8 Ways to Manage Stress
We all experience some kind of stress on a daily basis, both internally and externally. External stress arises from major life changes, work and school demands, relationships, traffic, financial issues, and overbooked schedules, while internal stress arises from chronic worry, negative self-talk, beliefs, lack of flexibility in thinking, and food that we consume.
Stress has a major impact on our bodies and affects every organ system. It causes increases in heart rate and blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, digestive problems, memory problems, muscle tightness, decreased immunity, depression and anxiety. Over time it can lead to testosterone deficiency in men and menstrual cycle irregularities and PMS in women.
Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the “fight or flight” branch of the autonomic nervous system (the second branch is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) or the “rest and digest” branch), which is responsible for stimulating the secretion of adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal glands in response to an acute stressor. This response is beneficial when activated for a short amount of time, but problems arise when we stay in this mode for prolonged periods, which is where most of us are the majority of time. Eventually, this leads to overstimulation and fatigue of our organs, including the adrenal glands. When our adrenal glands become fatigued, we lose the ability to produce adequate cortisol, which leads to chronic pain, fatigue and recurrent infections.
Follow these 8 tips to manage stress and decrease your sympathetic drive.
- Activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
Direct activation of the PNS arises from stimulation of the vagus nerve. This causes decreases in heart rate and blood pressure. An easy way to do this is to breath deeply and slowly. You can also laugh, gargle water, sing out loud, meditate and chant.
- Avoid foods that stimulate the sympathetic nervous system.
Coffee, alcohol, and sugar either directly or indirectly activate the sympathetic nervous system. They also cause an overly acidic condition in the body, which contributes to internal stress.
- Eat leafy greens.
Along with being super nutritious, leafy green vegetables like kale, collards, bok choy, mustard and dandelion have an upward and expanding energy that lightens the heaviness that accompanies stress.
- Minimize internal stress.
By decreasing coffee, alcohol, sugar, dairy and processed foods, you can minimize toxins as well as oxidative stress and free radicals in your body that wreck havoc. Consuming foods like whole grains, beans, vegetables, sea vegetables, nuts, seeds and temperate climate fruits provide valuable minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants to strengthen and detoxify.
- Don’t overbook yourself.
Stress results when we try to do many things in one day, multitask or double book. Be mindful to give yourself a break and say “no” when you need time to rest and restore. You may find that enjoying fewer things in your day results in a fulfilling life rather than rushing from one thing to the next.
- Get adequate sleep.
Sleep is the time when our bodies detoxify and renew. When we are rested, we feel less irritated and tired, and we reach for less caffeine. We are also more effective and efficient when we are not battling mental and physical fatigue. Listen to your body, and when you feel tired, take a nap or go to bed earlier.
Exercise directly shuts off cortisol production to give our adrenals a rest. It also gives us a break from other stressors and strengthens our bodies. When our physical bodies are strong, we manage both external stressors and internal stressors more easily and efficiently.
- Pamper yourself.
Get a massage, pedicure or facial, or simply do a hobby that you love. A body rub is also a great way to self-nourish and decreases the pressure in your body. It is done by dipping a washcloth in warm water and rubbing your entire body in a back-and-forth motion until the skin is pink. It can be done any time of the day and multiple times if desired.
Stay tuned for future blogs in which I will discuss more about adrenal fatigue, managing internal stressors and keeping your body in the parasympathetic state.