially women) feel about their bodies, helping with sleep and controlling anxiety. A review of over 35 clinical trials that tested the effects of regular yoga on stress levels and health found that, overall, yoga offers significant improvements in various physical and psychological health markers for the majority of people. (3)
Looking for an even more impactful way to feel the benefits of exercise? Do so while listening to uplifting music. Research findings indicate that music listening positively impacts the psycho-biological stress system, helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, improves recovery time, and has benefits for hormonal balance and brain functioning overall. (4)
2. Meditation/Devotional Prayer
Meditation and healing prayer are both proven stress relievers that help people deal with worry, anxiety and finding peace of mind. Best of all, they can both be practiced conveniently anytime of day, in your own home and with no therapist, practitioner or program needed, making them a no-brainer.
Meditation and prayer have been used for literally thousands of years to improve well-being and connection to others, but today they’re actually backed up by science as well.
Natural stress relief meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction are types of simple mental techniques that are practiced for as little as 10–15 minutes once or twice a day in order to bring about more “mindfulness” and reduce stress or anxiety. (5, 6)
Various other forms of meditation have been shown to lower physiological responses to stress, improve mental alertness, and help people overcome various emotional and physical problems, such as: anxiety, depression, poor mental health that affects quality of life, attention problems, substance use, eating habits, sleep, pain and weight gain. (7)
Acupuncture has increasingly been used to treat many stress-related conditions, including psychiatric disorders, autoimmune or immunological-related diseases, infertility, anxiety, and depression. Researchers have found that acupunture treatments result in changes in the cardiovascular and immune systems, increasing protective T-cell proliferation and helping with cellular immuno-responses. (8)
Studies have shown that acupuncture is one of the best stress relievers for patients recovering from heart disease because it helps regulate the nervous system, therefore having positive effects on blood pressure levels, circulation, hormones and other factors. (9)
4. A Nutrient-Dense Diet
A steady supply of nutrients like essential vitamins, trace minerals, healthy fats, electrolytes, amino acids and antioxidants all help your brain handle stress better, therefore benefiting your entire body.
Some of the best foods for natural stress relief include:
- Foods high in B vitamins (which the body uses to convert nutrients to energy) — raw or cultured dairy products, cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, poultry, brewer’s yeast and green leafy vegetables.
- Foods high in calcium and magnesium — as relaxing minerals and electrolytes, calcium and magnesium are important for relaxing muscles, relieving headaches and helping you sleep. Try unsweetened organic yogurt, wild-caught salmon, beans/legumes, leafy green veggies, cruciferous veggies like broccoli, avocados and nuts.
- High protein foods — foods with protein provide amino acids that are needed for proper neurotransmitter functions.
- Healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids — cold-water, wild-caught fish like salmon or sardines can reduce inflammation and help stabilize moods, plus omega-3s are great for the brain, development and heart health. Other healthy fats that support brain health include nuts/seeds, avocado, olive oil and coconut oil.
On the other hand, foods to avoid in order to keep stress levels down include:
- Packaged or sugary foods — processed, refined foods or those with added sugar can give you blood sugar highs and lows throughout the day, increasing anxiety and causing cravings and fatigue.
- Too much alcohol or caffeine — both alcohol and caffeine can cause or worsen anxiety, make you dehydrated, interfere with sleep leaving you tired, and make you unable to cope with stress well.
- Refined vegetable oils — imbalances in polyunaturated fatty acids, meaning getting much more omega-6s than omega-3s from your diet, are tied to metabolic damage, inflammation and even poor gut health, which can affect mental processes.