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April is Stress Awareness Month. The purpose is to highlight the fact that 70% of adults deal with stress on a daily basis.
Stress is inevitable for most of us. We have deadlines. We are overworked. Or occasional days go haywire, leaving us feeling anxious, pressured and maxed out. However, when we live with stress day after day, it becomes a chronic condition. The body no longer knows how to relax and let the stress go. When that happens we suffer on many levels.
Learn the signs of chronic stress and how to reduce stress naturally.
Signs of Chronic Stress
Stress is a physical and mental reaction to life situations. We all encounter it. Everyday experiences in our families and workplaces can trigger stress as can more serious situations like a medical diagnosis or the loss of a loved one.
Our bodies respond to stress by releasing hormones that increase breathing and heart rates while preparing muscles to move. Commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” reflex, it’s meant to protect us when faced with danger.
However, when those hormones flood our bodies day after day, it affects our health in a variety of ways.
Symptoms of chronic stress include:
- heartburn and acid reflux
- weakened immune system
- high blood pressure
- high blood sugar
- digestive disorders
- fertility problems
- erectile dysfunction
- low libido
- increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- pounding heart
- overeating or loss of appetite
- drug or alcohol abuse
- social withdrawal
- body aches and pains from tight muscles
Reduce Stress Naturally
To help the body break the pattern of chronic stress and anxiety, try these tips.
Even short periods of consistent physical activity helps relieve stress and anxiety. Exercise reduces cortisol and adrenaline, the body’s stress hormones. At the same time, it releases endorphins, chemicals that make us feel happy and ease pain.
Activities such as walking, jogging, dancing, biking or swimming that involve repetitive large muscle movements are most helpful in combatting stress.
Eat Nutritious Foods
I mention this tip frequently, for good reason. The body uses food as fuel. And honestly, most people fuel their bodies poorly. A body lacking highly nutritious food struggles when it comes under attack for any reason. And an overwhelmed body becomes stressed on many levels.
Fruits and veggies, legumes and nuts, simple grains and herbs fuel the body beautifully, making it better able to withstand stress. Avoid sugar and high fat foods. They cause a spike in blood sugar which results in a crash later that can create more feelings of stress and anxiety.
Drink Herbal Teas
Herbal teas such as lemon balm and chamomile help ease stress and anxiety naturally. Other excellent choices include rose, lavender and passionflower.
Additionally, switching from coffee, soda and black tea to herbal teas reduces caffeine intake. High levels of caffeine increase stressful feelings.
Take a daily afternoon break, like they do in many European countries, and sip on a cup of hot herbal tea. It’s one of my favorite daily traditions and a great way to destress.
Listen to Soothing Music
Music truly can soothe the beast that is stress. Slow paced classical, instrumental, Celtic or Native American flute music helps the body relax and allows the mind to quiet.
Or try listening to nature sounds such as a rain, ocean waves or a low key thunderstorm. I love my Echo Dot that’s connected to Amazon Music. I can listen to a wide variety of music or sounds of nature. When I’m working, writing, cleaning house or cooking, I have music playing in the background.
Writing out feelings, frustrations and gratitudes is a wonderful way to ease stress. The act of writing in a journal moves thoughts, energetically, from the brain to paper. Otherwise, those thoughts just keep swirling around in the head, going no where. Try writing for a few minutes every morning or at night before bed, whichever feels better to you. It’s not even necessary to read what you write or edit it in any way. Write freely without stopping for several minutes and then move on.
Focusing on gratitude shifts the mind from thinking about what’s wrong to thinking about all that is right in life. Make listing five gratitudes a daily practice.
Laughter has many health benefits.
The giggles instantly lower the body’s stress response and releases tension held in muscles. Plus it plays a significant role in decreasing anxiety due to the release of the feel good hormones, endorphins. Laughter also helps us deal with challenging circumstances such as illnesses, embarrassing situations and life struggles.
Additionally, laughter boosts the immune system and improves mood. Watch funny movies, tv shows or videos. Catch a stand up comedian’s performance at a club. Tell jokes or hang out with friends who make you laugh.
Spend Time With Others
Speaking of hanging out with people who make you laugh, studies show that spending time with friends or family members reduces stress. It does, that is, if you have close, positive relationships with those people.
When we spend time with people we love and feel loved by, our bodies release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. Being part of a friend network or family group provides a sense of belonging also. And physical contact with those loved ones, such as hugs, cuddles or kisses, lowers stress hormones while releasing more oxytocin.
Plus, those friends and family members provide a listening ear when you need to talk out a stressful situation. Like writing out feelings, talking them out helps move troubling thoughts out of the head.
This one may come as a surprise! Studies show that people who chew gum have a greater sense of wellbeing and lower stress levels. It’s possible that chewing gum creates greater blood flow to the brain. Chewing strongly, good news for those who like to smack their gum, seems to provide the most stress relief.
Spend Time With Pets
Spending time with pets…cuddling, going for walks, caring for them…reduces stress as well. That interaction releases oxytocin, just like spending time with the people we love does.
Pets give us purpose, provide companionship and help keeps us active, all positive ways of boosting mood and lowering stress levels.
Mindfulness is the awareness of being in the present moment. It helps to combat negative thinking about the past or anxiety about the future.
There are several ways to practice mindfulness.
Deep breathing brings focus on just that…the breath. Plus deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces a relaxation response. Breathe in slowly through the nose, hold for a few seconds, then exhale slowly through the mouth.
Meditation is an extended time of focusing on the breath while allowing thoughts to pass by without getting hung up on them. Meditation relaxes the body by easing tight muscles. It can be a very effective way of releasing stress from the mind and the body.
Yoga brings the mind and body together, using breath and movement. Practicing yoga enhances mood and eases depression and anxiety. It lowers cortisol levels and heart rate, which reduces stress as well.
Eliminate What Causes Stress
This may sound too simple, yet it’s effective. Are you trying to do too much, in the time that you have? Reduce the number of items on your to-do list. Don’t overcommit. Learn to say “no” to obligations or things you really don’t want to do anyway.
Stop watching the news, reading the paper or scrolling through social media, if those activities cause you stress. Walk away from negative relationships. Disconnect from electronics frequently. Build breaks into your day.
Making positive changes to your daily life, even in small ways, reduces stress. Do the things that bring you the greatest joy or feel fun. Make time for hobbies.
Finding ways to express your creativity helps to focus the brain on something pleasurable and fun, allowing it to release negative thoughts. You don’t have to paint masterpieces or write stories to express creativity.
Arrange flowers, garden, decorate a room or the whole house, sew, bake, sing or play a musical instrument. These creative activities soothe the analytical mind and relax the body.
One fun way to lower stress, that anyone can do, is coloring. Grab markers, crayons or colored pencils and a coloring book and lose yourself in laying color on paper. Coloring relaxes the mind and body in the same way that meditation does, whether you are filling in geometric shapes or completing a complex picture. Give it a try as a powerful stress buster.
How Is Your Stress Level?
Stress Awareness Month is indeed an excellent time to pause and evaluate how you are handling stress. Do you feel stressful occasionally? Frequently? Daily?
Beyond the anxiety stress causes, the negative effects on the mind and body are far reaching. Stress is a leading cause of disease for ultimately, the chronically stressed body becomes an unhealthy body.
I know. I lived with chronic stress and anxiety for many years. It’s taken inner work, better nutrition and mindfulness practices to shift into a healthier lifestyle.
It’s worth the work.
Which of these tips that reduce stress naturally will you try?
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I am not a medical practitioner. I study health and wellness related topics and share experiences from my own personal healing journey.