If there’s one thing I’ve had a need for lately, it’s natural stress relief. I’ve had trouble with anxiety since childhood. But my anxiety grew worse during adulthood, and reached a pinnacle after withdrawing from prednisone during one of my Crohn’s flares.
Most recently, as some of you already know, finding out that our dog has cancer has recently sent me into a tailspin of appointments, research, and managing treatments for Luciano, and this has created a whole new level of stress. Since stress is a huge factor in autoimmune disease, it’s important for me to find ways to manage my stress and anxiety and keep it under control. So the following remedies for natural stress relief are becoming a big part of my daily regimen.
(The following is inspired by one of my recent columns in San Pedro Today.)
Stress can take a toll on our bodies and our health. There are many studies linking psychological stress — particularly chronic, unmanaged stress — to detrimental effects on heart, digestive, and immune function. Additionally, unmanaged stress can contribute to insulin resistance, weight gain, premature aging, and body pain, among other issues.
Stress is an unavoidable factor in life. We all experience it. While we can’t control the stress life brings us, we can control how we handle it. Ultimately, our goal is to prevent it from becoming a chronic issue.
Since I struggle with anxiety, I’m familiar with using a myriad of techniques to help manage my stress. While it may seem easier to pop a pill rather than do the work ourselves, natural alternatives are ideal because they can be just as effective without the side effects or potential addiction. At the very least, they are always good as a first line of treatment (or even as a supplement to medication). Here are some of the natural stress relief methods I use to cope and achieve a more relaxed state of being:
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1. Deep Breathing
Consciously inhaling and exhaling helps induce a relaxed state which can slow the heart rate, relax muscles, and decrease blood pressure. It’s the most immediate and convenient way to reduce feelings of anxiety in any situation. You can do it anywhere and anytime, and it doesn’t cost you a penny.
Meditation takes a little more time and patience, but it’s worth it because it encourages a calm state of mind, tranquility, and clarity. It has been proven to help reduce stress and encourage healing. If you have trouble achieving a true meditative state (which is a state of “thoughtless awareness”), visualization techniques can also be helpful. I enjoy using prayer as a form of meditation, as it helps me to clear my head, restore my faith, and feel more calm and grounded.
Not only can yoga increase strength, flexibility, and balance, but it can also lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol levels, and ease anxiety. If you’re not well enough to attend a class or have mobility challenges, this gentle yoga DVD is a great place to start. This gentle type of yoga has been helpful for me, since I also suffer from elements of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.
As you probably know, exercise releases those wonderful natural pain killers called endorphins. Exercise, such as aerobic activity or weight training, helps to relieve stress, increase the ability to sleep, and improve mood since it stimulates anti-anxiety effects. I personally feel best when I am weight training. We recently invested in an all-in-one home gym, and it has been a God-send. I lost a lot of muscle mass during my last flare (due to being bedridden for months a time), so getting to lift weights again feels wonderful. Even a simple activity, like a walk around the block or a few pushups in my living room, helps provide immediate anxiety relief for me.
5. Essential Oils
Using essential oils, such as lavender, rose, frankincense, and chamomile, is an effective way to help manage stress and anxiety. Most can be applied topically or dispersed aromatically in a diffuser. We love using this aromatherapy diffuser in our house, and we especially enjoy using stress-relieving essential oil blends, such as this one. If you are going to use any essential oil topically, be sure to research how to apply that particular one; some require a carrier oil and shouldn’t be applied directly (and some are not appropriate for children). A warm epsom salt bath at bedtime with a few drops of lavender oil is a great way to relax and prep your body for a good night’s sleep. I also like to put a couple drops of lavender oil on the edge of my pillow each night (or on a cotton ball placed near my pillow) — not only does it smell lovely, but it also helps promote relaxation and a healthy night of sleep.
6. Acupuncture and Massage
Acupuncture and massage also release endorphins, reduce stress, and help promote healing. I’ve recently started acupuncture, and it already has been particularly helpful with inducing a state of calm and even eliminating migraine pain which, for me, is often a result of stress.
7. Positive Thinking
Turning that negative self-talk into positive self-talk has proven health benefits, including lower levels of distress and better coping skills which help with managing stress.
8. Learning to Say No
Sometimes it may be beneficial to simply say “no.” Whether it’s recognizing when you’ve taken on too much or refusing to participate in unnecessary drama, reducing your commitments allows you to lessen some of life’s burdens, redirect your energy, and give your body a fighting chance at being healthy.
Of course, nutrition and proper sleep are also critical for stress management. It also goes without saying that if anxiety is a real problem in your life, it’s best to consult a medical doctor for a proper diagnosis. A functional medical doctor, in particular, can help identify potential vitamin or mineral deficiencies or other physiological factors which could be contributing to the issue. Seek professional medical treatment or therapy when needed.
Either way, practicing methods for natural stress relief can help relieve the anxieties that come with life and potentially prevent your stress from becoming a chronic problem that can lead to future health concerns. It may take a little extra time and effort, but achieving that state of calm makes it totally worth it.