These days, being stressed out can seem like the norm. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And it’s bad for your health. Read on to learn some tips on how to reduce stress naturally – and how to know when it’s time to pay a visit to a doctor (it’s totally normal to need extra support).
Mental Stress And Anxiety: How High Stress Levels Can Wreak Havoc On Your Overall Health
When you’re stressed, you’re in what’s known as “fight-or-flight” mode. Your stress hormones race, your heart pounds, you breathe faster, and your muscles tense up. Your brain has geared you up to fight that prehistoric tiger.
Except these days, that tiger is mostly mental stressors – like work deadlines, financial problems, or everyday anxieties.
Being in fight-or-flight mode constantly isn’t normal, nor is it good for you. It means that excessive stress hormones, like cortisol, are raging throughout your body, and taking a toll on your overall health.
Elevated cortisol levels and stress have been linked to:
- Weaker immune function
- Weight gain
- Increased cholesterol levels
- Blood sugar issues
- Blood pressure issues
- Digestive issues
- Social withdrawal
- Inability to function properly at work
- Mental health issues1,2
Ways To Relieve Stress Naturally: Stress Management Techniques You Can Do Anywhere And Anytime
The good news is, your body isn’t capable of being relaxed and anxious at the same time. When you’re relaxed, your heart rate may go down and your muscles can loosen.3
So, the key to fighting prolonged stress (and those related stress hormones) is learning how to find relaxation in your daily life. Using your breath is an effective way to do so.
Breathing is the secret behind almost all relaxation techniques. Any exercise or technique that requires you to breathe deeply and properly is going to help with stress and anxiety levels. Many studies have explored the positive benefits of breathing exercises and meditation.4
Simple ways to reduce stress…
- Basic diaphragmatic breathing (the way your body is designed to breathe – from your diaphragm, not your chest)
- Tai chi
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Getting out into nature
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a very simple way to get started with reducing stress, and you can incorporate it into any other exercise or activity.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise
We are all born with the ability to breathe properly. You need only watch a baby sleep to see the rise and fall of their tummy, rather than their chest.
Unfortunately with age and exposure to more life stress, some people begin to breathe short and shallow from the chest. Think about when you were last scared or anxious – you were breathing short and sharp from your chest.
But diaphragmatic breathing — or belly breathing — is the way you were meant to breathe. And it’s one of the simplest stress management techniques you can embrace.
Here’s how to do it:
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
- Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth.
- Now, inhale through your nose and really focus on expanding your stomach area with that oxygen instead of your chest. Your chest actually doesn’t need to move at all for you to breathe.
- Try to do this for at least a few minutes, several times per day.
Stress Hormones: Can Aerobic Exercise Help With High Cortisol Levels?
Another form of breathwork that may help with stress reduction and anxiety is aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is any physical activity that gets your breathing and heart rate up (cardio), like running, swimming, cycling, or walking fast.
Now, it may seem like breathing fast and heavy goes against relaxation, but when it comes to aerobic exercise, the quick breathing actually helps your body.
Aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease tension, elevate mood, promote a good night’s sleep, and improve self-esteem.
Even just five minutes of aerobic exercise can have a positive effect on stress levels.5
Aerobic exercise has been shown to release oxytocin.6 Also known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin can contribute to relaxation and mood stability, leading to healthy levels of stress.7
Aerobic exercise has been shown to help reduce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.8
So, when people say that regular exercise keeps them “sane,” there really might be some truth to that statement.
Herbs For Relaxation
If you’re looking for other complementary ways to ease stress, you might want to consider herbal teas or aromatherapy. Both rely on the relaxation powers of herbs. And some herbs have shown to be very effective in promoting relaxation.
Lemon balm is said to help with relaxation. You can easily grow it in your garden and make it into tea.9
Speaking of tea, green tea is said to be able to help with stress due to its high levels of L-theanine, an essential amino acid.10
Lavender essential oil has reportedly shown positive results in helping to promote feelings of relaxation and a positive mood11
Your Mood And Brain Health: Know When To See A Doctor Or Mental Health Professional
There’s only so much that you can do yourself to manage stress and anxiety. You may need some professional help for those racing thoughts in your mind or feelings of stress.
It’s important to acknowledge when things feel out of your control and seek help. And, the sooner you get help, the sooner you can feel better.
Don’t forget that in addition to exercise, relaxation techniques, and speaking to your doctor, you also need to feed your brain a healthy, well-balanced diet. The brain relies on a whole host of nutrients to be able to function at its very best.
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