While it’s not a statistic to be proud of, there’s no turning a blind eye to the fact that most of us experience a high level of stress in our day-to-day lives.
In fact, a survey done by the American Institute of Stress (unfortunately, we even have an institute for it) found that roughly 73% of the population regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress.
That’s quite a large chunk. And it seems everything from finances to relationships to school and work stress are playing a role, which can leave us with the overwhelming feeling that the structure of our entire lives is stressing us out. [*]
Before you turn to prescriptions to manage being overwhelmed, know that there are other, natural options to manage stress. They’re simple habits and hacks you can do on the daily (and don’t worry, they also don’t take much time) that have the power to ease stress and its symptoms, such as tension, irritability, low mood, and even inability to focus.
Top Natural Hacks to Cope with Stress
Typically, when we think about stress, we tend to assume it’s “all in our head.” After all, most of the symptoms we experience when stressed, like racing thoughts and low mood, seem to originate from our brain. And they do.
However, we actually have two brains.
Our guts (aka, our “second brain”) contain an abundance of neurotransmitters that send signals directly to and from our brain and nervous system. Researchers have even termed this link the Gut-Brain Axis due to the potent cross-talk that occurs that can profoundly affect our emotional state. [*]
Along with general gut health, the foods we eat (and don’t eat) can significantly affect this system as well. Below are some of the most important tips you can implement in your diet to help clear up those signals in your gut to ease stress instead of fuel it.
- Eliminate sugar. Studies show that consuming too much sugar can increase feelings of anxiety, and also worsen depression. [*] Avoid candies, soda, cookies, fruit juices, and any other packaged foods with added sugars.
- Eat wild fish. Wild fatty fish like salmon and sardines are rich in omega-3, which have been shown to help keep mood and side effects of stress, such as anxiety and tension, stable under stressful conditions. [*]
- Add more B-vitamin-rich foods. Several studies show high doses of B vitamins can help improve mental health and stress, while also reducing mental fatigue. [*] Think protein-rich foods like chicken, turkey, beef, eggs, nuts, seeds, and dark leafy greens like kale and chard.
• Eat probiotic foods. The good bacteria populating our guts interact directly with our gut-brain axis. Research shows that not enough of these bacteria, or an abundance of bad bacteria, can disrupt this signaling and interfere with mood and cognitive functions. [*] Try adding more sauerkraut, kimchi, non-dairy yogurt like coconut yogurt, and kombucha to your daily diet.
- Proper Breathing
Have you checked into your breath lately? It turns out that just the way you breathe can make a huge difference in your stress levels.
Typically, and especially under stress, our breathing becomes shallow and more rapid. This is a natural response that is part of the “fight-or-flight” reaction to stress. It helps activate our sympathetic nervous system, which signals to our bodies we may be in a situation that is threatening (aka: we’re pretty stressed).
Normally, these stressors would go away and our breathing would return to normal. However, stress in our modern society tends to be chronic. We deal with a stressful job every day, financial stresses, relationship stresses, etc … and next thing you know, our breathing is also consistently shallow. An insidious loop then develops, where our breath fuels our stress, and our stress fuels our shallow breath.
Fortunately, with a little conscious effort and some deep breaths, you can stop the loop and significantly reduce your stress levels. A technique called diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing” activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps relax your body by reducing your heart rate and even lowering cortisol, the “stress hormone.” Belly breathing is also used in Eastern religions such as Buddhism in meditation to help ease tension and clear the mind [*]
- How to Belly Breathe. Find a comfortable spot to either lie-down or sit. Place one hand on your chest and the other just below your rib cage. The goal with belly breathing is to breathe fully and deeply into your belly instead of into your chest. Begin by taking a deep inhale through your nose, expanding through the bottom of your diaphragm. You should feel your belly rise, while the hand on your chest should barely feel any movement. Hold for one second, then exhale fully through your mouth until your lungs are fully emptied. Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes when feeling stressed, and work on practicing throughout your day to help ease your nervous system.
One of the best natural stress relievers is exercise. While you might not feel like getting to the gym or going to a class when you’re stressed, chances are you’ll be glad you did: exercise releases endorphins, which are natural feel-good chemicals that promote relaxation and bliss. Not to mention, exercises like yoga and Tai Chi have been shown to lower stress symptoms and reduce cortisol levels. [*]
Try to get moving, but do it in a form you enjoy. If you prefer runs outside, stick to that. If a slow flow yoga session is more your thing, go for it at least 3 times a week.
- Cold Therapy and Cold Showers
Believe it or not, hopping into a cold shower for a few minutes may help significantly alleviate stress. Studies show shocks of cold temperatures can act as mild electroshock therapy to your brain, releasing endorphins and all kinds of hormones that increase alertness and could boost mood. Some even show that cold therapy sends electrical impulses to the peripheral nerve endings in your brain, which may have mood-lifting effects. [*]
The easiest way to try cold therapy is to try out cold showers. The easiest way to do this is to work up your time, starting with only a few seconds of cold water at the end of your shower, and gradually building up to several minutes. Alternatively, you can try out cryotherapy sessions, which involves entering a very cold chamber to give your body and mind a jolt.
Meditation is one of the most popular natural remedies for stress, and for good reason. Research shows that even just a few minutes a day can help reduce symptoms of stress, such as tension and irritability, as well as reduce cortisol levels. One study found that starting a meditation practice improved stress symptoms and over-worrying in people with generalized anxiety disorder [*][*]
There are many meditations you can try, ranging from visual, guided meditations, to simple meditations that focus on the breath. Try to set aside 10-15 minutes of quiet time several days a week for best results.
- Take the Nature Pill
If you have an extra 20 minutes in your day (say, during your lunch break) try spending it out in nature. Just this small amount of time sitting in or strolling through an area of nature can significantly reduce stress hormone levels and enhance your sense of wellbeing. You can also combine this time with a short meditation, and even some diaphragmatic breathing, to get the best of both worlds. [*]
- Communication and Connection
When we’re overly stressed, it’s easy to want to close up and avoid talking about the issue, holding on to the hope that it will be resolved on its own, or perhaps because of the feeling that no one will understand. However, one of the most powerful things to help relieve and even prevent stress is to communicate.
Many of the stresses we have in our lives are relationship-oriented. Typically, the actions and behaviors and daily habits of others aren’t aligning with our emotions and the way we desire to act or be treated, which leads to apprehension, resentment, and tension. This can be anything from your marriage, family, and even people you interact with fairly often like your doctor or trainer at the gym.
Studies even show that poor communication in the workplace creates higher stress levels as well. [*]
When we fail to communicate clearly how something makes us feel, dealing with that feeling day in and day out becomes a stress point. If not taken care of early, the stress can build up and lead to more impulsive outcomes (such as up and quitting your job). However, if you attempt to communicate the problem, especially early on, chances are you can find a compromise to resolve it.
On another note, communicating to someone you trust about something that’s weighing on you can provide relief in and of itself. It’s easy to feel isolated, especially when our stresses are emotional, and having someone to “vent” to in a sense can work wonders. If you don’t have someone you trust to open up too, try seeing a counselor or finding one online (there are many apps available) that foster a sense of connection.
While CBD, or cannabidiol, still seems relatively new on the health scene, it has actually been widely studied for its ability to help reduce stress levels. Since it’s also non-psychoactive, it’s a potential remedy you can try without getting any type of “high.”
Research shows CBD could help calm your nervous system, and many studies have reviewed its effectiveness for a variety of mood and anxiety disorders. [*] It interacts with your built-in endocannabinoid system to help regulate certain neurotransmitters and chemicals that promote relaxation.
There are many ways you can take CBD (check them out here) so it’s definitely worth a shot to try out.
As you can see, there is no lack of options to help take the edge off stress. We’d recommend taking care of your diet first, then adding in a couple of additional techniques, such as yoga and breathing, or even a daily ritual of CBD, to start to see the benefits without overwhelming yourself with trying them all at once.
Do you have any natural hacks to cope with stress? We’d love to hear and share them!