Stress. A natural human response, stress is essential for keeping us out of trouble, but it can also cause a lot of trouble, especially when it becomes chronic.
Stress is allegedly responsible for 75-90% of doctor visits, and while you may not even realize that you’re exhibiting signs of stress, in this day and age, chances are … you are. With the average work week stretching far beyond the “standard” 40 hours, and more and more ways to remain plugged in at all times (here’s lookin’ at you, Apple Watch) it’s no wonder that we often have trouble unwinding.
While it’s tempting to reach for a glass of wine or a pint of ice cream to temporarily alleviate stress, there are many more effective ways of doing so, all without the side serving of guilt. Below are some healthy and simple methods to dealing with whatever life throws at you.
It’s all in your head.
Calming the body begins with the mind. As yoga and fitness expert Rebecca Hajek explains, “The mind is like a muscle. We must learn to train it. Deep breathing and meditation help to trigger the parasympathetic system responsible for bodily activities that occur when the body is at rest.” Although meditation can seem intimidating at first, even controlling the mind for just 12 seconds is considered meditation at it’s simplest.
Here are 4 steps to getting you there and aware:
- To start, simply find a comfortable seat on a folded blanket, a block, or with your back against a wall.
- Bring your attention to the breath at the entrance of your nostrils. Observe the subtleties of the breath (ie: which nostril is more open, temperature change, depth, etc). Start to even out the inhalation and the exhalation.
- Mentally do a checklist throughout your body tensing and then relaxing different body parts starting at the feet and making your way upwards.
- Bring your attention to the breathe at the belly and mentally count the abdominal breath from 15 to 1 trying to keep the attention focused. If the mind wanders, begin back at 15.
Food is medicine.
- Magnesium – It’s estimated that 75% of Americans are magnesium deficient, a shortage that can cause all kinds of harmful side effects, including stress. But this essential mineral can be found in loads of foods, including dark leafy greens, pumpkin and other seeds, bananas, avocado, dark chocolate and more, making it easy to incorporate more magnesium into your diet.
- Omega 3’s – This complex fat has long been touted for it’s heart saving and antioxidant benefits, but it turns out that the amazing omega-3 can also boost mood and alleviate depression! Although wild salmon, sardines and other seafoods are often cited for their omega power, walnuts and flax seeds actually have them beat, and soybeans and grass-fed beef are other surprising sources.
Herb is the word.
- Passionflower – Passionflower increases gamma aminobutyric acid in the brain, causing a calming effect that makes it a gentle alternative to prescription drugs like oxazepam (Serax) and benzodiazepines, but with less daytime drowsiness. Passionflower can be consumed in tea as a liquid extract, or in supplements of 90 mg.
- Side effects? When taken in large doses, passionflower can affect the central nervous system.
- Kava – This powerful root is the equivalent of beer or wine for Pacific Islanders. However, in supplement form at around 300 mg, it has been reported to offer similar results to Valium or Xanax but better, since the prescription drugs can decrease cognitive function, where kava will increase it.
- Side effects? Because of it’s similarities to alcohol, kava may cause liver damage if used for long periods of time.
- Ashwagandha – This herb has shown to be as effective as the popular anti-depressent lorazepam (aka Ativan), and can also reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to belly weight and reduce sex drive (among other things).
- Side effects? It can be tough on the stomach and interact with your thyroid (for better or worse).
- L – Theanine – L – Theanine is the amino acid found in tea leaves that effects both physiological and psychological effects of stress on the body. A cup of tea contains around 8-25 mg, which be much help, and caffeine can fight the calming effects further. Supplements offer doses of 200 mg, which studies have shown to increase alpha brain waves and mental clarity.
- Side effects? None.
Before you go rushing to your local Whole Foods to clear their shelves of vitamins and herbs, please remember to consult a physician or health professional to confirm which of these remedies will work best for you. Then, get ready to sit back, relax and enjoy your life again.
What are your tips for natural relaxation?
Image via Stephanie Dimiskovski