By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Stress is the wrecking ball of life. It demolishes happiness and contentment, smashes health and quality of life, and even shortens life.
Most people, including doctors, underestimate its power; however, I don’t. I’ve seen the wreckage of stress too many times among my patients.
It is hard to think of any disease in which stress cannot play a precipitating or aggravating role.
According to the American Institute of Stress, 75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are related to stress. It is a primary risk factor for heart attacks, stroke, sudden death, high blood pressure, thick and unhealthy blood, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. It promotes the deposition of deep abdominal fat, and the development of weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes.
Add it all up…Stress accelerates biological aging.
“Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.”
-Hans Selye, M.D.
What can you do about stress in your life? Plenty.
An online poll taken by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America revealed that, to cope with stress: 18% of people talk to friends or family, 14% make use of regular exercise, 14% watch movies or TV, 14% find relief in food, and 13% listen to music.
Here are ten things that I have found that work well to still the stress wrecking ball.
Meditation has been around for thousands of years and modern research has validated this ancient practice and proven that it effectively defuses stress. Many forms of meditation exist. Find one that works for you and make time to do it regularly.
My longtime practice is Transcendental Meditation (TM), a surprisingly effortless technique that anyone can learn. Many studies show that TM lowers high blood pressure and anxiety.
2. Regular, Moderate Exercise
Exercise reduces the effects of stress such as high blood pressure, inflammation, and immune deficits. Regular participation in aerobic exercise decreases overall tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, and improves sleep. In 2015, neuroscientists at the University of Georgia reported on a neurochemical called galanin, produced in the brain that protects nerve tissue and improves nerve transmissions from degeneration caused by stress. Their work reveals that galanin gets a boost from exercise.
What exercise should you do? That’s easy. The one you will do and keep doing.
My favorites are walking and dancing. Whatever your choice, don’t overdo it. Too much can stress the body.
3. Yoga & Tai Chi
Like meditation, yoga and tai chi have been around a long time and research clearly indicates these two practices reduce stress.
In a 2009 study, researchers found that women suffering with anxiety disorders reported a significant reduction in perceived anxiety and stress after participating in just 3 hours of yoga per week (two 90-minute yoga classes per week) for 2 months.
Tai Chi, a low-impact form of Chinese mind-body exercise, has been gaining popularity in the West. Through a 2010 review of 40 different Chinese and Western studies, researchers found that Tai Chi significantly increases psychological well-being.
Yoga studios abound, and Tai chi teachers are becoming more plentiful. I’ve found both to be enjoyable and beneficial practices.
A good massage under healing hands reduces stress – and quickly. Even a simple five minute hand or foot massage can be beneficial. I have always recommended to patients to periodically give themselves the gift of a massage. It’s good for the mind and the body.
5. Sleep and Rest
The age-old doctor’s recommendation to get enough rest goes straight to the heart of the issue. When you become fatigued, it’s easier to become stressed. And stress can easily interfere with getting enough sleep, and if it does so chronically it can contribute to all sorts of problems, including obesity, depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure. There are many things you can do to promote sleep, including taking specific supplements, relaxing in a warm bath, drinking warm milk, and not looking at electronic screens (tablets, computers) or watching news or exciting sports events before bedtime. I also suggest getting to bed earlier, ideally by 10 pm.
6. Grounding (Earthing)
One of the easiest things you can do in life to increase your health and decrease your stress is to get in touch – literally your bare skin – with the natural, gentle electric charge on the surface of the Earth. You can do that by walking or sitting barefoot outdoors for a half-hour or so, or using “barefoot substitutes” such as conductive sheets (when you sleep) and mats (when you do deskwork or relax). Research suggests that grounding helps people sleep better, and have less stress as a result of a normalizing effect on cortisol, the stress hormone; it also appears to have a calming effect on the nervous system.
7. Nutritional Supplements
- A high-quality multivitamin and mineral formula, high in B vitamins that have an anti-stress effect.
- Fish or squid oil (1 gram daily). Research shows that the omega-3 fatty acids in these oils significantly blunt adrenal (cortisol) activation brought on by mental stress.
- Adaptogenic herbs such as ashwaganda, ginseng, licorice root, and rhodiola. These supplements increase resistance to stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
- Magnesium (as a broad-spectrum form or as magnesium glycinate), 400 milligrams daily. Magnesium is a critical mineral involved in cellular energy production and is depleted by stress.
- Vitamin C, at least 1,000 mg daily. This core vitamin is also depleted by stress and is critical for adrenal function.
- Flower remedies address a variety of emotional problems and stress. You can purchase them in health food stores. Rescue Remedy is the most popular item in the Bach line. If you feel anxious or stressed, just pull out the bottle, squeeze off some drops or spray under the tongue, and you’ll likely soon note a calming shift in your body.
8. Laugh a Lot
Happy and optimistic people tend to be healthier and live longer. Find ways to be happier: watch comedies, play with young children or grandkids (if you have them), adopt a dog or cat, or explore some new hobby.
9. Take Time Off
My great stress-busting pastime is catch-and-release bone fishing. It relaxes me. I’m out in Nature. And I’m grounding myself in salt water. My stress and fatigue levels always drop, and I feel renewed after a couple of weeks and ready to jump back into activity. I recommend finding a similar pursuit to help balance your stressful life.
10. Talk to Others
Talk with family, friends, clergy or other trusted advisers about your concerns and stresses and ask for their support. Join a support group with which you identify.
For additional ways to reduce stress, check out 123 Proven Ways to Reduce Stress from the folks at Health Grinder.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff….it’s all small stuff anyway.”
-Bob Eliot, M.D.
- American Institute of Stress
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Lowndes A. Exercise reduces stress: UGA scientists discover why. UGA Today. Feb 23, 2015.
- Sciolino NR, et al. Galanin mediates features of neural and behavioral stress resilience afforded by exercise. Neuropharmacology. 2015;89:255-64.
- Javnbakht M, Hejazi Kenari R, Ghasemi M. Effects of yoga on depression and anxiety of women. Complimentary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2009;15(2):102-4.
- Wang C, et al. Tai chi on psychological well-being: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 2010.
- University of Maryland Medical Center. Vitamin B1 (Thiamine).
- Delarue J, et al. Fish oil prevents the adrenal activation elicited by mental stress in healthy men. Diabetes Meta. 2003;29(3):289-95.
© Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.