Everyone gets stressed sometimes. But lately, it’s all you feel – with work, home, family, and community commitments, you’re stretched for time, and feel as if you’re chasing your own tail.
Isn’t it exhausting?
Common Signs and Symptoms of stress include:
- Muscle aches
- Difficulty with sleep
- Gastrointestinal symptoms (like abdominal pain, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea)
- Increased heart rate and/or palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Weight gain or weight loss
- More frequent infections
- Hormone imbalance (adrenal, thyroid and sex hormones)
Does this sound familiar?
You can thank your distant ancestors for your stress response. When we perceived life-threatening dangers, human beings relied on their hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to trigger a release of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol keeps you prepared for action – but this mechanism isn’t designed for modern life. When things like work stress, family stress, financial stress, health crises, traffic jams, and social media, trigger this release, it can have far-reaching consequences for your health and well-being.
#1 Keep Moving
While it may feel like going to the gym is just another chore on your long to-do list, it’s important to prioritize exercise where you can, as there is a strong link between stress and exercise. Exercise promotes production of beta endorphins and serotonin in your body, and reduces anxiety, as staying active can regulate your stress response through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily need a gym pass, or any special equipment at home! In fact, keeping moving may be as simple as getting up from your desk every hour and doing some jumping jacks, stretching, or following a yoga video each morning before breakfast.
I would caution you not to overdo high intensity exercise when you are feeling over stressed, as it can often increase your cortisol levels: instead change it up with weight training – which can easily be done at home also – and make sure you don’t exercise in the evening, as this can impact sleep in sensitive individuals.
#2 Practice Meditation
Meditation has been around for thousands of years, because, simply put – it works. In a world where we are always thinking about what comes next, meditation is a useful tool to allow you to fully experience thoughts and feelings as they arrive and depart in the moment. Meditation is a way of centering your mind and body to achieve clarity. Meditation increases parasympathetic nervous system response (rest, relax, reproduce, digest), and decreases the sympathetic nervous system response (fight or flight).
Long-term commitment to daily meditation can even result in positive changes to your brain, including a difference in the shape of your amygdala, a part of your brain involved in handling emotion, while also improving the connection between your amygdala and the part of your prefrontal cortex responsible for working through the emotion – strengthening your ability to deal with difficult feelings. It also increases a hormone called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which helps you literally grow new brain cells, and thus can help with things like memory, learning, and decision making. These changes show that meditation is a powerful stress buster! My favorite meditation apps are Calm, Headspace, and Meditation Experience.
#3 Adjust Your Diet
When you’re stressed it’s all too easy to turn to potato chips, candy, coffee and soda to keep you awake and wired at work, school, or for the children’s activities. Often, you’ll drink a glass of wine as you check work emails late at night at home, or zone out watching reality TV to try and relax, however those behaviors are often counterproductive. Now, I’m not going to lecture you, we all know that eating junk makes you feel like junk, and sometimes a treat can be good – in moderation. But what you eat can seriously affect your stress levels – stress and diet are intrinsically linked. There is a huge gut-brain connection–thus the term good food, good mood!
- Eating sugar can trigger cortisol release, causing a heightened stress response.
- Drinking alcohol can cause a neuroimmune reaction in your brain, causing increased cytokine production. Cytokines trigger a further inflammatory response, but, in the case of binge drinking, can have an adverse effect on your HPA axis – increasing the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream, and contributing to stress.
- Consuming caffeine can increase your anxiety levels, and can increase cortisol levels, contributing to your stress.
Cut back on the processed foods, refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, and your stress levels are likely to reduce – and even improve your sleep!
#4 Try Aromatherapy/Essential Oils
Smell is usually considered the least important of the senses in modern life. But for your ancestors, the ability to smell danger was of the utmost importance – recent studies confirm this. So while the ability to take in scents originates from a survival mechanism that would provoke a stress response, nowadays we can use aromatherapy to trigger the opposite result.
Aromatherapy treats your mood holistically using essential oils. The art of aromatherapy is not new – it’s been around for thousands of years! These days you can incorporate aromatherapy into your life with body oils and lotions, diffusers, spritzers, face masks, bathing products, or a steam facial. You can easily purchase an essential oil diffuser on Amazon, or you can add essential oils to your bath for enhanced relaxation.
Aromatherapy oils useful for stress relief include:
- Roman chamomile
#5 Fix Your Sleep
I’ve written about the effect of stress on sleep – and how raised cortisol levels caused by stress can have a negative impact on your sleep. Getting serious about your sleep is crucial for a healthy and happy life!
Focus on keeping to a regular bedtime and ban all electronics from the bedroom. I promise you: you’ll sleep better without the TV blaring in the background – and there really is no need to check your emails at 10 pm. So keep the electronics out of the bedroom to reduce your stress levels, but also to avoid messing with your circadian rhythm – as most screens emit blue frequency light that can mess with your sleep/wake cycle. Avoiding screens for 1-2 hours before bed is best. Having your bedroom as dark and cool as possible will also help. And wearing blue light blocking glasses in the evening can also be helpful if you need to be looking at a screen after the sun goes down.
#6 Listen to Music
Have you noticed that music can boost your mood, and often energize you? Next time the work tasks are piling up, or the house looks a mess and you don’t know where to start, try having a dance party for 10 minutes! Not only does that keep you moving (see point 1), but the music can also make you happy.
However there’s also a use for more relaxing music. Listening to slow tempo instrumentals can help lower your cortisol levels – while also reducing your blood pressure and heart rate. Nature sounds are also effective. Binaural beats can be a fantastic tool to combat stress, as they introduce new frequencies to your brain that trigger delta or theta state, enhancing relaxation, meditation and sleep.
#7 Body Work: Acupuncture, Massage, Chiropractic Care
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years in Chinese Medicine to treat many symptoms and diseases by promoting natural healing and improved function via working with a system of energy channels called meridians that run in channels throughout the body. It has also been proven to reduce stress, even on the cellular level. I personally find acupuncture sessions to be extremely relaxing! Massage therapy, cupping therapy, reiki, Rolfing, and chiropractic sessions can all be stress reducing, as well as relieve symptoms like muscle aches, headaches, pain and fatigue.
#8 Use Infrared Therapy to Reduce Your Stress
Another way to help reduce stress is to do things like infrared sauna sessions or BioMat sessions. The BioMat is FDA licensed, and has a host of health benefits. The combination of infrared light and negative ions penetrate your body at a cellular level, generating a pleasant, relaxing warmth. I personally like to get a win-win out of my sessions–I meditate while I am doing it!
Exposure to Infrared light therapy (also known as photobiomodulation) helps your body regulate cortisol levels, while inducing muscle relaxation, and increasing endorphin release. Infrared sauna use is also very well known to help with detoxification.
Infrared sauna and BioMat sessions are easy, non-invasive, and a relaxing way to build destressing into your routine while improving your health.
If you’re interested in checking out acupuncture, infrared sauna or BioMat treatments in the Phoenix, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Arizona area, call to book an appointment at 602 892-4727 or fill out our contact form.