Feeling Stressed? 10 Ways to Keep Calm & Rise Above

Do you feel stressed out?

If you are feeling stressed, you are not alone. Life does pull us in a lot of different directions.

We feel it ourselves as naturopathic physicians raising three small children. We love our jobs and our children. But our days are busy and accomplishing everything that needs to get done can feel overwhelming. Plus, there are sneaky stressors that creep in, like watching too much news on TV, getting stuck in traffic, or the fact that the dishwasher just broke.

Stressors are all around us, and some days our “stress barrel” can absolutely feel overloaded. But what may surprise you is that feeling stressed is not a given. You do not need to be irritable and anxious. We will share how in a minute. First, here is a look at how stress affects your body:

Your Body Has Its Own “Stress Management Center”

Inside your body, stress is regulated by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. It is the communication network between your hypothalamus, pituitary gland and adrenal glands.

If you encounter a stressful situation—such as you are stuck in traffic on your way to an important meeting—the HPA axis goes into action. It stimulates the release of cortisol, your body’s “stress hormone.” Cortisol raises your blood pressure, quickens your breathing, dilates your pupils, and stimulates the release of blood sugar so you get a sudden surge of energy.

This response, called “fight or flight” mode, is extremely important if you encounter acute danger, such as fleeing a bear. But most people do not encounter bears daily. Instead, we are inundated with so much chronic stress that we do not even realize how stressed we are. Left unchecked, stress takes a real toll on your HPA axis, cortisol level, mood, sleep, and more.

Fortunately, there are ways to keep calm, cool and collected and carry on with whatever the day brings…

  1. Make Sleep a Priority: Stress is much easier to deal with after a good night’s sleep. Plus, sleep helps to reset emotional reactivity, especially during the second half of the night which is when you get your REM sleep. Strive to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night and go to sleep early enough that you do not have to cut your sleep short in the morning. To help yourself relax, avoid caffeine after noon, limit alcohol and sugar, keep your bedroom dark and cool, and use a lavender diffuser to help you drift off to sleep.
  2. Do a Morning Meditation: Each morning before our kids wake up and the busyness of the day sets in, we like to greet the day with a 20-minute morning meditation (unless our baby girl wakes up before we do, and she greets us instead). Pick a quiet spot in your house and sit on a comfortable cushion, towel or folded blanket. Cross your legs, close your eyes, and sit in an upright position with a straight spine. Then, focus on your breath coming into and out of your nose. When stressful thoughts come into your mind, like a big project that needs to be completed, let them go and again focus on your breath. Think of it like sitting near an ocean and letting the waves wash away your stressors so you start the day with a clean slate.
  3. Make an Appointment with Yourself: We tend to prioritize what we need to do for others and put ourselves at the end of the line. But just as they say on airline flights to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your children, you cannot take care of others unless you take care of yourself. Whether it is making time for a long relaxing bath, reading a good book, or catching up with a friend, make sure you schedule time each day that is just for you. It is also important to make that time sacred, just as you would a doctor’s appointment or work meeting and try not to cancel it.
  4. Put Yourself on a Media Diet: Years ago, if you wanted to know what was new in the world, you had to open a newspaper or watch the evening news. Now, our phones, social media, and 24-hour cable news stations bombard us with issues to worry about and react to. Plus, social media can have a stressing effect. So, limit the amount of time you spend consuming news and scrolling through social media channels. You want to be informed and feel connected, yet not overloaded. As a side note, social media was likely intended to connect us to one another, but sometimes it can have the paradoxical effect of fostering disconnection and more stress.
  5. Get Plenty of Exercise: One of the most powerful stress relievers out there, exercise releases tension from your muscles and stimulates your body’s production of feel-good endorphins. Even a 20-minute brisk walk can make a real difference in how you feel. Plus, many of the activities we enjoy count as exercise, whether it is tending to your garden, taking a bike ride with your children, or playing a game of tennis or round of golf.
  6. Take the Edge Off Stress with Ashwagandha: The herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is part of a class of herbal medicines called adaptogens because they help your body to “adapt” to stress. Ashwagandha works by helping to balance and stabilize the HPA axis (your stress feedback loop) and supports normal cortisol levels. What is nice is that you can actually feel it working, by reducing stress, anxiousness, fatigue, and irritability. Plus, it helps to boost your mood. Suggested dosage is 125+ mg daily.
  7. Boost Your Mood with Saffron: There is no question that stress can affect our moods, making us stressed and anxious. One of the best mood-boosting supplements is saffron. Not only does it have long history as a healing spice, but studies show it helps to improve stress, fatigue, anxiousness, and irritability. Saffron also helps to support sleep, regulate mood during premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in women, and even promotes cardiovascular and eye health. Suggested dosage is 30 mg daily.
  8. Harness the Calming Power of GABA: In your brain is an inhibiting neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that calms your mind and nervous system and helps you relax. You can get this amino acid by eating spinach, tomatoes, peas, beans, sweet potatoes, and cruciferous vegetables. Plus, taking 100 mg of GABA 30 minutes before bed can help to melt away the stresses of the day so you fall asleep more easily.
  9. Nourish Your Body with a Healthy Diet: Eat low glycemic foods and balance carbohydrates with proteins and healthy fats. Also, limit caffeine, alcohol and foods high in sugar—all of which can affect your mood and stress level. When feeling stressed it is easy to reach for the donut or handful of candy, but that quick fix will only help you to feel better temporarily. When your blood sugar begins to drop, your brain will tell you to eat more sugar to sustain the elevated mood you may have just experienced. It is a tough cycle to break and one that many of us have experienced.
  10. Spend Time Outdoors: There is incredible healing power in being out in nature. Just gazing up at the sky can help to put your stress into perspective. While you are outside, notice how good the sun feels on your face, or the sounds of the birds chirping in the nearby trees. All of these sights and sounds reawaken our minds and have a pleasant, calming effect.

Above all, it is also important to practice gratitude and be thankful for all that nature and the people around you provide through energy and love.  When you get too stressed, stop and reflect on what and whom you are thankful for. Then send that person a card, gift or note; or journal and meditate about all the things you are thankful for and soon you will reset from the stress with a calm perspective.

Author Bios: 

Dr. Briana Sinatra is a board-certified and California-licensed practicing naturopathic doctor who holds a Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University. She focuses on women’s and family health, taking a holistic approach to healthcare. Dr. Drew Sinatra is a board-certified and California-licensed practicing naturopathic doctor who holds a Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University and a self-described “health detective.” He works with patients on “health care” rather than “disease care” at his practice in Northern California. The Sinatras are a husband and wife team and advisers for research and development of clean and plant-based nutritional supplements for Healthy Directions

Connect with the Sinatras at:

Twitter:@DrDrewSinatra https://twitter.com/DrDrewSinatra

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DrsSinatraND

Website: www.drewandbriana.com

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