It is hard to believe that the term “stress” the way we think of it today, was only given this name in the 1950’s by a doctor named Hans Selye. The fact is that stress, as such, has always been with us – and appears in modern times to be getting worse. What’s more, stress can lead to a whole slew of health problems, including serious ones like heart attacks.
The good news? There are plenty of natural ways to cope with stress without the need for medications.
If you are looking for ways to reduce stress without the need for medication, meditation is one of your best bets. Meditative practices like yoga and tai chi which encourage mindfulness and focus can also help to decrease levels of stress as well as stress-induced hormones like cortisol. Activities like this can actually alter neural pathways in the brain and make it easier for it to cope with the stressors of everyday life.
Deep Breathing Exercises
Deep breathing exercises can be used in combination with meditation, yoga and tai chi or simply used on their own for their great benefits. Deep breathing exercises slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure as well as increasing the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain, all of which can help to reduce stress and cortisol levels. These exercises are also convenient because they take little time to do and can be done at work, while driving or first thing in the morning as a way to get the day off to a good start.
Playing soothing music or recordings of nature sounds like running water, the ocean or birdsong can also be a great way to cope with stress. Several studies have shown that this practice can reduce anxiety. It also has physical effects on the body, such as a reduced heart rate and blood pressure, both signs that the body is relaxed. Another advantage of music therapy is that it is also very easy to incorporate it into your day, such as at work, during your commute or in the evening before settling in.
Exercise is another great way to help tamp down on anxiety. That is because activities like walking the park, yoga or going for a swim help to release endorphins, chemicals that are able to induce feelings of contentment and happiness and reduce stress levels. Make sure, however, that exercise is not overly vigorous, as this, too, can raise levels of cortisol and make the feelings of stress worse.
A Healthy Diet
Not surprisingly, the foods you eat can also have an impact on your stress levels. If tension and anxiety are a problem, avoid high-sugar, high-caffeine foods that can make the problem worse by increasing your levels of cortisol and instead opt for high-fiber foods that break down slowly and keep your blood sugar steady as well as foods like fatty fish (such as tuna, salmon or mackerel), which are rich in the omega three fatty acids that are so good for neural health.
If stress is a problem, consider giving coffee a miss and going to green tea instead. Green tea has less caffeine than coffee, so it won’t spike up your cortisol levels, but at the same time, it is full of antioxidants to help boost your general health and also an amino acid called theanine, which is known for its calming effect and can help to ease feelings of anxiety naturally.
Another natural stress-buster is simply to get more shut-eye at night. Sleep deprivation, especially in the long term, can raise levels of cortisol and can make it more difficult for you to cope with the stressors of everyday life. On the other hand, aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep a night can make you feel better rested and better equipped to face the day. Practicing good sleep habits – such as going to bed at the same time each night and keeping your sleeping area quiet, cool and dark can help.
There are a lot of supplements on the market out there, but not all of them have clinical studies to back up their claims. Research has been done on several herbal remedies to help with stress and anxiety, including lemon balm, kava, valerian, passion flower and St. John’s Wort. It is important to consult with a naturopathic doctor or other medical professional to make sure that the particular supplement is right for your individual needs.
In short, if you find that you are plagued by feelings of stress and anxiety, there are plenty of natural things you can do to help relieve this problem. And while some of them – like diet – can take a while to become effective, you will probably find that others, like deep breathing exercises, can have an almost immediate effect on your stress levels.
About the Author
Brian W. Wu holds a PhD from the University of Southern California and is a current 4th year medical student. He has been freelance writing for over 4 years and aims to make health an engaging conversation. Learn more about him at his personal site and his project Health Stories for Kids.