7 Natural Ways To Reduce Stress: From Dark Chocolate to Laughter and Other Remedies
Rev. Dr. Kitty Boitnott, NBCT, RScP
Heart-Centered Career Transition & Job Search Coach | Certified Stress Management Coach
There is no getting around the fact that we live in a hectic, fast-paced world. The stress that we deal with daily requires our stress hormone, cortisol, to work overtime. Sadly, this is far from the way this hormone was meant to act in terms of our health.
The body’s stress reaction was supposed to be called into play only when man’s survival was threatened. It was not intended to be called upon when you are caught in traffic and fear you are going to be 5 minutes late to work. The trouble is, the brain doesn't know the difference. The brain senses that you are getting agitated, and it releases cortisol into your bloodstream to help out.
Today, regardless of what your stressor is, you need to find effective natural ways to reduce it. Rely on prescription medication only as a last resort. Perhaps you need to consider meds for short-term relief. But truthfully, they can make things worse for you very quickly.
Try the following tips and see yourself better for it:
1. Eat Dark Chocolate
Eating any chocolate makes you feel better, right? However, I am not suggesting the milk chocolate varieties here. They are loaded with sugar and not much else. Rich dark chocolate, however, contains a compound known as epicatechin.
This compound is highly sought after because it has many beneficial effects. It improves heart health, brain function and more. It also can reduce the impact of "real" stress and perceived stress.
There is no difference in your physical reaction to perceived stress as to "real" stress. Your brain will release stress hormones whether you are facing down an intruder in your home or you are caught in a traffic jam. In the first instance, the threat to your safety is genuine. In the second instance, your safety isn't in peril at all. But your brain will release cortisol in both cases.
Exercise has numerous benefits on physical health. But can also help regulate emotional wellbeing. And it can reduce the negative results from a stressful lifestyle. Exercise elevates levels of beneficial brain chemicals, known as endorphins. Endorphins help raise mood, promote relaxation and counter stress.
In addition, exercise also increases testosterone levels. Testosterone increases shares an inverse relationship with cortisol. As one goes up, the other goes down.
For best results, exercise a minimum of three times a week. And make sure one of the sessions also includes weight-bearing exercise.
3. Get A Massage
Why is it that people often opt for massages when feeling stressed? Simple. It works! Stress is much more than “psychological” as its effects manifest throughout the body. Stress can create muscular pain, increased tension, an inability to sleep and much, much more.
A massage can help address some of the manifestations of stress, such as pain and tension. Some massage therapists are also trained in the art of acupressure. Acupressure focuses pressure on specific acupoints. That gets “chi” flowing once more. Chi (or qi) is believed to be life energy. Blockages in chi result in many maladies that we cannot fully explain. Acupressure has been documented to have a profound effect on reducing stress levels. It can help increase the flow of the chi energy in your body.
Meditation and mindfulness are being taught in some schools around the country now. Meditation has a more profound effect on many facets of human health than many people realize. In spite of that fact, most people do not practice any sort of meditation on a regular basis. Many people claim that it is "too hard" for them to meditate.
Meditation does not need to be made into a complex science. At its core, it involves focusing the mind on nothing beyond the immediate moment. Anxiety worsens your stress burden. Meditation helps to relieve and (hopefully) even eliminate and release the worry of the future or past.
Science shows that those people who get the required sleep that they need experience lower blood pressure and are less irritable. If you are chronically tired, it may be from the fact that you aren't getting the sleep you need.
Too many people think they can delay and defer sleep, but you do so at your own peril. The average adult needs 6 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep per night. If you aren't getting the sleep your body needs to feel rested on a day to day basis, you are harming your health, and you run the risk of developing a series of illnesses. If you need more sleep than you are getting, it is time to rearrange your schedule so you can get to bed in time to get in the hours of sleep your body needs.
Studies indicate that using the sense of smell can help you relax. Essential oils are very popular these days and are used for a variety of reasons for different purposes. Lavender is often recommended to those who are experiencing stress. It is believed to help produce calmness and reduce anxiety. If you don't have access to oils, use candles instead. Just be sure to blow them out when you leave the room.
7. Laugh And Have A Good Time
The number one enemy of stress is fun. Laughter is the best medicine after all. Laughter can work miracles. Laughter reduces blood pressure. It can mediate pain responses. And it helps to manage the adverse effects of the stress hormone, cortisol. Can you recall the last time you had a good, hard belly laugh? Remember how good you felt? You need more of that feeling in your life.
Stressed individuals rarely take time to smile and have fun. That only feeds the flames of a downward spiral. Make time for memories. Have fun with family, and don’t take yourself so seriously.
Do whatever you can that makes YOU feel less stressed and overwhelmed.
We are about to enter the season that is considered one of the most stressful seasons of all. I know it is also the "happiest" time of the year according to all the Christmas movies and songs, but the fact of the matter is that this time of year can be tough for a lot of people.
Be gentle with yourself.
Know that you aren't alone if you are not always "happy" just because the holiday songs say you should be. Give yourself space to feel the way you feel. With that said, if you need to get help or you need to talk to someone, do that. Don't try to "tough it out" on your own. There is no shame in admitting that you are having a hard time. Your friends will rally around you if you let them in. Just be honest with them.
And in the meantime, try one or more of these simple remedies.
Whether it is indulging in dark chocolate or laughing at a corny movie, do what you can to address your stress whether it is holiday time or any time. You will feel happier and be healthier as the result of it.
Until next time.