Stress Relief Toolkit
IF YOU DON’T HAVE A HEALTHY WAY TO DEAL WITH STRESS, IT’S SO EASY TO CRUMBLE. CONSIDER CREATING A FOUNDATIONAL SUPPORT SYSTEM FOR YOUR LIFE WITH THESE STRESS- BUSTING IDEAS
Chronic stress is a fact of modern life— one that takes a big toll on our health. We asked the experts for their top stress- busting tips, and compiled them into an easy- to- use format to help you keep calm and carry on.
Have you ever noticed your pulse accelerate when you do something as mundane as watching the news? In an automatic response to perceived danger, the body fl oods with hormones and elevates the heart rate, boosting our energy in preparation for “fi ght or fl ight.” These days, some of us fi nd our bodies’ alarm systems going off all the time, which can lead to serious health consequences.
“Stress relief isn’t optional anymore, it’s a necessity,” says Cassandra Bodzak, a holistic lifestyle expert, meditation and wellness teacher, and TV personality. “Consider creating a foundational support system for your life. If you don’t have a way to relieve stress, whether it’s national or personal, it’s so easy to crumble.” The following tools can help us create that system.
Tool No. : Take Minutes
Bodzak suggests taking 15 minutes in the morning to “fi ll your own cup fi rst.” Her practice is to have some tea, meditate, then go on a walk through her neighborhood. Your own personal routine could include reading a favorite blog or journaling, “but make that walk a thing, even if it’s just 10 minutes,” Bodzak says. “The sunshine does wonders for your health and sanity, and taking that time for yourself fi rst thing in the morning gives you extra bandwidth for the day.”
For Bodzak, meditation and mindfulness are like a daily vitamin. She encourages meditating for fi ve minutes a day, even while you’re still in bed. Numerous experiments have shown that the practice reduces anxiety, lowers levels of stress hormones, and improves attention and cognition. If you’re just starting out, there are many good resources, such as the guided tutorial on the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center website, marc. ucla. edu.
In an article in Real Simple, Diana Winston, director of Mindfulness Education at the UCLA research center, explains that the simple act of taking a deep breath has been scientifi cally proven to help curb anxiety and refocus our attention. “That’s important,” she says, “because dwelling on negative emotions only pushes us further into sadness and despair.” She also suggests practicing mindful breathing at least fi ve minutes a day. “Once you get used to it,” she says, “you can use the technique whenever you need it.”
Practicing gratitude is also advantageous. “There is some neuroscience around the idea that people can’t have fear and gratitude in their minds at the same time,” Winston says. Try calling a loved one to express appreciation for that person, writing down things you’re thankful for, or just being aware of time spent with your favorite people.
Tool No. Stop Eating StressInducing Foods
This is the cardinal component of the body’s ability to deal with stress. A strong, healthy body is less aff ected by stressors than a weak one.
Walk barefoot on the dirt or sand for a few minutes to connect to the earth‘ s natural energy charge. Called “earthing,” this practice contributes to vibrant health.
“If you eat infl ammatory foods every day, and your body is consistently low in the essential nutrients it needs, then it’s only a matter of time until the stress wins out and something in your body breaks,” says Peter Glidden, ND. To optimize health, Glidden suggests eliminating foods such as wheat, barley, rye, oats, well- done red meat, meat with added nitrates, the skins of baked potatoes, and genetically modifi ed corn or soy ( an informative video on his website, glidden. healthcare, explains why each may be problematic). And get your daily allowance of the 60 minerals, 16 vitamins, 12 amino acids, and two fatty acids that the human body cannot make.
What we fuel our bodies with in the morning enables— or disables— our interactions during the day. “Try experimenting with this,” says Bodzak. “Grab a bagel or croissant at Starbucks and notice how you feel at 10 a. m. Another morning, have a cleaner, more soothing breakfast: a smoothie, or scrambled tofu with veggies, or a coconut yogurt parfait, and then notice how you feel at 10 a. m. You’ll be surprised how much you notice the diff erence. Listen to your body.”
As Bodzak indicates, certain foods are soothing and actually help relieve stress. In general, good- quality fats such as coconut, avocado, and salmon are
calming because they support nerve function, explains Emily A. Kane, ND, LAc. Foods with high levels of tryptophan can also be soothing because tryptophan, an essential amino acid, produces serotonin, a chemical considered responsible for maintaining mood balance. Those foods include nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fi sh, beans, lentils, and eggs.
Tool No. Move More
The National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health notes that yoga, like meditation, is a mindbody practice that contributes to reduced stress and boosts immune function.
And if possible, take that yoga mat outside. Any kind of outdoor exercise— such as those walks Bodzak mentions above— is ideal because of the extremely soothing eff ect the natural world has on the human brain. Kane notes that it’s also benefi cial to walk barefoot on the dirt or sand for a few minutes to connect to the earth’s natural energy charge. Called “earthing,” or “grounding,” the practice contributes to vibrant health.
Tool No. Make Face- to- Face Connections
Among other signifi cant techniques to reduce stress are strengthening our face- to- face social connections; creating an environment that induces calm by minimizing distractions, such as having the TV news on in the background, and eliminating clutter. And give yourself some down time to enjoy favorite activities such as listening to music, writing a poem, or going to a movie.
While these tools have been separated by category, they all work together— the mind and body function like two sides of a coin. Over time, as you acclimate to these practices, you’ll be able to recognize stress as it happens and let it go. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.