Stress is epidemic in the 21st century. With long work hours, a mile-long to-do list, and a hundred different obligations occupying our mind at once, it’s no wonder we’re stressed out! Thankfully, there are plenty of things we can do to help ourselves relax. Before you blow off your next meeting to book a flight to the Bahamas, consult this list of stress-busting tips.
Deep breathing is the simplest and fastest way to promote relaxation. Deep breathing helps activate the relaxation response, quelling anxiety and tension within minutes.
Many people find it helpful to use breath counting during a deep breathing session. Breathing in for three seconds and out for six is a common pattern. You can practice deep breathing in a seated position with your eyes closed, much like a meditation, or you can simply become mindful of your breath as you go about your day. Use whatever method works best for you!
It’s no secret that sugar isn’t doing us any favors. But did you know that it can affect stress levels, too?
Sweets, soda, and sugary snacks all spike your blood sugar, which often results in a mood and energy roller coaster. That afternoon cookie might perk you up momentarily, but it’s likely to leave you grumpy, tired, foggy-brained, and stressed once your blood sugar levels plummet about 20 minutes after snacking.
To help soothe stress, work towards eliminating foods with added sugars. Instead, reach for whole foods like fruit, hummus, or a handful of nuts and seeds. These foods are all rich in fiber, which helps you step off the blood sugar roller coaster by slowing the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.
Exercise is one of the most effective antidotes to stress. Whether you’re swimming a few laps, cycling to work, or just chasing the dog around the yard, getting your blood pumping 4-5 days per week is a great way to let go of stress.
What is it about a workout that helps boost relaxation afterward?
For one, exercise helps boost your brain’s production of endorphins. These are the feel-good neurotransmitters responsible for the “runner’s high,” or sense of euphoria after a hard workout.
Exercise also works because it’s a form of moving meditation. When you’re focusing 100% of your attention on your body’s movements, you aren’t stressing about to-do lists.
If you don’t yet have an exercise program, talk to your doctor first. Start with baby steps. Even a few short walks throughout the day can make a difference!
Adaptogens are a class of plants that help regulate how the body adapts to stress. These plants can help bolster our immune system, regulate our hormonal pathways, and – most importantly – blunt the action of cortisol, our stress hormone.
One of the best-known adaptogens is Korean ginseng (also known as Asian ginseng, or panax ginseng). Ginseng has been used for over 5000 years throughout Asia, and was once regarded as an “all-healing” medicine. Modern science has now confirmed ginseng’s impressive resume: Immune dysfunction, blood sugar dysregulation, anxiety, stress, and hormone imbalances are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the long list of conditions thought to be helped by ginseng.
Ginseng isn’t the only option in the world of adaptogens. Other stress-busting herbs in this category include rhodiola and ashwagandha. Rhodiola has been studied for it’s mood-boosting effects, and can help manage symptoms of brain fog or fatigue.
Ashwagandha has been recommended for sleep issues, and tends to be the less “energetic” of the adaptogens. If you’re prone to anxiety or insomnia, ashwagandha might be the adaptogen for you.
Adaptogens take some time to show their effects, often up to a month of regular use. For this reason, many healthcare practitioners recommend supplementing with adaptogens daily for several months at a time for maximum benefit.
That second cup of coffee might sound like a good idea, but it could easily be spiking your stress levels. This is especially true if you’re among the 50% of the population with a “slow metabolizing” caffeine gene. For a slow metabolizer, more than a single cuppa joe per day can ramp up stress levels and negatively affect your sleep. If you’ve noticed coffee after 3pm triggers insomnia, then you’re probably a slow metabolizer.
Looking for a calmer caffeine fix? Switch to green tea instead. Green tea is much lower in caffeine than coffee or black tea, and is also rich in L-theanine, a compound which helps promote relaxation.
Andie Kolbeck, MS, NC is a holistic nutritionist based out of the San Francisco Bay Area. A passionate advocate for the power of healthy eating, Andie teaches nutrition and cooking skills in low-income communities as a nutrition educator for non-profit organization Fresh Approach. She also shares her expertise as a regular blog contributor and consultant for vitamin and herb supplement brands, and sees clients through her private nutrition practice.
Andie has spent many years studying herbal medicine, and wildcrafts medicinal plant extracts in her spare time. Learn more about Andie at threeseednutrition.com.