Natural Ways to Relieve Stress, According to a Leading Integrative MD
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Stress comes at you all day, from every angle, now more than ever. Constant worry over money, job security, family, and health keeps your stress system on high alert all the time — and it feels like you can never calm down. That can lock you in a never-ending stress cycle and likely searching for natural ways to relieve stress.
Chronic stress makes you feel awful — mentally, emotionally, and physically. It can even change the way your body manages stress, making it much harder to break the stress cycle.
Plus, long-term stress adds an extra strain on your body. It takes an enormous toll on your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to any infection that’s going around. And when you’re already feeling anxious and worried, the last thing you need is a stressed-out immune system.
Unfortunately, you can’t avoid stress completely. But you can take specific steps to help your mind and body calm down — even in the face of non-stop stressors.
Constant Stress Derails Good Health
Stress isn’t just a feeling — it’s a whole system of physical reactions that are supposed to keep you safe from imminent danger. Those reactions protect you when you’re facing immediate, temporary threats like avoiding a car crash. Their sole purpose is to help you survive by stimulating “fight or flight” action. When the danger passes, the system turns off and resets.
But when you face stressors all the time — work deadlines, traffic jams, bad news — the system can’t turn off. It stays on ready alert around the clock and never gets to stand down. That’s when “survival mode” transforms into a threat on its own. Constant stress knocks your whole body off-track, causing physical, mental, and emotional distress.
Physical Effects of Stress
Chronic stress takes a huge toll on your physical health. That’s why you probably feel sick when you’re stressed out. Maybe you get stress headaches, maybe stress hits you in the gut, or maybe it just makes you tired. Those symptoms you feel come from the physical effects of stress, which include:
Chronic low-level inflammation, which can be triggered by high levels of a harmful alarm protein called galectin-3
Muscle tightness and pain throughout the body
Gastrointestinal issues including diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and abdominal pain
Weight gain and obesity issues
Immune system malfunctions
The way stress affects your immune system can be especially troubling. When alarm protein galectin-3 gets activated in response to stress, it kicks off a series of inflammatory reactions.
It confuses your immune system so much that it triggers immune overreactions and under-reactions. The overreactions can leave you struggling with autoimmune disease symptoms. At the same time, immune system under-reactions could leave you catching every cold, flu, or other bug that’s going around. All of this makes it all the more important to explore natural ways to relieve stress. Read on for proven tactics.
Related: Stress Hormones: How Diet Affects Hormonal Balance
Mental Effects of Stress
When you’re constantly stressed out, it feels much harder to think clearly. That’s because chronic stress keeps the brain flooded with high levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — and that can interfere with optimal brain function.
Chronic stress has been linked to:
Inability to focus
Difficulty learning and retaining new information
Trouble adapting to change
Scientific research also shows a strong connection between chronic stress and Alzheimer’s disease. So learning how to manage your stress today may help protect you against that devastating loss of self in the future. Research shows that a number of healthy stress relief strategies, including those listed below, also offer protection against Alzheimer’s and other forms of cognitive decline.
Emotional effects of stress
Stress can have a whirlwind effect on your emotions. You may feel more worried, snap more easily, or have bigger emotional reactions than would normally match the situation you’re in.
And since stress triggers galectin-3, the alarm protein, it also sets off inflammation … even in your brain. That inflammation reaction is a key way that chronic stress leads to serious mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. In fact, eye-opening research shows a direct link between galectin-3 and depression, making this alarm protein a strong potential target in treating stress-related mental illness.
There are so many ways that chronic stress harms your body, mind, and mood. And while stress is unavoidable — now more than ever — you can take steps to help your body respond in a healthier way. The more effectively you cope with stress today, the healthier you’ll be for the rest of your life.
7 Natural Ways to Relieve Stress & Calm Down Your Anxiety
Coping with stress is a full-time job, and your body needs all the support it can get. That support comes from immediate actions that help you calm down in the moment, as well as longer-term solutions that increase your body’s resilience and coping abilities. Use a combination of these stress-reducing methods to calm down your mind and body no matter what life throws at you.
Meditation: If you’ve never tried meditation before, you might feel like you’re doing it wrong — but there is no wrong here. There are many different methods and techniques, so keep trying until you find a practice you feel good about. As you practice meditation over time, you’ll notice how much clearer and calmer your mind and emotions become. That helps your body better adapt to rapidly changing situations and shut down stress responses more easily. It’s one of the top stress relievers out there. And it’s free!
Nature: Spending time outdoors in nature helps your body and mind relax. Go for a walk in the woods, dip your feet in the ocean, or relax on a hammock in your backyard. Taking even 10 minutes in nature can lift your mood and reduce your stress level.
Yoga: Practicing yoga promotes relaxation for your mind and body. Yoga involves more than stretching your muscles. It involves focused mindful breathing and spiritual engagement. Regular yoga practice helps regulate your nervous system and reduces the harmful effects of stress.
Healthy eating: When you’re feeling stressed, your instinct may be to grab for sweet, salty, fatty foods — but those can add to your body’s stress load. Healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables, packed with nutrients and antioxidant compounds help your body cope with the damaging effects of stress.
Exercise: Physical activity helps your body blow off steam, but its benefits don’t stop there. Exercising leads to the release of endorphins, natural “feel-good” chemicals that combat the effects of stress. Exercise also helps regulate your body’s stress responses so you become less reactive when faced with stressors. So go for a walk, take a bike ride, or dance around the room and let those endorphins kick in.
Read More: 11 Surprising Life Extenders
Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP): When it comes to supplements that reduce the effects of stress, clinically researched modified citrus pectin (MCP) doesn’t usually make the list — but it should. Along with increasing your overall resilience, MCP blocks galectin-3, the alarm protein that triggers inflammation and causes many of the harmful effects associated with chronic stress. MCP also helps clear out toxins that can stress your immune system. Those gentle detox abilities make it easier for your body to cope with other challenges, including chronic stress.
Honokiol: When stress and anxiety overwhelm your mind and your life, honokiol — a compound extracted from magnolia bark — offers quick, calming relief. Honokiol is a powerful antioxidant known to specifically improve brain health and function. It also helps reduce brain inflammation, which has been closely linked with depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Honokiol acts like a natural antidepressant, has also been shown to relieve anxiety, and demonstrates important benefits against Alzheimer’s. And when you pair honokiol with MCP, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of both increase significantly, offering more stress relief for you.
Let’s face it: Today’s stressors aren’t going away any time soon. But with proactive, natural stress management strategies, you can increase your resilience — and receive lasting benefits for every area of health.