For our long-term health and happiness, chronic tension is serious business. Banish it (or at least manage it) with these key natural solutions. Here are some great ways to destress your life, relax and tune in. Mind, Body & Spirit.
Get Out of Your Head
A steady mind-body practice like meditation, yoga, and tai chi can bring balance to your life. Responsible for slowing your heart rate and relaxing certain muscles, such activities can offset the effects of your body's overly activated stress response (including increases in blood pressure and breathing rate) if practiced regularly. Mind-body work can clear your head immeasurably. The trick, is making the time. If you can't squeeze a regular yoga class into your schedule, start by meditating for five minutes a day or as you're lying in bed at night.
Grab the Music and Go
Physically active people feel less anxious and depressed. One theory is described in a 2006 report in the journal "Obesity," holds that aerobic exercise can increase your levels of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps the brain deal with stress more efficiently. Ideally, we should spend 30 minutes exercising five times a week, says Alice Domar, Ph.D., founder of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Waltham. Massachusetts, but every bit of activity helps. Amp up an activity's appeal by finding a partner -- or pair it with music or an audiobook.
Eat Less Refined Sugar, Have More Tea
Refined carbs (like white rice and baked goods) can jack up your cortisol levels. While increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids (through fatty fish, flaxseed, fortified foods, or supplements) may help keep this stress hormone in check. Vitamin B5 helps nourish your adrenals (glands that release cortisol and adrenaline), so get your recommended 5 mg daily -- eat eggs, whole-grain cereals, and broccoli, or take a B-complex supplement. Cutting back on caffeine can also help since constantly stimulating yourself can drain your system. If you're a coffee drinker, opt for green or black tea; these are healthier choices overall.
Change Your Priorities
"What causes us stress is multitasking while doing things that give us pleasure," Domar explains. So instead of working through your lunch hour, leave the juggling for more tedious tasks (such as returning phone calls as you're tidying up the house). Or pick one day a week to stay late at work and plow through your to-do list. Infuse your home and work environments with the same sense of time management, notes Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., psychologist and author of "Inner Peace for Busy People." "Messy spaces can cause stress, so it's important to throw out or file every day," she explains.
Just Say "No"
With our to-do lists constantly expanding, it's small moments of respite that most restore our energy, says Domar. "If you're constantly doing and giving, you're going to be too depleted to be the best worker, parent, friend, or spouse you can be." Finding pockets of R&R time means thinking twice before taking on new tasks. "Make a rule for yourself that you won't ever say yes immediately when someone asks you to do something," advises Borysenko. "And if you can't say no right away, then just say maybe."
Finding quiet time isn't a luxury; it's essential for protecting your health. Some people recharge by spending time alone or writing in a journal. "It's important to know what works for you," says Jane Sullivan-Durand, M.D., family physician at the Center for Integrative Medicine in Concord, New Hampshire. For many women, however, hanging out with close pals is the best medicine for stress. One study from the University of California at Los Angeles shows that women's proclivity to "tend and befriend" during times of stress may be due to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that's also secreted during childbirth.
By strengthening your body's ability to handle stress, a class of herbs called adaptogens keeps everyday pressure from wreaking havoc on your immune system. Dubbed the "king adaptogen," eleuthero (also known as Siberian ginseng) has been shown to normalize blood pressure and blood-sugar levels and stop stress from draining your adrenal gland's supply of vitamin C. But herbs like Asian ginseng, American ginseng, rhodiola, ashwagandha, and schizandra also act as key adaptogens, according to Yance, who believes a blend of primary and secondary adaptogens is best. Look for combo formulas such as bacopa and holy basil.
If checking your email has become as vital to your wake-up and bedtime routines as brushing your teeth, it's time to unplug. "Starting and ending the day in stillness is essential to stress reduction, so it's absolutely critical not to jump into email during either of those times," says Borysenko. In the morning and at night, turn off your computer (and TV) and pick up a book -- or simply delight in the rare pleasure of doing nothing. A little nature therapy can also ease the stress of too much computer time. A stroll through a park or on a trail counteracts overstimulation and, according to a 2007 study from the University of Essex, can also boost your mood and energy.
Listen To Your Favorite Music
A number of studies show that listening to music, especially classical, may help you unwind. Though less melodic, therapeutic CDs of "binaural beats" also show promise as a means of calming the mind and body, according to several studies. These recordings work by projecting two tones of similar frequencies into each ear. This creates a "beat" at a certain frequency in the mind, say proponents, and your brain falls in sync with it; different frequencies call forth different moods. Web sites such as hemi-sync.com or appliedmusic.com offer relaxation-inducing binaural-beat recordings.
Do Something You Love
A study published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship in 2004, found that creating artwork and crafts helped to relax a group of adults who were serving as caregivers for family members with cancer. "It's incredibly stress-reducing to work on a project that takes your focus away from your own thoughts and worries," says Borysenko. Art-making not your thing? "Some people's creative expression is their bowling league," says Borysenko. "What's important is the combination of doing something you love and engaging in that other-centeredness."
Bookmark or share