10 Natural Stressbusters
Your shoulders tighten, your heart races, your mind spins, your palms sweat, your stomach twists, and you have difficulty sleeping. Unfortunately, this is far too familiar for far too many. If left unchecked, some serious health problems can occur.
Studies show that prolonged or severe stress can weaken the immune system, strain the heart, damage memory cells in the brain, and deposit fat at the waist rather than the hips and buttocks, says Bruce S. McEwen, MD, director of the neuroendocrinology laboratory at the Rockefeller University in New York. Chronic stress has also been linked to type 2 diabetes, asthma, migraine headaches, increased rate of miscarriage, and digestive disorders.
According to Rachel Permuth-Levine, PhD, MSPH, Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Center for Employee Wellness and Health Promotion, chronic stress has been linked to overeating and obesity in numerous animal and human studies over the past two decades.
Additionally, researchers at UC San Francisco say they have found the first direct evidence that severe and chronic emotional stress can age people biologically. In a controlled experiment involving mothers caring for chronically ill children, a team from UCSF and other research centers found that mothers who perceived that they were under persistent psychological stress aged by the equivalent of a full decade.
Whether you are concerned about premature aging, weight gain, heart disease, or diabetes, one thing for sure--if stress goes untreated, it has the potential to seriously impact your health.
It is important to know is that there are many ways to reduce your stress levels without taking medication.
The Top 10 Natural Stress Busters
1. Get regular exercise. Physical activity, even in small increments, has been shown to increase the production of endorphins, which are the "feel-good" neurotransmitters in the brain. Exercise, when performed on a regular basis, has been shown to lower the symptoms associated with anxiety, stress and mild depression. If you do not have time to fit in a long workout, take a few minutes to go for a short, brisk walk. Even taking a few minutes from your day to stretch can help bust your stress.
2. Eat balanced, healthy meals. A spike or drop in blood sugar during the day can drastically change your mood and cause anxiety and stress. To avoid this, eat several small meals throughout the day rather than feasting on a couple of huge ones, and regulate your intake of simple carbohydrates, like sugar.
3. Eat your fruits and veggies. Grab a bowl of blueberries or an orange for a boost of vitamin C. "When you are stressed, your body releases more free radicals. Research has shown that vitamin C helps to prevent damage to your cells caused by free radicals...so increasing your vitamin C intake can help protect the body from the cumulative effects of stress," says Erin Palinski, registered dietician and member of the Nutritional Advisory Board for the College of Saint Elizabeth.
4. Improve your time management skills. As they say, "If you don't learn to manage your time, it will manage you?" Set your priorities and goals and then schedule tasks that will help you move toward achieving them. Say "no" to things that fall outside of your priorities. Saying 'no' can be one of the best natural stress busters.
5. Try meditation. Sit for a few minutes every morning before you start they day's activities and focus on your breathing. Close your eyes and slowly count the length of your inhale and the length of your exhale. This can set up a stress-free mood for the day. "Besides sleep, the best rest is the deep relaxation provided by meditation. When you meditate, your breathing slows, blood pressure decreases, and stress hormone levels fall," says David Simon, co-founder of the Chopra Center for WellBeing.
6. Do some yoga. Yoga has been shown to help enhance mood, reduce stress, and has shown potential in establishing improved immune function after stressful events. According to restorative yoga teacher, Dana Davis, "Restorative yoga enhances the 'relaxation response' by reducing the sympathetic nervous system's activation (fight or flight), and increases parasympathetic activity (relaxation and healing)." There are many different styles of yoga available. Check with your local yoga studio to see what class is best for you.
7. Visit an acupuncturist. Acupuncture can be a powerful tool to lower stress by inducing a relaxed, almost euphoric state. According to Craig Amrine, licensed acupuncturist in Tempe, Arizona, "Acupuncture has been clinically proven to regulate levels of neurotransmitters including b-endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine--all of which contribute to the mood and emotional well-being of the patient."
8. Undergo hypnosis. Hypnosis works for stress management because it helps you get into a deeply relaxed state, triggers your relaxation response, and teaches your body to relax with breathing and concentration. "Hypnosis can also help you achieve various lifestyle changes that can cause you to be less stressed--such as positive thinking, getting more organized, and exercising more," says Kym Tolson, certified hypnotherapist in Richmond, Virginia.
9. Connect with others. Studies have shown that a key difference between very happy people and less-happy people is good relationships. If you feel you don't currently have enough connections to support you, try enrolling in a fun class, join a hiking or running group, join a book club, or volunteer for a cause you care about.
10. Get enough sleep. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they lose sleep because of stress. Experts suggest that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. One thing that you can do to help yourself get adequate sleep is to set a regular bedtime. Your body craves this consistency, plus you're more likely to get enough sleep if you schedule sleep like you schedule your other priorities. Sleep is one of the best natural stress busters.
More Free Fixes
Schedule time for recreation. "People who make time for recreational activity are more likely to rebound from stressful situations and less likely to suffer from burnout," says Julian Varela, MA in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, San Luis Obispo, CA
Humor. Laughter breaks negativity instantly. Doctors call it "free medicine." When you laugh, you breathe more deeply to oxygenate your brain, you release stress hormones, and you break the worry loop with a shift in perception. Carry around a little notebook to jot down funny things, watch comedies, or call up a witty friend. Laughing is a great natural stress buster.
Express yourself honestly. "Many women are walking around stressed and irritable because they are suppressing their inner voice and silencing their true thoughts," says Debbie Mandel, MA, Fitness and Stress Management expert in New York. For a healthy cardiovascular system it is vital to express yourself honestly and naturally, she says. Speaking your truth enables you to release resentment and along with it the stress hormones that tend to deposit fat in the abdominal region.
Amrine, C. Stress Management with Acupuncture. Craig Amrine's Newsletter, vol. 3 April 2009.
Brown R.P., Gerbarg P.L. Sudarshan. Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: part I-neurophysiologic model. J Altern Complement Med 2005; Feb, 11(1):189-201.
Friedman, H. & Taub, H. (1977). The Use of Hypnosis and Biofeedback Procedures for Essential Hypertension. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 25, 335-347.
Goode, E. The Heavy Cost of Chronic Stress. The New York Times. Decmber 17, 2002.
NICHD, NIMH news release: "Stress System Malfunction Could Lead to Serious, Life Threatening Disease." http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/sep2002/nichd-09.htm
Perlman, D. Early Aging Tied to Chronic Stress. San Francisco Chronicle. November 30, 2004.
Craig Amrine, Licensed Acupuncturist, Tempe, AZ
Dana Davis, Restorative Yoga Teacher, Petaluma, CA
Debbie Mandel, MA, Fitness and Stress Management expert in New York and author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life
Erin Polanski, Registered Dietician and Certified Personal Trainer, northern NJ
Kym Tolson, Certified Hypnotherapist and Clinical Social Worker, Richmond, VA
Julian Varela, MA in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, San Luis Obispo, CA
Rachel Permuth-Levine, PhD, MSPH, Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Center for Employee Wellness and Health Promotion at NIH, Bethesda, Maryland
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