Today I want to give you a round-up of my 12 favorite ways to decrease stress.
Because if you can can decrease your stress levels, you can protect your longevity.
I’ve blogged in the past about how probiotics are so powerful in stabilizing the mind that they are actually a treatment for depression. In a new study, researchers show that taking probiotics for only one month reduces stress, decreases anxiety and even improves memory!
Researchers looked at the strain of Bifidobacterium longum and followed what effect this probiotic had when used as a “psychobiotic” — looking at mood, stress, and even cognitive performance.
Turns out, not only does the gut play an essential role in your ability to absorb and utilize nutrients… and not only does the gut play an enormous role in our immune function… and not only does the gut play a clearly defined role in mood… but it is now shown to play a role in cognition, memory, and the ability to retain healthy thought function under stress.
Research presented Oct 18, 2015 at the Society For Neuroscience annual meeting showed that after only one month, B. Longum statistically and significantly:
- reduced the cumulative output of the stress hormone cortisol
- decreased subjective reports of anxiety in response to acute stress
- improved memory and improved EEG output
It’s exciting to focus on treating stress, anxiety, depression and memory disturbances through enhancing the gut biome, because this is a low cost, easily accessible all natural non-prescription, healthy and fabulous intervention that we can all be taking to become resilient to stress.
We can’t change the stress that life brings, but one thing we do have the power to modify is that we can support our gut microbiome better so that we can boost mood and support brain function.
- Adding probiotic containing foods such as fermented foods, kefir, komubcha and organic whole fat yogurt to your diet routinely (one study showed that eating yogurt completely resolved irritable bowel symptoms and gave patients full remission within 6 months)
- Taking a high quality probiotic supplement that includes strains (such as b. longum and b. bifidum) that have been medically proven to affect brain function and support the gut/mind axis.
- Other supplements to consider:
Magnesium: being mineral deficient can trigger anxiety symptoms… magnesium deficiency can cause shakiness, muscle tension and irregular heartbeat. Your muscles (including your heart!) and your central nervous system absolutely need minerals to stabilize and function. I highly recommend magnesium replacement if you tend to feel anxious, stressed or have areas of muscle tension. Nightly magnesium bath soaks, topical applications of magnesium lotion, or trace mineral drops in water throughout the day can do wonders to settle a hyper-irritable central nervous system and soothe a tension.
Omega 3 fatty acids: Omega 3 fatty acids offer a calming effect on the brain. In fact, a medical study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity in November 2011 showed that taking Omega 3 fatty acid supplements dropped anxiety rates by 20%! Eating fish several times a week or taking krill oil daily is an easy way to boost your intake of Omega 3s.
Find my very favorite probiotics, mineral drops, omega 3 formulas and more in my pharmacy grade, online dispensary right here! That way, you can be sure that you are taking a medical grade product that WORKS. Not paying for an empty promise with weak or ineffective probiotic strains, or probiotics that have lost efficacy because of the way they were manufactured and stored.
Find medical grade probiotics, fish oils that are pure and tested, and minerals that are in the right dosages for optimum health right here.
2. Reconnect with nature.
When you get stressed out, all you have to do is walk out your front door, step out of your office, or stop driving and step out of your car.
To reconnect with nature is to find an instant sense of spaciousness, a calm centered experience as you take a single deep breath.
Reconnecting with the wonder of being a human being standing on a rock that spirals through space and seeing the earth for the vast support network it iscan’t help but lift your spirits for the better.
The power of nature can hold even your worst of days and remain an immovable source of strength.
Don’t believe me?
The next time you are having a panic attack, or a pounding headache, or a knot of worry grow in your stomach, just go outside. Get out there. Don’t force anything, just start walking and let nature work its magic.
3. Focus on Spirit.
This is something shown over and over again in the medical literature — the power of prayer to affect clinical outcome is a beautiful fact. Prayer (and meditation, if prayer does not appeal to you) both connect you to the bigger picture and remind you, you are not alone here.
“Life is too short to be taken seriously.” — Oscar Wilde
It’s not all on your shoulders alone… and it’s not as serious as you think it is. The surest way I know to alleviate stress and suffering is to find meaning in it. Whether it’s through mediation, personal prayer, asking friends and family to pray for you, cultivating your own sense of spirit surrounding and supporting you — these are all such important ways to alleviate stress.
The divine support system is around you, surrounding you, whether you are able to feel it or not. Calling on the power of prayer or connecting with that reservoir of love through meditation is an instant boost that strengthens you and changes outcome, no doubt about it.
Need some more inspiration? Read Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl.
He is a concentration camp survivor who writes beautifully about how the people who survived these horrific conditions were not the strongest, or youngest, or even the healthiest… they were the ones who found meaning in what they were going through.
Finding a deeper, spiritual meaning in what you are going through — focusing on the why behind the stress season instead of the demand of stress itself — is in and of itself enough to sustain you.
Consider developing a meditation practice or a prayer practice to get into a daily habit of reframing your outlook around the things that are stressing you out today… and as protection against the things that will stress you out tomorrow.
Literally even just repeating one word over and over for a few minutes (known as mantra therapy) has been shown to be so powerful it treats PTSD as good as psychotherapy! I review that medical study for you right here.
My kids will tell you that if I am really grumpy, all we have to do is hop in the car and turn on the radio and within a few songs, all of a sudden I don’t feel so hopeless. In fact, I feel optimistic and grateful and filled with the same sense of wonder and possibility that I feel when I spend time in nature.
My son funnels all his energy into his piano whenever he feels stressed out… and the music pouring through our home is as healing a presence as any I could possibly create even with my 26+ years of medical experience as a physician. Music is just. That. Good.
The power of music to wash through you and lift you is amazing. In fact, as I blog about here, music has the ability to lift dementia — it is that uplifting!
If you are feeling stressed or depressed, especially if you can not leave your current surroundings (perhaps you are in the hospital or your office or your car…) slip on some music and allow it to sweep through your soul and lift you higher.
5. Consider changing jobs.
No, I’m not joking. Stress on the job is such a real threat to your health that I think you should take it into account when figuring out your future.
Hop over here where I talk more about a medical study that shows that stress on the job can literally drive you crazy, and 4 ways to counterbalance it.
And if you can’t change jobs, take the time to invest in developing a good support system at your work. There IS a support system around you, even if you don’t think you have a friend in the world… yes even at work.
If you are suffering and over-taxed, ask for help. Ask your coworkers, your boss, the person you say hi to every day. If you have none of the above, go out into the world asking for help to show up — go to the park, go to your bank, go to the grocery store, go to the thrift shop.
Angels are out there waiting to embrace and help you.
6. Decrease Your Background Noise
- Normal conversation (at 60 dBA) can, over time, contribute negatively to health issues… increasing both heart attack and stroke risk by 6% and 14% respectively.
- The normal sound of cars driving/traffic, doubles that — increasing heart attack and stroke risk by 12% and 28% respectively.
- Listening to a telephone ring repeatedly increases risk of heart attack and stroke by 18% and 42% respectively, and on and on.
Think about your day:
- Do you hear traffic constantly (especially consider if you hear traffic where you sleep at night?)
- Do you work in an area where there is chronic talking (such as a hospital, a hotel, a store or a restaurant?)
- Do you work in an area where there are phones constantly ringing (such as at an office?)
- Do you work in an area that has music playing constantly?
- Do you sleep with music or a television on?
Use the centering power of your breath to provide calming bio-feedback immediately to your body.
Did you know it only takes 3 deep breaths to measurably decrease anxiety? That’s because deep breathing decreases your heart rate, decreases your blood pressure, stimulates digestion, lifts mood, and helps you relax more easily into sleep.
Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which that runs through your chest and abdomen and helps to regulate many different organs, including the heart, lungs, and the gastrointestinal tract. By stimulating the vagus nerve you support the parasympathetic nervous system into calming you down.
Try deep belly breathing (not shallow chest breathing) and slow your breathing to half the normal rate (from about 12 breaths per minute down to about 6.).
Thwarting stress can be as simple as breathing in while counting to 5, holding your breath for 3 counts, then releasing slowly while counting to 7. Repeat!
Breathe your way through it and usher in the feeling of peace and calm with each breath.
Need some guidance on taking 3 deep breaths? In this blog post, I give you my favorite 3 techniques for focusing on the breath… it’s truly one of my favorite ways to decrease stress and I passionately believe we all need to learn these techniques to navigate life more easily.
8. Gratitude and compassion.
This is a no-brainer — one of the gifts of suffering through stressful times is that you can witness and hold other people’s suffering so much more fully.
Compassion and gratitude for the journey and knowing that others have made it through ordeals much even worse than your own can really help instill hope to your own journey.
As contrary as it sounds, topics that would have felt dark or depressing to the kids in their homeschool studies in earlier years felt powerful and empowering to them during our own times of stress. For example, during a particularly hard year when we lost our home and had to relocate, we dove deeply into WWI and WWII studies, reading Anne Frank’s diary and having long, meaningful discussions about suffering and triumph… those felt incredibly moving and fortifying to us.
Knowing the darker side, leaning into it, persevering through it, witnessing with compassion what others have gone through… all of these things make traveling your own dark night feel less lonely. It’s not just that suffering has meaning but it goes one step further to say that you are strong enough to bear it and your heart is big enough to hold it.
Focus on witnessing suffering in others around you and holding compassion for the entire yin and yang of it all, the darkness and light of the world… the richness here is a different twist on helping to find meaning in suffering and the gift here is being able to open your heart even wider then you thought possible before.
Keep your eye open for flyers and ads in local businesses and libraries, church bulletins and neighborhood drives, for ways that you can give of your time and energy in a way that uplifts you instead of adds to your to-do list.
Others have done the hard work for you of arranging ways to donate — sign up for something as little or big as you like! There are tons of community outreach programs, from donating time or resources to a charity or foundation that you believe in is probably the easiest way to express gratitude and compassion during your own challenging times.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation is even harder to bear during times of anxiety or stress. So if you are going through a time of stress, it is more important than ever before in your entire life that you sleep well.
You MUST SLEEP in order to recover from the stress of the day and prepare for the next day ahead. In fact, sleep is so powerful that it is totally possible to treat anxiety and stress solely through increasing the quality of your sleep.
In this blog post, I review a medical study for you that shows going to bed a little earlier can literally prolong your life. And I share with you my 10 favorite ways to help you get to sleep.
The time is perfect for this idea, because you can use the fact that the days are getting shorter and night is getting longer to enter a time of restorative hibernation. Your natural desire for earlier sleep onset in the winter can help you shift your routine from staying up late at night to grabbing an earlier bedtime. Literally shifting your bedtime forward by just one hour — just one hour! — is enough to make a measurable improvement in how your body functions the very next day.
For more articles I’ve written on sleep health, click over to read:
- Sleep and Asthma
- Sleep and ADHD
- Sleep and Cancer Recovery
- Sleep and Alzheimers
- Sleep and Weight Gain
- Sleep and Mood Disorders (Anxiety, Depression)
- Sleep and Mental Illness
10. Body work.
The feeling of worry and stress and anxiety is often the stress of energy that is accumulating in the body without release. I know I personally feel this as a ball of pressure right in my solar plexus, as well and incredibly painful tension in my shoulders and neck… but where stress shows up for you in your body is different for everyone.
Irritability, crying, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, tension, muscle stiffness, decreased or increased appetite, weight loss or gain, insomnia… often these all represent energy that just needs to be released to make room for the natural healing process and optimism and energy to return.
If you are feeling stuck and in need of physical release, do any or ALL of the following to help assist your body in letting go of stress — doctor’s orders:
- deep stretches
- yoga (grounded, using a grounded yoga mat, is extra powerful!)
- heat (grounded hot water bottles are the best!)
- water (in the form of showers or baths, as well as increasing hydration by drinking lots of water!)
- tai chi
11. Light Therapy.
The fact that the days get shorter in fall and winter, yet life does not slow down at all during winter holidays and certainly work hours are never shorter… is very very stressful.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real and natural consequence of getting less light. Less light means less mood boosting serotonin in our brains. Which can equal anxiety, depression, even trouble sleeping for many of us.
But the flip side of that, though, can give us a very simple, very effective treatment: light therapy!
Light therapy has been clinically proven to boost mood, reduce anxiety, deepen sleep and more.
Published August 2015 in Biological Psychiatry, researchers found that after only 30 minutes of daily light therapy in the mornings, fear and anxiety levels were significantly reduced and stimuli that used to trigger panic did not trigger an anxiety response in the way that it did before the light therapy.
You can use a lightbox to boost morning light exposure, or simply make a habit of going out every morning immediately after waking up and grabbing 30 minutes of daylight. I personally do both — I go outside daily but I also use a lightbox for about 30 minutes every single day.
Light therapy can be used safely in conjunction with medical treatments (including Rx medications) so if you are on an anxiety or depression medication, augment your treatment with light therapy and it’s highly possible you can work with your physician to decrease dose!
If you have been through any kind of stressful situation or big life transition or change (even fun, positive ones like marriage, a new job, a new baby!) chances are your adrenals could use some TLC.
In this healing online class I’m going to share with you exactly what causes adrenal fatigue and all the absolutely critical ways to address it.
I run this class every fall because fall is the perfect time to finally go inwards and address your burn out.
If you start to take care of your adrenal rhythm now, in just a few short months from now you can be fully recovered from Adrenal Fatigue and emerge this spring feeling better than you have felt in many many years! Ready to eat lighter, sleep in a healthier pattern, lose weight, and move your body more.
Did you know that you can actually be in adrenal fatigue from birth? It’s true.
But did you also know it’s fully reversible, no matter how long you’ve been living on fumes? That’s also true, and I will help you get there.
Grab one of the last spots in this class (as of writing this I have 4 goodie bags left!) because it starts in just a few weeks and I want to send your goodie bag out to you today! This week is the very last week to sign up.
(this short and sweet 5 day class starts next Monday, Nov 4th!)
I hope this list of 12 things you can do to release stress and support your health… even in the middle of great personal stress or anxiety… is helpful to you and a blessing of some ideas to consider.
To a stress free fall and winter, my friends!