Stress. We all deal with it, yet we know how much better off we’d be (both physically and mentally) if we could get it under control and find stress relievers that really work. While stress can be a positive motivating factor at times (such as when you’re under pressure to perform well at work or to ace an important exam) more and more research shows that chronic stress impacts the body in ways similar to a poor diet, lack of sleep, or sedentary lifestyle.
Would you believe that 75-90% of all doctor visits are related to conditions caused by stress. How exactly does stress negatively affect our health in so many ways? It mostly boils down to changes in our hormones, which then contribute to an increase in inflammation and various other problems.
Uncontrolled stress experienced over a long period of time is considered “chronic,” meaning dangerous. It can be capable of increasing someone’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain or obesity, metal disorders, autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, and even cancer.
Let’s face it, the stress we face today isn’t going anywhere, which is exactly why it’s more important than ever to find natural ways to minimize stress, ones that really work. If you’re up against large amounts of stress in your life (and who isn’t) studies show you can greatly benefit from carving out more time in your busy schedule for things like regular exercise, spending time outdoors, and keeping up with fun hobbies.
We can’t always control the sources of stress in our lives, but we can change how we react to them. The good news is this: The human body is actually designed to experience and handle stress, which is exactly why our bodies react to it so strongly. With some practice, we have the power to use our advantage (for example, the fact that stress keeps us more alert and attentive) while better controlling other negative reactions like digestion problems or giving in to cravings for unhealthy food.
So, what are the best natural stress relievers available to us, and how can we ensure that we don’t allow stress to control our lives? Here are some of the easiest and most effective natural ways to reduce stress levels in your life.
1. Exercise To Feel Good
Physical activity and exertion are proven to help reduce stress because they can lower the body’s stress hormones, like cortisol, and at the same time release endorphins, those chemicals in the brain that act a bit like natural painkillers and mood improvers.
Regular exercise can also help you sleep deeply and for longer, something that is also known to improve stress levels.
Exercise can come more naturally to some people than others, but if you’re not currently living a very active lifestyle, the good news is that even moderate exercise can be beneficial when it comes to help reducing stress.
Just going for a daily walk can make a big difference if you are currently mostly sedentary. Finding a form of regular exercise that is sustainable for you is important. That could be walking, running, swimming, or going to the gym, or it might be something like yoga, dancing, or even rock climbing, horse riding, or trampolining. Find what works for you.
2. Listen to Music to Relax
Remember that positive feeling when a song that you love came on the radio? That’s no coincidence, because music is a proven stress reliever and mood improver.
Taking time out of your day to listen to music, even for a few minutes, putting aside everything else for a little while, can be very beneficial if you’re feeling stressed.
The type of music that will help you chill out does vary from person to person, but tunes with a slower tempo can help relax your muscles and quiet your mind.
Some people swear by listening to classical or light jazz, but for others that could be their worst nightmare, and forcing yourself to listen to music you don’t like isn’t going to be helpful for de-stressing.
If you use Spotify, there are hundreds of playlists already in existence that you can try out if you want to find something that works for your stress levels, such as those on their chill page.
3. Maintain a Nutrient-Dense Diet
A steady supply of nutrients like essential vitamins, trace minerals, healthy fats, electrolytes, amino acids, and antioxidants all help your brain handle stress better, therefore benefiting your whole body.
It’s important to eat regularly in order to keep your blood glucose at the level that your body needs to function optimally, so skipping meals can be detrimental to your stress levels.
Some of the best foods for natural stress relief include:
- Foods high in B vitamins (which the body uses to convert nutrients to energy) such as raw or cultured dairy products, cage-free eggs, beef, wild caught fish, poultry, and leafy green vegetables.
- Foods high in calcium and magnesium. As relaxing minerals and electrolytes, calcium and magnesium are important for relaxing muscles, relieving headaches, and helping you sleep. Try unsweetened yogurt, wild caught salmon, beans, leafy green vegetables, avocados, and nuts.
- High protein foods. Foods with protein provide amino acids that are needed for neurotransmitter functions. Try lentils, black beans, eggs, beef, cottage cheese, and nuts.
- Healthy fats and omega 3 fatty acids. Cold water, wild-caught fish, like salmon or sardines, can reduce inflammation and help stabilize moods, plus omega 3s are great for the brain and heart health. Other healthy fats that support brain health include nuts or seeds, avocados, olive oil, and coconut oil.
4. Take Steps to Improve Your Sleep Quality
As mentioned earlier, there are known links between poor sleep and high stress levels and it easily becomes a cycle, where the more stressed you feel, the worse you sleep, making you even more stressed.
Lots of people who have sleep disorders don’t realize that stress is why their sleep is poor, so it’s always worth speaking with your GP if you have serious sleep issues. For those who don’t have a sleeping disorder, these easy steps can help improve the quality of your sleep, which can in turn help to reduce stress levels.
- Go to bed at the same time every evening and try to wake up at the same time in the morning to help train your brain when it should be sleeping.
- Try to avoid screen use for at least 30 minutes before you try to sleep.
- Use blackout curtains or blinds to stop light from waking you up.
- Once you wake up, try to immediately open the curtains or blinds to let the light in and train your brain that it’s time to wake up.
- Introduce a relaxing bedtime routine such as a bath or shower, reading, listening to an audiobook, writing things down in a journal, etc. If you do the same thing every evening, it can train your brain to start feeling sleepy at the right time.
5. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is being aware of what is going on with your senses, your thoughts, and feelings in that exact moment, and putting aside distractions. There are proven links between mindfulness, or practicing mindful meditation, and reductions in stress levels.
There are several reasons for this, which include being able to take a step back from thoughts and see them in a wider context, so that you don’t find them stressful anymore.
Mindfulness is also thought to help with focus, which can reduce the stress response and overall can change the way that you view and respond to stress. It can help to turn stress into a more positive thing for your mind and body.
6. Keep a Journal
Keeping track of your emotions, both positive and negative, along with the events that can trigger them can help you identify what’s causing stress. A journal is an easy effective way to monitor your state of mind throughout the day, focus on thoughts that cause you harm, and figure out what’s really bothering you when you’re unsure.
A journal can also reduce stress by helping you stay organized, such as listing out appointments, household responsibilities, job assignments, or other tasks so you’re less frantic and less likely to miss important deadlines.
7. Reduce Your Daily Caffeine Intake
The effect caffeine has on your body will vary from person to person, but it is known to sometimes increase the levels of stress hormones in the body (cortisol and epinephrine). Reducing your daily intake can help to have a positive impact on how stressed you feel.
Taking away all coffee from some people could be risky, but keeping caffeine to a moderate level could help (e.g. no more than three-four cups of coffee a day). Your average cup of tea has roughly half the amount of caffeine per cup as coffee and fruit teas are usually caffeine free.
8. Spend More Time in Nature and Being Social
Making time for connecting with the people around you, spending time outside, and doing things you love with family, friends, and your partner are all stress relievers that are good for your health in many ways. Social connection is tied to longevity, since it helps people feel like they’re part of something larger than themselves and helps give them perspective.
Being outdoors has some similar effects, reminding people that they’re one piece of a much larger universe lifting their moods and making it easier to get good sleep.
For many American workers, their work stress accelerates because they don’t take their full vacation or are always on call. Instead, take your deserved vacation days to give your body and brain a break from work. Same goes for an over-packed work day. If you find your days crammed, go outside for a short walk, take a lunch break (not at your desk), and try not to work past 5pm if you started earlier.
9. Try CBD Products to Combat Stress
Many people find CBD beneficial for their general lifestyle, the most popular reasons being:
- Its ability to aid relaxation after stressful days or experiences
- Its ability to help to support a good sleep/wake cycle
- Its general support of the mood.
All of those things can also contribute to managing stress levels.
If you’re new to CBD, you might want to start with CBD gummies, CBD edibles, or a topical CBD muscle rub which can help you relax after exercise. (Always consult your doctor before using CBD products for the first time, especially if you take any medications.)
You can also take CBD tincture in drops under the tongue or by adding it to your favorite drinks or food.
Using some of these tips can help reduce your stress levels and be transformative in many areas of your life. Research shows that lowering stress can result in many benefits including:
- Better sleep
- Better control of your weight
- Less frequent illness and quicker recovery time if you do become ill
- Improved mood
- More positive relationships with family and friends.