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Thanks to the pace of modern life and the expectations we place on ourselves, more people than ever are living in a state of stress. In a literal sense, stress just means a stimulus, positive or negative, that changes the status quo. However, when we talk about feeling stressed, we almost always mean there’s some negative disturbance to our physiology that is producing undesirable mental and physical effects.
Some stress is unavoidable, of course, but even when you can’t make life totally stress free, there are ways to reduce its impact.
Here are five ways to manage stress naturally:
If you’re feeling stressed and under pressure, you might be tempted to turn to coffee to keep you going. This isn’t necessarily the best idea, as caffeine has stimulatory properties that can upset your sleep, digestion, and mood, and actually make you feel more restless and on edge.
Along with coffee, caffeine is also found in many types of tea and soft drinks. Some less well-known “hidden” sources of caffeine include, chocolate, cough and cold medicine, and other over-the-counter medicines.
Racing around trying to get through your to-do list might mean you turn to fast, convenient, and sugary snacks for a quick burst of energy. The problem is, the energy boost is short-lived and can even lead to an energy slump and reduced productivity.
Uneven blood sugar levels can also disrupt sleep and affect immune function. Fluctuating blood sugar is actually the most significant internal stressor.
Some ways to minimize fluctuations in blood sugar include:
Eating regularly – no skipping meals!
Eating a little protein and fat with each meal
Eating low glycemic index foods
Increasing fibre intake
Fibre is great because it helps to keep your blood sugar levels within the normal range, and keeps you feeling fuller for longer.
In short, choose whole food snacks and minimize your intake of sweets to help balance your blood sugar levels.
Exercise is an excellent stress reliever and an excellent way to keep the negative effects of stress at bay. A short walk after breakfast, at lunchtime, or in the afternoon or evening helps get your blood circulating and can help relax tense muscles, while also giving your brain a boost, so you’ll be primed for productivity.
Making time to exercise can feel stressful in itself, but it needn’t be just another chore to add to the list. Instead, try building physical activity into your daily routine by cycling or walking to work, taking the stairs, or switching out a movie date for a stroll around the park.
As for relaxation, even the simple act of pausing for a moment several times a day to take deep breaths and consciously relax, can be an effective way to let go of stress and promote a more peaceful frame of mind. Other ways to relax and unwind include taking a bath, practising yoga, reading a good novel, gardening, and spending time with friends, family, and animal companions.
Smell is one of your strongest senses – it influences memory, alertness, and emotions, so why not harness your sense of smell to help combat stress?
Whether you’re feeling sad, stressed, or nervous, breathing in the aroma of natural essential oils from plants such as lavender, bergamot, and lemon may help improve your mood.
The aromatic chemicals within plants act by stimulating receptors in your nose to affect the emotional centre of your brain. Although the scientific evidence showing exactly how they affect your body is limited, the following aromatic plants are used successfully in aromatherapy for their mood-boosting essential oils:[1,2]
Bergamot: The spicy citrus aroma calms stress and anxiety, while improving mood.
Chamomile: Well known as a nighttime tea, its aroma supports a calm and relaxed state.
Clary Sage: The scent of this flowering herb encourages feelings of well-being and calms the nerves.
Lavender: This herb looks and smells beautiful, while helping to calm, relax, and improve mood.
Lemon: Its fresh, clean aroma is often used to stimulate and revive the mind.
Orange: The uplifting, sweet aroma of orange fosters a positive mood, while helping to reduce feelings of anxiety.
Peppermint: This cool and refreshing fragrance promotes a calm and focused mood.
Rose: The sweet floral notes of rose can uplift the mood and encourage feelings of happiness.
Ylang Ylang: The sweet-smelling bouquet helps relaxation and promotes a positive mood.
A variety of nutrients are vital for a normal stress response. B vitamins are important for nervous system function, as is magnesium, which we need for muscle relaxation. A deficiency of magnesium can result in difficulty sleeping, occasional constipation, muscle tension, nervousness, and irritability.
Adaptogenic herbs are also helpful when you’re facing stress as they help the mind and body adapt to, and recover from, mental and physical stress. Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb that is used in herbal medicine to enhance mental clarity, increase energy, and help support mental stamina and reduce nervousness during times of stress.
Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT
Leigh Matthews is a health and wellness writer specializing in plant-based nutrition and environmental health.