Ease the tension–now–and feel better every day.
Posted in , Nov 4, 2010
You've experienced your body's instinctive response to stress. The racing heart and rising blood pressure. The rapid breathing. The rush of blood to your muscles. You're primed for battle–or escape. That's great if your survival depends on outrunning hungry predators.
The problem is, even though you don't face life-and-death situations on a regular basis, your body reacts as if you do, going into "fight or flight" mode with everyday ups and downs. These overreactions cause that stressed-out feeling. What can you do to combat it? Try one (or more) of these 100% natural stress-busters.
1. Get moving.
Ever go for a walk just to pick yourself up? Well, it works! Exercise circulates mood-elevating endorphins in your body. Researchers have found regular exercise is as effective as medication in treating mild cases of depression.
Yoga enhances blood flow and relieves chronic muscle tension. Holding a pose for just a minute causes the level of the stress hormone cortisol to drop and the level of feel-good hormones prolactin and oxytocin to go up. Amy Weintraub, founder of LifeForce Yoga, cites the deep breathing and spiritual aspects as particularly beneficial. "We don't pause to breathe," she says. "Yoga gives us that breathing room. It reminds us of our wholeness." You don't even need a mat or an hour.
3. Say ha!
Okay, laughing feels good. But did you know it strengthens immune response and lowers both blood pressure and resting heart rate? No wonder they call it the best medicine.
4. Eat your greens.
A deficiency in B vitamins, which are often depleted in times of stress, can lead to irritability, lethargy and depression. Brewer's yeast, whole grains and leafy greens are all good sources of B vitamins.
5. Take tea.
Caffeine might temporarily give you an edge, but too much has the opposite effect. Swap your latte for green tea, which is low in caffeine but loaded with theanine, an anxiety-reducing amino acid. Choose calming chamomile before bedtime.
6. Tune in.
The number-one stress-reliever the world over is music, according to a Roper Starch Worldwide poll. Maybe because music affects the same brain systems opiates and other drugs do, inducing a mild euphoria. Raymond Bahr, M.D., of St. Agnes HealthCare in Baltimore, had his coronary-care patients listen to 30 minutes of classical music. It had a calming effect equal to a 10-mg dose of Valium.
Herbert Benson, M.D., wrote The Relaxation Response over 30 years ago and was hailed as a pioneer of mind-body medicine. But he says, "We discovered nothing new. We added scientific numbers to an existing mechanism." The Relaxation Response is a natural counterpart to "fight or flight." "For millennia, people have used it in yoga, tai chi and repetitive prayer," Benson says. "Often we don't have time to do as our grandparents did, pausing to pray once or twice daily. Yet we need it more than ever." To elicit the Relaxation Response, repeat a word, phrase or prayer (silently or aloud) while breathing naturally. If a distracting thought comes into your head, let it go and return to the repetition. Do this in the morning to set the tone for your day, and before dinner to unwind.
That's the best way to reap the stress-stopping benefits of essentials oils, according to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. Fill a four-ounce spray bottle with distilled water and add five drops of essential oil. Shake, spray and inhale! Ylang ylang, peppermint or lavender calm; eucalyptus eases muscle tension.
9. Visualize bliss.
Have you noticed that when you wake up thinking you'll have a good day, you do? Your thoughts have a powerful effect. Don't settle for being stressed, picture feeling better! Sit in a quiet spot and think of a scene that makes you happy. Explore the sights, sounds, smells, textures, every sensory detail.
A recent study of 309 cardiac patients at the University of Michigan Medical Center showed that those who participated in faith-based fellowship and daily prayer experienced a greater sense of well-being after surgery than those who did not. Lead researcher Amy L. Ai, Ph.D., says, "These pathways appear to be key in understanding how religious coping styles may be helpful to a person's ability to handle stressful situations."
11. Hands on.
Stress and pain are linked, so it makes sense that massage therapy, typically used to relieve muscle tension and soreness, also reduces stress. As if you need an excuse for a spa day!
About 60% of people who are stressed say they don't get enough sleep. For good shuteye, stick to a regular schedule. Remember, the better rested you are, the better you'll manage stress.