Panic, anxiety, stress—up they bubble at the most inconvenient times. In the middle of an interview, causing loss of words and shaking hands. In the middle of the night, causing vivid nightmares and sleepless hours. In the middle of nothing, for seemingly no reason, panic can spike your heart rate, cause you to break out into a sweat and upset your stomach.
I have struggled with both stress and anxiety. Stress, being a response to a threatening situation, is often easier to solve because there is an actual cause. Anxiety is caused by worry, which can happen about anything, because—let’s face it—we live in a worrisome world. The problem with stress and anxiety can cause you to overcompensate and make it hard to live a normal life around the other humans. Here are some things that I have found to reduce stress and anxiety naturally.
Fuel Your Peace
Coping with stress is not easy. One typical response to stress is overeating. But that is one of the worst things you can do! You get out of your body what you put into it. That means when you are putting junk into your body you are going to feel terrible! Think twice before ordering that high priced Caramel Brulée or Gingerbread Latte. While delicious, these drinks are filled with nothing but empty calories and sugar that will bring temporary bliss and cause you to crash into later in the day.
If possible, avoid all caffeine. When stressed, your body is already pumping out adrenaline which will keep you awake. Caffeine on top of that will only cause jitters and your brain to engage even farther into it’s obsession on stress.
Instead, opt for caffeine free teas. I know for some of you this sounds like a death sentence. I know I would have struggled with it just a few years ago. However, due to my struggles with stress this year I have caused myself to have a stressed-out stomach (let’s pretend that’s the technical term). The acidic coffee, high stress, and caffeine I over-indulged in for a year killed a lot of the healthy probiotics and good bacteria in my stomach. Now that I have switched to teas, I can’t imagine going back.
Make sure to choose a tea that you like! Not all teas are the same. My personal suggestions for stress-reduction would be a chamomile-based tea like Cup of Calm or Sleepy Time Tea, if you are winding down for the day.
Get More Rest
Stress messes with your sleep patterns. Just when you need it the most, stress can either rob you of sleep entirely or prevent you from getting a quality night’s rest. Because stress causes your brain to kick into overdrive, this hyperactivity can create a vicious cycle of sleeplessness. To break this cycle, try drinking some warm water or tea and taking deep breaths. This helps activate your naturally-calming parasympathetic system. Shoot for 8 hours of sleep every night.
If you still struggle with falling asleep, try taking a natural relaxant like Melatonin, a hormone that helps your body regulate your sleep cycle. Melatonin is actively used for people with seasonal affective disorder and insomnia. While I wouldn’t suggest taking this every day, it could be helpful while trying to get sleep while stressed.
Smell Less Stress
Smells are powerful. One of the biggest techniques that I have found helpful in stress reduction has been the purchase of an oil diffuser. I have the Radha Beauty Essential Oil Diffuser ($25 on Amazon). Not only is a diffuser a lovely addition to a bedroom—most of them have a lovely color changing ambient light—but a diffuser adds scent into your air in a completely natural, nontoxic way.
Lavender is a powerful soothing agent that has been used since ancient Egypt. It is proven to be able to lower heart rate and blood pressure and is used for alleviating insomnia, anxiety, depression, and stress. Smelling the scent of lavender while drifting off to sleep can help you fall asleep faster and stay in a deeper sleep. Chamomile is also a good stress reducing essential oil, but I do not find the scent as pleasant by itself.
If essential oils are too complicated for you, pick a fragrance that reminds you of someone you love or something from your childhood and wear it on your wrist. When I am stressed, often the smell of my husband’s cologne can cause me to breathe deeper and slow down.
Exercise & Endorphins
While it is probably the last thing you want to do when you are stressed, get up off the couch where you are cowering and go to the gym. Or just take a walk in the park. When you get moving, your body releases endorphins which is a hormone that fights stress. This will help you feel better and literally “clear your head” of the toxins your stress has been building inside you.
High-intensity exercises are the best because they get your heart rate up. Exercises like kick boxing and karate can add to this intensity by releasing your stress at a physical object. For many, this helps visualize them fighting off their stress and releasing their anger.
Take a few minutes and just breathe. Relax and think of nothing. If that’s too difficult, think of a positive affirmation such as “You can rest today”, “I am enough” or mine, “God is within her, she will not fall” (Ps. 46:5). If possible, combine this with gentle stretching or try yoga.
Yoga is a low-intensity but high-control practice. It is completely focused on relaxation and balance. As mentioned above, breathing is an important part of stress reduction. Deep, meditative breathing in yoga has bee proven to do wonders. If you have not done this before or struggle with emptying your mind, try a lead-meditation at your local gym or yoga studio. Many studios do a week of free classes for beginners. Take advantage of this and try out a lot of studios before you settle for one.
Now I’m not seriously suggesting to hide your stress and anxiety under a plastic smile. What I am suggesting is that, according to Psychology Today, forcing a smile can actually release the neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, helping you release stress and actually feel happier. Seems odd, but it is hard to be sad while wearing an enormous grin.
The same goes for laughing! Can’t force a smile? Watch a movie or take a break on YouTube until you get some full-bellied laughing. Science says laughing lowers cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, and boosts endorphins.
Ask for Assistance
When all else fails, reach out and ask someone for help. We were not placed on this planet to be alone so we should not go through struggles alone. Whether you share your full stress-story with your friends and family is your decision, but being involved in a group of people will help you put your stress in perspective. Stress also has a way of making you feel isolated, which this will solve.
And of course, if you feel like you cannot handle your stress and anxiety alone or get to the point where you cannot function like a normal human, do not be afraid to reach out and ask for more assistance. Anxiety and stress can be caused by many things, sometimes our own bodies are just revolting against us. Don’t be afraid to share with your spouse, your parents and your doctor.
Disclaimer: Don’t let any of these tips and tricks keep you from talking to your doctor. Anxiety is nothing to mess with. If these things help you, please use them, but don’t give up living a normal life because you don’t want to talk to your doctor. Keep your peace.