Published on Thu Sep 12, 2019 - 4 min read
From stressed to best: Our essential tips to stay ahead of chronic stress and avoid burnout.
Stress is a normal biological reaction to potential threats. While our natural stress response served, our evolutionary ancestors’ well modern stress responses are often triggered by events that pose no mortal danger. These days, just about anything can be a stressor, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the news, social media, bills, jobs, co-workers, friends, family, traffic, the list goes on. In national surveys, American’s are reporting extreme stress levels (8 or higher on a 10-point scale), and most report stress has increased in the past year1. Modern chronic stress has been dubbed the “silent killer”2 not because we don’t feel it, but because of what it does in the background to just about every system in our bodies3.
So, what does happen during a stress response? It goes something like this: The body faces a problem or a new situation. The body then cranks up metabolism and braces to react. The mind shuts off creative and empathetic centers and becomes more machine-like prioritizing hyper-focus and vigilance. The nervous system responds by releasing chemicals that flood our nerves with electricity, tighten muscles, cause accelerated breathing, and increase heart rates. The body then suppresses the immune system, digestive system, and reproductive systems all to prepare to survive4. Our body’s visceral response to stress makes sense if you’re being chased by a lion, not so much scrolling through Facebook or clocking into work. After repeated episodes, recovery takes longer and longer and often is incomplete before another stressor happens — eventually, the body experiences mental and physical burnout.
Even though chronic stress can harm, we should not fear everything that activates our stress response as there are also positive stressors like diet, exercise, or learning new skills5 – the key is balance. Fortunately, there are many all-natural techniques, lifestyle tweaks, and supplements that can dramatically strengthen our resolve against stress and help us relax after it occurs.
Re-establish a healthy rhythm: Strengthening our body’s natural rhythms is the first step in beating stress. Under normal circumstances, the stress hormone cortisol peaks in the morning to get us ready for the day but then should gradually drop throughout the day falling to its lowest levels at night to allow us to sleep6. Many lifestyle factors can disrupt this pattern like skipping breakfast, eating late7, or staying up late to watch T.V. or view social media8. To re-establish a healthy rhythm: Always eat breakfast, spend 5 or 10 minutes outside as close to sunrise as possible while stretching or walking, avoid caffeine during the latter part of the day, and eat dinner before sunset. An hour before bedtime, make sure all electronic devices and artificial lights are turned off.
Spending time in nature is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Studies show that the more “green space” one has, the lower their reported stress score. Science is proving this as just 5 minutes outdoors can lower stress hormones9. In Japan and Ireland, doctors can now prescribe walks in the park and forest to reduce stress without medications10.
Take a break! Just removing yourself from a stressful situation for 10 minutes is enough to trigger the body’s natural relaxation response. Meditating or practicing deep breathing enhances the stress-reducing effects of break time11. There are many short YouTube videos or phone apps that can guide you to the most effective techniques for your body.
Targeted Stress Reduction supplements:
Antioxidants have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in a new double-blind study. Interestingly, even patients receiving placebo pills showed a significant reduction in anxiety which also proves the power of the mind in controlling stress. Even so, the patients receiving the antioxidants had even more substantial reductions in stress, and the results lasted much longer12.
Probiotics are having a renaissance in new research primarily because of all we are finding with the “gut-brain” connection of the microbiome. It turns out many neurochemicals and hormones utilized by the brain are manufactured in the gut by probiotics13. Chronic stress lowers these beneficial gut bacteria; thus, a new class of mood specific probiotics that reduce both stress and anxiety have been developed14, and many options are already on our shelves.
CBD has profound balancing effects on our central nervous system. Many recent studies have proven it effective against several types of anxiety disorders as well as PTSD, depression, and several other neurological diseases15. CBD remains one of the most potent substances against stress and anxiety on the market.
Essential oils are a powerful tool in our quest for stress reduction. Lavender is the most well studied and works to calm the nervous system, slow heart rate, decrease skin temperature, and reduce anxiety16. Bergamot oil relieves tension, anxiety, stress17, actively reduces chronic pain18, and even changes brain wave patterns for a more relaxed meditative state19. Other helpful oils include clary sage20 and ylang-ylang21.
Kava is one of the best anti-anxiety herbs as it decreases adrenaline, elevates mood, diminishes pain, and enhances taste and sensory perceptions. As an anti-anxiety herb, kava mimics medications like Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan without side effects22. While kava is excellent for inducing deep sleep when taken close to bedtime23, during the day it relaxes and helps focus by increasing cerebral blood flow24.
Magnesium is the stress mineral, and no discussion about stress is complete without mentioning it. Magnesium is a great muscle relaxer and has been shown to directly and significantly lower cortisol production helping to combat depression, anxiety, and stress25,26,27. Magnesium also increases cellular communication which lowers oxidative stress and inflammation28. Magnesium combined with the amino acid glycine forms magnesium glycinate, which is the best form of magnesium for relaxation and anxiety because of glycine’s calming effect on nerves29.
Stress is so ubiquitous in modern society that we are at risk for forgetting what life was like before chronic stress and just assuming the current state of things are the “new normal.” Hopefully, the tips and tricks explained here and in previous stress reduction blogs can help you take control of your life and beat the stress.