In the world we live in I don’t know anyone that doesn’t deal with stress, do you? Stress has become a part of life for most of us. But how much stress is too much? When we are under so much stress that we start having stress symptoms that are detrimental to our health and well-being, it is definitely time to find some stress relief. The American Psychological Association found in its 2009 Stress in America study that 24% of adults have a high level of stress and tension. This was 42% more than reported the year before (http://ow.ly/BlAe4). If you are in that percentage, stress relief is important because a body that stays in a stressed state and can’t return to a resting state can affect body organs, cells, and cognitive processes.
The Effects of Stress
When we are under stress the brain signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. This can sometimes be useful according to Jill Evenson, ND, president of the Wisconsin Naturopathic Physicians Association as it gives us a boost that helps us get projects done on time (http://ow.ly/BlAe4). The problem comes when we are always in that mode and the stress hormones don’t return to a normal level. Roberta Lee, MD, author of The SuperStress Solution, calls chronic amounts of stress superstress (http://ow.ly/BlAe4). Too much worry and anxiety can also be GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). Chronic stress symptoms include extreme fatigue, headaches, reduced libido, and memory problems. GAD affects around 7 million Americans, many of whom don’t even know they have it. People with GAD experience tenseness and anxiety almost all the time whether there is a reason for worry or not and can show stress symptoms of pain in the muscles, diarrhea, headaches, tremors, and nausea. These people can’t stop worrying and are not able to relax (http://ow.ly/BlAH9). No amount of on-going stress is good, but if you are in either of these stress categories, finding stress relief strategies that work for you is especially important. Here are a few natural stress relief ideas to consider.
Stress Relief Diet
With everything that involves your health, a good place to start is to look at your diet. It is tempting when rushed and stressed to grab fast food meals and sugary, simple carb comfort foods. When you are under stress however, these are exactly the types of foods that will not benefit you. Michael Smith, ND, of the Carolinas Natural Health Center in North Carolina, explains that eating these types of foods cause more work for the body (http://ow.ly/BlAe4). Since damage from oxidation occurs from eating fast food, junk food, simple carbs and sugars, a body that is already having to fight off oxidative damage caused by stress then has to deal with all this extra damage from a poor diet. The type of foods to eat when you are under stress are those with lots of antioxidants to help fight off damaging free radicals. Bright colored fruits and vegetables are the best antioxidant food sources. Green tea also has antioxidant power and has a calming effect.
Here are a few specific foods that can help with stress relief recommended by Tara Geise, a registered dietitian in Orlando, Florida, and a spokesperson for American Dietetic Association (http://ow.ly/BlBZq):
1. Asparagus – has folic acid needed to make serotonin helps with mood stabilization
2. Dairy – Dairy products like cottage cheese and milk have protein and calcium to help keep blood sugar levels stable and milk has antioxidants, B2 and B12 vitamins that help fight off damage to body cells from stress.
3. Beef – has zinc, iron and B vitamins for mood stabilization.
Whole grains and monounsaturated fats as well as lean protein foods will also benefit the stressed out body. Complex carbohydrates help the brain make serotonin and keep blood sugar levels stable. Monounsaturated fats can be high in calories so you don’t want to go overboard with them, but they should be included in a stress reducing diet. Avocados for instance have more potassium than bananas and help keep blood pressure at a good level. Foods with vitamin C have been shown through research studies to help return blood pressure and stress hormone levels to normal quicker. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids such as found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and herring help maintain even levels of stress hormones. AFA bluegreen algae is also high in omega-3 for those who don’t have time to make fish or just don’t like it. Caffeine and alcohol can actually make stress worse and should be avoided during high stress periods.
Movement for Stress Relief
Another strategy for stress relief is body movement. This could be a formal exercise program or just getting out and doing things you enjoy that move your body such as swimming, bicycling or dancing. Exercise reduces levels of adrenaline being released, increases oxygen to the lungs, releases endorphins which make us feel good, delivers more nutrients to your muscles, supports digestion and metabolism, and helps your immune system clear toxins out of the body. So whether you join an exercise class, follow an exercise video at home, do basic exercises on your own, go for power walks on your lunch break or join a sports team, make sure you get at least half an hour of moving your body three or four times a week, if your healthcare provider agrees you are healthy enough to do so.
Learning to Relax for Stress Relief
There are various types of relaxation techniques that can be engaged in or learned. Some people find relaxation through massage or sitting in a massage vibration chair. Others find water such as a hot springs pool or hot tub relaxes them. Some people find relaxation in hobbies such as gardening, cooking, or woodworking. Michael Smith, ND advises that just taking 3 long, slow breaths can be relaxing as this will calm the autonomic nervous system and give you more energy, help the immune system function better and reduce blood pressure (http://ow.ly/BlAe4). Another stress relief strategy found particularly useful for people with GAD is cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a type of therapy done with a counselor that helps you explore those things that cause you anxiety and teaches you techniques for calming and relaxing (http://ow.ly/BlAH9). You may need to try out a variety of relaxation techniques to find what works for you. The main thing is to keep trying until you find one that works. Your body needs those relaxing down times, so don’t give up if you don’t find something right away.
Supplements for Stress Relief
There are some supplements that can be helpful for stress relief. Especially for those people that are stressed by having too much to do in a day and don’t take the time to eat right, supplements can help fill the nutritional gaps. Fish oil supplements are one way to get omega-3 fatty acids into your diet, but you can also get a wide array of other nutrients, vitamins and minerals as well as omega-3 and the extra protein that can help with stress relief by taking AFA bluegreen algae with the cell wall for physical well-being and without the cell wall for mental well-being. If your stress goes hand in hand with anxiety, then the herbal supplement Kava, Valerian or St. John’s Wort may be helpful. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before taking herbal supplements especially if you are on medications to make sure they are safe for you.
Since stress can interfere with your digestive health and cause problems with normal digestion and worsen symptoms if you have an intestinal disorder or disease, supporting your digestive health with probiotic supplements such as acidophilus, bifidus, or a full spectrum probiotic supplement may be helpful for you. One of your gut functions is to produce B vitamins. B vitamins, especially B-12, help us relax, soothe our nerves and help us deal with stress. When we are stressed, we tend to use up our body’s supply of B vitamins just when we need them most and need to replace them. Having healthy probiotics in your gut can give your body a boost to keep producing these vitamins and help your body cope with stress as well as support overall digestive system function and gut health.
Hopefully among these tips you get some ideas for how to deal with your stress. We live in a time that we can’t completely do away with stress, but finding ways of stress relief can keep stress from ruining your life and your health.
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