Stress Management: 10 Techniques to Reduce Stress Naturally

By Roy Krebs

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According to Registered Dietician Kerry-Ann Jennings, 70% of U.S. adults say they experience stress or anxiety every day. [1]

Stress can be positive, and it can even be used to your advantage—think of the surge of adrenaline that athletes must feel at the start of a big race, for instance.  

But too much stress can lead to a wide range of health problems including anxiety, depression, premature aging, heart disease, and possibly even cancer.

Today, we’ll take a deeper look into what stress actually is. We’ll outline the main causes, signs and indications, and discuss the health benefits of minimizing stress.

We will then consider the evidence behind 10 of our favorite techniques for reducing stress naturally.

Feeling stressed? Pull up a chair and relax! And read on...

What is Stress?

Stress is the body’s natural response to danger. When your brain perceives a threat—a nearby pickpocket or the horror of a full inbox—it sends the body a signal which triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

These hormones activate your fight or flight response. Either you run from the man about to steal your wallet, or eat lunch at your desk to valiantly fight back against your email.

To some extent, stress makes you stronger. It does so by releasing a boost of energy which then helps you deal with the threat.

If you’re about to run a marathon or do a big presentation, this surge of adrenaline gives you a kickstart and keeps you going.

But too much stress—chronic stress—is not good for you. It can lead to numerous serious health problems, including weight gain, sleep disruptions, digestive problems, and even heart disease. [2]

 

What are the Health Benefits of Reduced Stress?

The endocrine system is responsible for producing stress hormones. But if it’s too busy producing these hormones, the production of other hormones like serotonin, melatonin, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone can become unbalanced.

Repeated spikes in stress hormones over a prolonged period may increase inflammation, affect your immune system, cause anxiety, weight gain, premature aging, insomnia, infertility, and put you at higher risk for a number of diseases.  

Taking measures to reduce your stress levels could help manage many common health problems, including:

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Fatigue 
  • Sleep problems 
  • Obesity 
  • Skin conditions 
  • Allergies 
  • Asthma
  • Infertility

Taking extra steps to lower stress may also reduce the risk and severity of seriously life-threatening health problems like:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer 
  • Autoimmune disorders 
  • Diabetes

What are the Main Causes of Stress?

Humans have always lived stressful lives. When our ancestors were running from marauding neighbors, they really needed to use the fight or flight response!

Today we’re not likely to be attacked by a wolves, but our brains can’t always distinguish between physical and mental threats. We may have the same stress response to a schedule packed full of meetings as we would to a Viking invasion!

Stress responses are complicated, and differ between individuals.

What's more, sometimes we don't even realize when we are stressed out, so we may be experiencing chronic stress without even knowing it.

Here are some common underlying causes of stress for us today:

  • Inadequate nutrition from extreme dieting or over-reliance on processed foods
  • Too much sugar, caffeine, and/or alcohol
  • Not enough sleep
  • Lack of exercise (or over-training)
  • Toxins from food, water, pollution, cleaning and personal care products
  • Worries about financial or emotional problems
  • Reaction to change, such as a new job or relocation
  • Stress caused by too much input from cellphones and other digital devices

What are the Common Signs and Indicators of Stress?

Whether we’re excited about a first date or stressed about paying the rent, symptoms of situational or occasional stress tend to be similar, and may include heart palpitations, loss of appetite, sweaty palms, and disturbed sleep.

Many of the signs and indications of chronic stress, however, cannot be easily seen. Increased levels of blood sugar or hormones, for example, will only be revealed by tests.

Because of this, it's often only when the symptoms of stress become so severe they lead to more serious health issues that they are identified.

The Link Between Eating and Stress

A balanced diet rich in brain foods delivers all the nutrients your body needs for cell regeneration and communication, energy, and hormone production. When your body’s nutritional needs are met, your brain will also work most effectively.  

A poor diet—particularly one that relies heavily on processed foods high in salt, sugar or additives—may lead to inflammation in the brain and spikes in blood sugar. Nutritional deficiencies may contribute to stress, brain fog, and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

While drinking a small amount of caffeine each day can help you stay focused, too much can cause anxiety and affect the quality of your sleep. Similarly, alcohol may cause dehydration and sleep disruption, each of which impede brain functioning.  

But the relationship between stress and eating is complicated. Your diet might not only be a cause of stress—it could also be a symptom.

Stress can either cause you to lose your appetite or lead to you to binge eat. And if you regularly skip meals or don’t take on the right nutrients, your body may crave quick hits of energy in the form of sugary snacks.

Stress can, therefore, lead to weight gain, elevated blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and diabetes.

10 Techniques to Relieve Stress Naturally

Thankfully, stress has been the subject of hundreds of studies, which means there are many proven and effective natural stress relievers out there. 

What's the best thing to do to relieve stress?

Here’s a roundup of 10 of our favorites.

1. Eat a Nutrient-Rich Diet

    Omega-3 Fatty Acids

    Omega-3 Fatty Acids are considered to be one of the best brain foods as they support healthy cells and cell membranes.

    The results of a study on medical students suggest that omega-3 may reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety by lowering inflammation in the brain. [3]

    Researchers believe that brain inflammation is linked to other brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, depression, and brain fog.

    Omega-3s are found in oily fish such as salmon or mackerel, but you should always be careful to buy quality wild-caught fish, as farmed fish can contain high levels of mercury and other toxins.

    If it’s difficult to source quality fish, consider including a supplement containing omega-3s such as krill oil in your stack.

    Related: 10 Reasons to Consider a Daily Krill Oil Supplement

    B Vitamins 

    B-complex vitamins are essential for the effective functioning of the brain, and a deficiency can cause fatigue, irritability, and depression. Studies have shown supplementing with B-complex vitamins can reduce stress. [4]

    B vitamins are also found in cereals, beans and peas, nuts, eggs, liver, and dairy as well as oily fish.

    Magnesium and Calcium

    Consuming foods that contain magnesium and calcium, such as fish, green leafy vegetables, and nuts, may reduce stress by aiding relaxation, relieving headaches, and helping you to sleep better.

    Supplements can also be extremely beneficial for lowering stress levels. [5]

    High Quality Proteins and Whole Grains

    Foods such as chicken, fish, and whole grain cereals promote the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, and give you enough fuel to get you through the day.

    2. Home Remedies

    Passionflower

    Passionflower has been used for hundreds of years to treat anxiety and depression. Studies suggest it might be as effective as the anti-stress drug benzodiazepine.

    One study shows that a component of passionflower could increase the amount of the chemical gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) in your brain, which can aid with relaxation. [6]

    Ashwagandha

    This Ayurvedic herb is used to relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety. Though it’s been used for centuries, modern research supports its effectiveness in combating anxiety. [7]

    Green Tea

    Green Tea contains polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that may help reduce symptoms of stress by triggering the production of the happiness hormone, serotonin. [8]

    Other Home Remedies

    Valerian, lemon balm, and kava kava have all been shown to have a positive effect on stress and anxiety. [9]

    3. Meditation

    Meditation has been used for centuries to treat symptoms of stress. Modern research supports the theory that meditation can help reduce physical responses to stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. [10]

    If you’re in a situation where you’re wondering how to relieve stress fast, if you’re about to do a presentation or exam for instance, taking even a few minutes in a quiet place to focus on your breathing is a quick and effective way to calm down.

    The beauty of meditation is that it can be practiced at home, for free, without any need for a therapist.

    It can take a while to master, however, so if you find it hard at first, persevere. You might consider downloading an app to guide you.

    According to psychologist, Robbie Maller Hartman, PhD, practicing meditation every day could rewire your brain and make it “more resilient to stress” in the long term. [11] 

    4. Exercise

    There’s plenty of research out there showing that people who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from stress and anxiety—this happens for a few reasons. [12]

    Exercise lowers stress hormones while triggering feel-good endorphins. It helps you sleep, regulates blood-sugar levels and may improve self-confidence, all of which could have a positive effect on stress levels.

    Yoga is often recommended as a gentle exercise option. A review of 25 trials carried out in 2015 suggests that yoga may help reduce symptoms of stress and improve mood. [13]

    5. Sleep

    With busy workloads, hectic social lives, the demands of cell phones and other devices, it’s almost impossible for most of us to get to bed at a decent time.

    Yet sleep is one of the best natural stress relievers there is. A good sleep routine is essential for mental health, and allows your body to rest, rejuvenate, and dispose of toxins.

    Try and make sleep a priority in your life for a week and see how much better you feel. If you’re unsure how to sleep well, try some of these snooze-inducing tips: 

    • Establish a regular bedtime routine which starts about an hour before you want to go to sleep
    • Switch off electronic devices a couple of hours before bedtime
    • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol after about 2pm
    • Lull your brain to sleep with calm, soothing activities such as listening to music, reading or a warm bath.
    • Try a sleep app to help you understand your sleeping patterns better

      6. Reduce Exposure to Toxins

      When your stress levels are high, your body goes into survival mode, shutting down all functions that it considers non-essential, in order to put all its energy into the fight-or-flight response.

      This means some functions such as removal of toxins become slow and inefficient.

      You are exposed to toxins all the time. The foods you eat may contain high levels of toxins from additives, processing, agricultural and manufacturing methods.

      Unless you buy natural products, it’s important to note that the cleaning products you use in the shower and around your house may also be packed full of toxins. Even the plastic boxes you use to store food may be damaging your health.

      It’s basically impossible to avoid toxins altogether, but you can reduce your exposure by:

      • Eating organic food and avoiding processed foods as much as possible
      • Drinking lots of water to flush the toxins from your system
      • Using natural products for cleaning and personal care
      • Storing foods in glass containers rather than plastic

      7. Aromatherapy

      Using essential oils can help reduce the symptoms of stress by releasing chemicals that promote relaxation and calmness. They are often also used to improve sleep.

      Try lavender, chamomile, frankincense, bergamot or rosemary in a hot bath, a massage oil or a diffuser.

      8. Music

      Studies have shown that listening to music can help reduce stress levels. This may be because vibrations caused by music have a physical and mental effect, lowering blood pressure and calming stress hormones. [14]

      9. Acupuncture

      Acupuncture can have a positive effect on stress. In patients recovering from heart disease, acupuncture was shown to reduce stress by regulating the nervous system, reducing blood pressure, and boosting circulation. [15]

      10. Limit Cell Phone Use

      If you’re always available by cell phone, email or any other device, it’s very hard to escape from stress.

      Constant connectivity has become a habit many people find hard to break. Round the clock availability and exposure to incoming information makes it difficult to switch off.

      Try intentionally building at least 1-2 hour period into each day where you are not connected. 

      Be wary of using devices like cell phones at night. Blue light from screens disrupts the production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.

      Related: Beyond Blue Light: How Technology is Killing our Eyes

      In addition, checking your messages can kick-start your brain and make it harder to sleep.

      Other Strategies for Coping with Stress

      • Laughter: A good laugh is an excellent way to relieve tension and gain a sense of perspective. If you’re feeling stressed, finding a way to laugh may sound difficult, but try watching a comedy show or listening to a funny podcast.  
      • Nature: Fresh air and exercise may help you get a good night’s sleep. But there might be more to it than that. Studies have shown that some environments have restorative value and that spending time in natural surroundings may help reduce the physical symptoms of stress. [16]  
      • Get organized: Could some of your stress be reduced by being more organized? Take some time to declutter your house, tidy up your paperwork, and reduce your inbox and see what effect it has.
      • Say no: Be strict with your calendar, don’t take on too much work or too many social events. Clear boundaries are essential for getting stress under control, especially if you are chronically feeling “pulled” in several directions.
      • Keep a journal: When you feel stressed and your mind is racing, it can be difficult to stop your worries spiralling out of control. Taking a few minutes to write down your feelings can help you clarify both positive and negative emotions.   
      • Physical contact: Physical contact leads to a release of oxytocin and a reduction in cortisol. Hugs, kisses and sex can all help to relieve stress. Even chimps have been shown to cuddle their stressed friends! [17]

      The Key to Positive Stress Management

      Stress is a part of our everyday lives, so it’s important to understand what kind of stress is positive (and necessary) versus what kind of stress may be causing harm in the long term.

      Sometimes, it’s a matter of perspective. For instance, the next time you have an important job interview and feel nervous, you can remember that the surge of adrenaline you may experience can actually help keep you focused and alert.  

      The secret is to harness positive stress and use it to your advantage while taking care to manage chronic stress that can lead to ill health.

      You may also want to consider your lifestyle choices. Do you need to add more exercise, meditation or sleep into your daily routine?

      Could getting more organized help, or spending more time in nature?

      Perhaps most importantly, take a look at your diet to make sure you eat enough stress-busting brain foods.

      Consider adding some quality supplements to your stack to make sure you get all the nutrients you need for restorative sleep and to boost your mood.

      What are your favorite techniques for reducing stress naturally? Tell us in the comments!

       

      1. "16 Simple Ways to Reduce Stress." Healthline.

      2. "Chronic stress puts your health at risk." Mayo Clinic

      3. Kiecolt-Glaser JK. "Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial."  2011 Nov;25(8):1725-34.

      4. Stough, Con et al. "Reducing occupational stress with a B-vitamin focussed intervention: a randomized clinical trial: study protocol." . 2014; 13: 122.

      5. Boyle, Neil Bernard. "The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress—A Systematic Review." . 2017 May; 9(5): 429.

      6. Akhondzadeh S. "Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam."  2001 Oct 26(5): 363-7.

      7. Pratte, MA et al. "An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)."  2014 Dec 20(12):901-8.

      8. Mirza, B et al. "Neurochemical and behavioral effects of green tea (Camellia sinensis): a model study."  2013 May 26(3): 511-6.

      9. Weeks, BS. "Formulations of dietary supplements and herbal extracts for relaxation and anxiolytic action: Relarian."  2009 Nov 15 (11).

      10. Hoge, Elizabeth A. M.D. "Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity." J Clin Psychiatry. 2013 Aug; 74(8): 786–792.

      11. Moninger, Jeanette. "10 Relaxation Techniques That Zap Stress Fast." Web MD. 

      12. De Moor, M.H.M et al. "Regular exercise, anxiety, depression and personality: A population-based study." Preventive MedicineVolume 42, Issue 4, April 2006, Pages 273-279.

      13. Pascoe, Michaela C. and Bauer, Isabelle E. "A systematic review of randomised control trials on the effects of yoga on stress measures and mood."Journal of Psychiatric ResearchVolume 68, September 2015, Pages 270-282.

      14. Linnemann A et al. "The stress-reducing effect of music listening varies depending on the social context."  2016 Oct; 72:97-105

      15. Middlekauff HR et al. "Acupuncture inhibits sympathetic activation during mental stress in advanced heart failure patients."  2002 Dec;8(6):399-406.

      16. Berto R1. "The role of nature in coping with psycho-physiological stress: a literature review on restorativeness."  2014 Oct 21;4(4):394-409.

      17. "Empathetic chimps cuddle their stressed friends." New Scientist. Volume 198, Issue 2661, 18 June 2008, Page 22.

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