As you probably know, chronic stress can have a multitude of adverse effects on your overall health. During the stress response, the brain and other tissues are bathed in stress hormones. One of them is cortisol. Unfortunately, unlike other stress hormones that subside after things have quieted down, cortisol remains in the body for hours. And in situations of chronic stress, cortisol levels remain high for even longer, often dangerously so. And the older we get, the longer cortisol remains elevated.
For this reason, reducing stress is one of the primary therapeutic lifestyle changes I recommend for optimal health and well-being. Many people attempt to manage stress by overeating, smoking, drinking, or spending money. In the short term, these behaviors may take the edge off stress, but in the long run, they actually increase it. Fortunately, there are better ways to manage stress.
Lifestyle Therapies for Managing Stress
When it comes to safe, effective, and natural ways to manage stress, I recommend starting with your lifestyle. This includes making sure you get plenty of sleep since we all do a better job of coping with stress and anxiety after a good night’s sleep. That said, I realize that worry and a racing mind can keep you awake. To improve sleep, turn off the TV and your computer at least an hour before bedtime, and take a warm shower or bath. Dimming the lights also helps by stimulating your body’s natural production of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. And drinking a cup of chamomile tea before bed can also help you drift off into a relaxing slumber. There are also a number of effective supplements you can try to lull you to sleep.
Next, evaluate your diet and exercise habits. Too much unhealthy food and too little exercise are an energy-draining, mood-plummeting combo, so you need to eat as healthy as possible and keep your level of physical activity up to par. Physical activity works tension out of your muscles, stimulates the creation of mood-boosting endorphins, and also helps you sleep better at night. You also need to be sure to take a potent multivitamin and mineral supplement daily. This will give you the vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal health, vitality, and energy.
Finally, make a point to take a little time each day for yourself by reserving an hour to read, watch a movie, or meditate.
Other Ways to Manage Stress and Anxiety
Although they’re an important place to start, lifestyle modifications can only do so much for reducing stress. Here are a few of my favorite therapies for safely and naturally managing stress and anxiety. They can help you relax, unwind, and feel better than you have in years.
- Get a massage. Though massage used to be thought of as an indulgent luxury, it is now recognized as a powerful therapeutic tool. In addition to decreasing anxiety and tension and alleviating stress naturally, massage eases pain, relieves aching joints and muscles, improves range of motion, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, facilitates recovery from injuries, and lowers blood pressure and heart rate.
- Try acupuncture. If you’ve never experienced acupuncture, the idea that needles could relieve, rather than cause, pain and anxiety may be hard to fathom. But the sterilized, disposable needles used in acupuncture are so thin that patients rarely feel anything more than a slight tingling sensation. After the needles are inserted, the lights are lowered, soft music is played, and you experience complete, healing relaxation. A course of acupuncture is a wonderful way to melt away stress and anxiety.
- Give reflexology a shot. Although reflexology is a remarkably soothing and relaxing experience, it is actually a therapeutic modality that provides tremendous benefits when used alone or in conjunction with other treatments.
Other safe, effective, and natural ways to manage stress include prayer, yoga, deep breathing, aromatherapy, and as crazy as it might sound, simply smiling. The act of smiling registers in the hypothalamus of your brain, where endorphins are produced, which is why you immediately feel better when you smile. So, the next time you’re feeling stressed, bring back a happy memory—and put a smile on your face.
All of these methods decrease stress and anxiety and, as a result, improve your overall health. Just find something that works for you and do it regularly.
Boost Your Resistance to Stress with Adaptogens
Adaptogens are compounds that help the body adapt to and regenerate after exposure to stress of any kind. Derived from plants that survive in harsh climates and growing conditions, adaptogens have been used in traditional medicine to boost physical, mental, and emotional reserves and to treat a wide range of symptoms.
There are different types of adaptogens. Here are just a few examples:
- Rhodiola rosea and ashwagandha (used in Ayurvedic medicine) are popular adaptogens that modulate the ill effects of stress.
- Panax ginseng, called the “king of herbs,” has a slight stimulatory effect and helps to improve concentration and thinking. In fact, story has it that Mao-Tse Tung and Deng Ziao Ping passed trays of choice Panax ginseng around at the beginning of meetings. It’s also used in many male formulas to support physical stamina.
- American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) has a calming effect on the central nervous system. Plus, it’s a mild anti-inflammatory and improves digestion.
- Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is one of the most studied adaptogens with more than 1,000 studies on it. Like American ginseng, it has a calming effect on the central nervous system and is a powerful weapon against stress.
Look for products with standardized levels of ginsenosides or eleutherosides, and take as directed. Ginseng is best taken in a cyclical fashion—after you’ve taken it daily for two or three weeks, take a two-week break before starting up again.
Other Supplements for Stress Relief
The following supplements have also been shown to safely and effectively manage stress.
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid produced naturally in your brain. In addition to functioning as a neurotransmitter and fostering communication between nerve cells, GABA controls anxiety by toning down “excitatory” stimuli in the brain. Plus, it boosts dopamine and serotonin levels, which helps create an overall sense of calm.
- L-theanine, an amino acid found almost exclusively in green tea, is widely known for its relaxing properties. It increases alpha brain waves, producing a state of calm alertness. L-theanine also boosts production of GABA.
Relora® is a combination of two botanical extracts (Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense) that have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat anxiety and stress. It has been shown to modulate the stress response and lower cortisol levels. In a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial, 56 people who had moderate levels of perceived psychological stress received either 250 mg of Relora or a placebo twice daily for four weeks. On the first and last day of the study, participants provided three saliva samples (morning, midday, and evening) and completed a Profile of Mood States (POMS) questionnaire. At the conclusion of the study, Relora had helped to lower cortisol levels by 18 percent compared to placebo. The POMS results also revealed that those participants who had supplemented with Relora experienced a higher global mood state (11 percent), lower amounts of fatigue (31 percent), and less confusion (27 percent).
Look for these supplements online or in your health food store and use as directed.
While you can’t always eliminate stressors from your life, you can alter your reaction to them. Using the stress management techniques above, your body will begin to develop healthy responses and you will be better able to cope with everyday stressors.