Feeling Stressed?

Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS

Stress, which is defined as the body’s physical, mental, or emotional reaction to any change that requires a response or adjustment, doesn’t just cause our heart to race or our palms to sweat. Stress, especially the chronic kind, can cause cortisol levels to remain elevated over extended periods of time, which can then lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, mood swings, hypothyroidism, and a host of other health conditions.

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that stress can negatively affect your ability to recover from a heart attack, while stress management training can help speed healing from a heart attack. Additionally, stress is said to be the root cause of up to 90 percent of doctor visits.

While it’s practically impossible to never experience stress, it is very possible to reduce your stress levels and learn how to manage stress much more effectively. So next time you’re staring down a deadline at work, running late to an important appointment, or dealing with relationship drama, here are five of the best ways to calm yourself down FAST:

1. Adjust Your Breathing

The simple act of breathing is directly and closely connected to stress, anxiety, and mood. When we’re stressed, instead of deep, lung-filling breaths, we start “overbreathing” and taking much shorter, more shallow breaths. Instead of letting our diaphragms do the heavy lifting, we use our shoulders to inhale and exhale, which can exacerbate feelings of stress.

And while more stress can lead to poor breathing, this principle also works conversely, meaning that deep breathing can lead to less stress. One of the quickest and surest ways to calm down is to intentionally slow your breathing and take full, deep breaths. It’s For more specific tips, try these 5 Breathing Exercises to Reduce Stress and Improve Sleep.

2. Get into Nature

When you feel your stress levels rising, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to get outdoors and into nature ASAP. Research published in the journal Behavioral Sciences reveals that your physical environment directly affects your ability to handle stress. Specifically, the study finds that “Exposure to natural scenes mediates the negative effects of stress reducing the negative mood state and above all enhancing positive emotions.” You may live in an urban environment, but it’s still possible to benefit from nature’s de-stressing effects. Take a walk near the closest body of water or sit under a tree in a local park. If you have the time and access, go for a nice, long hike. And while you’re out in nature, do some deep breathing for an easy two-pronged approach to stress.

3. Start Writing

If your nerves are really feeling frayed from a slew of to-dos or an overwhelming work assignment, get out your journal or a piece of paper and starting writing. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can release some of the stressful thoughts from your mind and help you to feel more calm. Journaling on a regular basis can also help you feel more organized and in control of your life in general. The best part? As long as you have a writing utensil and something to write on, this is a stress reducer you can do anytime and anywhere.

4. Exercise

Exercise is definitely one of the best natural stress relievers—and it’s also one of my favorites. Exercise works to beat stress and anxiety because it releases powerful endorphin chemicals in the brain, which act like the body’s built-in painkillers and mood-lifters. And whether you choose to practice yoga, take a kickboxing class, or run a marathon, the stress-busting results are the same. So find a physical activity you enjoy, and do it on a regular basis to keep stress levels in check. Want to increase the benefits of your workout even more? Try listening to an uplifting playlist while you exercise.

5. Try Adaptogen Herbs

Adaptogen herbs like ginseng, ashwaganda, and holy basil can help the body to better manage stress and recover from stress when it strikes. They are a unique class of healing plants that help to balance, protect and restore the body by normalizing the body’s physiological functions (like cortisol release) when we experience stress. Adaptogen herbs are also known for boosting adrenal, thyroid, and immune health. 

When you use these natural stress reduction techniques on a regular basis, you won’t only feel better both mentally and physically, but your overall health will improve, too. 

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