These days, it’s almost trendy to say that you’re stressed. In fact, in America, being “stressed” is often worn as a badge of honor—we’re so busy and important that of course we’re stressed.
But stress isn’t just a way for us to project our perceived status to the world. It actually takes a very physical toll on our bodies. When we’re stressed, our bodies release the hormone cortisol (also known as the stress hormone), which helps us through the “fight or flight” response that helps us to determine whether the stress we face is life-threatening and to act accordingly.
This “fight or flight” response can save our lives as it will direct us to run from an approaching mountain lion, for example. But the reality is that our modern-day stressors are rarely dangerous, yet we experience them so frequently that we’ve become chronically stressed. As a result, our cortisol levels are constantly elevated, and those chronically elevated cortisol levels can then cause some serious health repercussions, including an increased risk of heart disease, a weakened immune system, weight gain and skin issues—not to mention a racing mind!
Luckily, there are all-natural ways to help you relax and de-stress when you’re feeling the pressure. Try these five suggestions to help you say goodbye to stress and elevated cortisol levels, and hello to zen.
Spend more time in nature:
Most of us spend the majority of our days commuting to and from work and then sitting at a desk for hours. There are some days when it’s likely you’re hardly outdoors, never mind in nature! But leaving your cubicle and heading out to green spaces is a terrific way to de-stress and reconnect with the world around us. Numerous studies have found a link between spending time outdoors and less stress—plus, time in nature can actually help protect us against environmental stressors.
If you’re not the outdoorsy type, don’t stress about it. You don’t need to spend a weekend camping or hiking to reap the benefits. Grab a few coffees and catch up with friends while talking a stroll through a park, grab a blanket and your favorite book and read outside or have a picnic lunch with your family.
Bonus tip: Try taking off your shoes and walking barefoot in the grass for a few minutes each day. This practice is called “grounding” or “earthing,” and it can improve your health by reducing inflammation and lowering free radical damage.
Get enough sleep:
Getting enough sleep is crucial to managing stress and relaxing. While it might seem that more waking hours will allow you to do more, our bodies need a certain amount of sleep to perform their best. Start skimping on hours, and not only will you find yourself more sluggish throughout the day, but cortisol levels will remain high. If you find yourself wired at night and unable to sleep, start training your body to ease into a bedtime routine.
Set a nighttime alarm for about an hour and a half before you’d like to get into bed as a reminder to begin winding down. After this time, avoid television or playing on your phone; the lights from electronics stimulate the brain, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Take a hot shower, light a candle and read a book instead.
Still struggling to sleep at night? Try these 7 all-natural sleep aids to fall asleep fast.
Eat a stress-free diet:
Can you eat your way to relaxation? Absolutely. The right foods can help you de-stress from the inside out. High-protein foods like grass-fed beef and cage-free eggs provide the amino acids your brain needs to keep neurotransmitters working properly. And healthy fats and foods high in omega-3s—like wild-caught salmon, avocado, nuts and coconut oil—are all fantastic at stabilizing moods and reducing inflammation.
On the other hand, there are some foods that’ll add to your stressful feelings. Processed and packaged foods, refined carbs and foods with a lot of added sugars will leave you experiencing sugar highs and crashes, which increase anxiety and cause food cravings. And if you’re relying on coffee to keep you going throughout the day, you may find that limiting yourself to one cup early in the day can help with anxious feelings.
Finally, cutting out that after-work glass of wine can help you relax and feel less stressed, too. Because alcohol is a depressant, even though it feels like it’s helping you unwind, it’s likely interfering with sleep, increasing anxiety and leaving you more stressed. It’s certainly okay to indulge every now and then, though, as alcohol can actually be good for you—particularly organic, red wine. Just try not to drink right before bed.
Carving out time in your day to meditate can do wonders for stress levels. Just a few minutes of mediation or prayer train the mind and body to relax and reduce cortisol levels without affecting alertness or concentration. Personally, I like spending about 5 minutes meditating and praying in the morning, in order to start my day off on the right foot. But it’s also a great tool to use when you’re stressed in the middle of the day. If you’re new to meditation, mindfulness apps can be helpful in guiding you.
Use essential oils:
Have you ever smelled a certain scent and instantly felt more at ease? That’s the power of essential oils—one of the best ways to de-stress and relax naturally. Oils like lavender, myrrh, frankincense and bergamot contain active ingredients that lower cortisol, reduce inflammation and help you sleep better. You can add essential oils to an aromatherapy diffuser, add a few drops to a bath or mix them with a carrier oil, like coconut oil or jojoba oil, and apply them directly onto your skin.