Natural Solutions for Stress
Anxiety and stress pervade our lives, and we often view our stress as a badge of honor and pride. But the effects of worry can be long term, as stress is related to disease, weakening of the immune system, causing high blood pressure or heart disease, and leading to unhealthy actions like overeating, smoking and alcohol overuse.
There is an upside though—stress can be a good thing. We are biologically primed for stress and it can keep us balanced. The feeling of stress brings our attention to possible sources of threat and danger, but additionally, higher anxiety rates have been linked to better job performance and achievement. So don’t stress out about being stressed—it keeps us reaching for new goals and success. The trick is to shift perspectives and find ways to support ourselves in healthy ways when we begin to feel overwhelmed.
Meditation is both simple yet hard. It feels difficult to make time to sit quietly and do nothing for a few minutes each day, but it is the best way to give ourselves room to breathe. Practicing mindfulness makes us more aware of the thoughts that can spin out of control and can lead to a feeling of distance from the crazed mental hamster- wheel running that is so much a part of stress and worry. Try the app Insight Timer for meditation guidance for all levels and types.
Ask if the situation will matter in a years’ time. While everything feels really important all the time, there is actually very little that is truly life altering. Practice rating everything with an “ABCF” scale. An “A” is life changing. A “B” will still be remembered in a year. A “C” is something to keep an eye on but probably won’t matter in a year, and an “F” is everything else. Is it really worth getting upset over a situation that will have no real impact?
Clean the living space, or throw something away. This act exercises control over our environment and is soothing for many.
Exercise, preferably outside, counteracts the physical reactions of worry with movement. During exercise, the brain releases endorphins, the body’s pain killer, and being outside actually lowers stress hormones.
Spending just a few minutes writing in a journal helps us to process difficult emotions and situations.
Hugging a person or a pet releases oxytocin, a feel good brain chemical. Also try getting a massage.
Habits to Avoid
Keep internet use to a minimum. Try to put down the phone for an entire day, or check in at specific, pre-planned times with time limits. Try to notice how and when the phone gets used. Pause and ask if the time could be spent in a better, more pleasurable way.
Caffeine adds to the jitters. Some people are genetically unable to process caffeine very well and no matter how well someone metabolizes caffeine, it is not going to help with relaxation.
Herbs and Supplements
CBD oil, the non-psychogenic part of the marijuana plant, is getting a lot of attention, although there is not a lot of research due to FDA/DEA restrictions. There is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that CBD oil is useful for supporting healthy stress system response and promoting good sleep.
Valerian and Lemon Balm, found in tablet or tea, are two herbs commonly recommended for anxiety. Lavender essential oil can be extraordinarily calming and is safe to apply directly to the skin.
In one study, people who took 2.5 mg a day of omega-3 fish oil for 12 weeks had less anxiety before an exam than those that took a placebo.
There is an increasing amount of research on supporting our mood with particular strains of good bacteria, named psychobiotics. Finding a specific mood probiotic is great, but a general high quality probiotic will be helpful too.
Eat Real Food
If worry starts in the brain, then it makes sense to have the brain working optimally. For many reasons, the brain needs the high quality nutrients that come from real food. Short circuit that craving for chocolate cake and reach for fruit and healthy fats in nuts/nut butters, avocado and olives/olive oil. Shift the idea of comfort food to smoked salmon or apple with almond butter.
A good response to stress is unique to every individual and every situation. If we approach our worry with an arsenal of tools we can change our stress from a negative into a positive. Transform that worry into an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, and use it as fire to go after that dream.
Alexia Taylor Eichman is a health and wellness coach, trained in functional medicine health at ONU. She supports clients to maximize their mind-body connection and discover their personal plan for wellness. For more information, visit ONUWell.com.
Medical disclaimer: Worry and anxiety can worsen into a mood disorder. Natural aids may not be enough to manage an anxiety disorder. It is most important to find a therapy that is successful for the individual, and drug therapy or working with a psychiatrist should not be stigmatized. It is the hope of the author that everyone finds their way to a healthy body and mind.