From money concerns and holiday commitments to rush hour traffic and work deadlines, there’s no shortage of things in life that can stress you out—all of which can leave you feeling beaten down and impact your well-being. Stress is the body’s response to a challenge or demand and even the most zen-like among us will feel stressed on more than one occasion. The stress response includes physical components such an elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and psychological components, including anger and anxiety. Not to be overlooked is that if left unchecked, chronic stress can spiral into serious problems like depression and hypertension.
And while you can't always control your circumstances, you can control how you respond to them. That’s why it’s important to have a variety of stress relief tools at your disposal and here are the lifestyle interventions you can employ to better handle whatever life tosses your way.
1. Sneak in More Adaptogens
You may have noticed from how often they are now being added to various foods and drinks that the popularity and availability of adaptogens seem to be growing as fast as mushrooms following a fall rainstorm. Adaptogens, which are rooted in traditional ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, are essentially a class of plants (mainly herbs, roots and functional mushrooms) that are intended to boost your resistance to and tolerance of stress—both emotional and physical. When we face a particular stressor such as a work deadline, physical injury or argument with a loved one, our bodies go through what’s called general adaptation syndrome (GAS). GAS is a three-stage response: alarm, resistance and exhaustion. The role adaptogens play is to help us stay in the resistance phase longer and hold off the exhaustion phase. Instead of crashing amid a stressful situation, we can better attain equilibrium and soldier on.
Some of the more popular adaptogens are ashwagandha, maca and reishi, which can be found in Navitas Organics’ Superfood+ Adaptogen Blend and Maca Powder. There is peer-reviewed evidence to support their function in helping reduce the impacts of stress in the body, including lowering levels of the fight-or-flight stress hormone cortisol.
To reap the benefits of an adaptogen, you need to consume it every day for a few weeks. The aforementioned powders can be easily incorporated into smoothies, brewed coffee, a bowl of yogurt, and a range of baked goods. They can even be stirred into your favorite nut butter!
2. Take a Forest Bath
The secret to feeling less stressed? Perhaps it’s as simple as taking a walk in the woods. Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku in Japanese parlance, is an eco-antidote to everyday burnout. This study in the journal, Frontiers of Psychology discovered that people who spent more time in urban nature settings like a city park tested for lower levels of stress biomarkers including cortisol. Some forward-thinking physicians are now even prescribing “time in nature” as a method to help alleviate stress and anxiety in their patients. And it doesn’t need to be an epic hike in an old-growth forest to get the job done. Just 10-minute nature breaks during the day are proven to help dampen feelings of stress and improve mental well-being. Besides, any form of exercise, even if just a stroll on loamy soil while listening to chirping birds, is one of the best ways to combat stress.
3. Breathe In
If you need improvement in mental health problems from anxiety and stress, you may want to consider aromatherapy. In this time-honored kind of treatment, you use extracts from plants called essential oils, by either breathing them through your nose or putting them on your skin. Several studies including this one and this one have shown that aromatherapy is beneficial in easing stress. Improving the scent of your environment through essential oils can also improve your quality of sleep, which we now know is vital in helping better handle the stressors of life.
Experts surmise that aromatherapy activates areas in your nose called smell receptors, which send messages through your nervous system to your brain to help bring a sense of calm to your life. They may even stimulate the release of feel-good compounds like serotonin from your brain. Common-scented feel-good essential oils include lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, and bergamot.
4. Eat More Salads
Spinach or kale? Blueberries or apples? Broccoli or riced cauliflower? It doesn’t matter which vegetables and fruits you like most, just make sure to nosh on more of them for good mental health. A study published in Clinical Nutrition involving nearly 9,000 adult men and women linked eating at least 470 grams of fruits and vegetables daily (that’s 1 cup broccoli, 1 cup strawberries, 1 cup carrots and 1 orange) to a 10% reduction in perceived stress, compared with eating less than half this amount. While scientists aren’t certain how colorful fruit and vegetables can help us feel less frazzled, it could have to do with the bounty of antioxidants they contain, which include polyphenols, carotenoids and flavonoids.
For a stress-busting smoothie, blend together 1 cup milk of choice, 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 1 cup baby spinach, 1 teaspoon Superfood+ Adaptogen Blend, 1/2 cup frozen blueberries and 1/2 frozen chopped banana.
5. Play Some Tunes
The next time you’re feeling particularly stressed, try firing up some of your favorite music. There is evidence that the simple act of listening to various types of music can improve how we handle stress, including lowering the release of cortisol when faced with stressors. It impacts our autonomic nervous system, which regulates physiologic processes including heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. The key is to play the music you actually like—so even though you may have read that slow-paced instrumental music can induce a relaxation response, research shows it won’t work as well for you if you loathe the sound of it. If 80s rock or classical is your jam, then bring it on! Nature sounds can also be very calming. This is why they’re often incorporated into meditation music and there is a proliferation of stress-reducing, sleep-promoting apps that stream sounds of bubbling creeks and songbirds.
6. Imagine Your Happy Place
Guided imagery is like taking your mind on a vacation and a proven way to help better handle stress. It can be as simple as imagining yourself being in your “happy place” (maybe picturing yourself sinking your toes into a sandy beach, riding on your favorite bike trail or swimming in a warm ocean).
The process of guided imagery can be done with a recording where you listen to someone walk you through a calm-inducing scene or you can practice it on your own. Simply find a quiet spot, close your eyes for a minute and walk yourself through a peaceful scene. Think about all the sensory experiences you would engage in and allow yourself to feel as though you’re physically there. After a few minutes, returning to the present moment should be less stressful.
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