08/23/2019 Mind-Body Health
The bad news: Stress levels are reported to be on the rise. The good news: There are many antidotes other than pharmaceuticals to help with stress and anxiety—give these natural solutions a whirl when anxiety strikes.
People are more stressed and anxious than ever, according to Gallup’s 2019 Global Emotions Report. In the U.S., 55 percent of people said they felt stressed during the previous day. Research shows that anti-anxiety prescription medications were on the rise for the decade leading up to 2010. Presumably, those numbers will have grown when numbers are available for the next decade.
Why are people so stressed? There can be a myriad of causes. Some literature points to generalized things like increased expectations and less of a sense of community.
Whatever your root source of stress, there are natural treatments that can help you avoid the harmful effects of chronic stress. These nine natural remedies for anxiety and stress may help you find a sense of peace and increase your overall health and well-being.
1. Get Enough Sleep Regularly
A study of salaried workers aimed to find the association between sleep deprivation and perceived stress. Researchers found that workers who slept for five hours or less had higher odds of feeling stressed.
Sleep allows the mind and body to recharge. Even the slightest sleep deprivation can affect mood. Research shows that most Americans would be happier and healthier if they got an extra 60 to 90 minutes of sleep a night. Research also shows that stress can affect the ability to fall and stay asleep, which presents a looping challenge: If you’re too stressed to sleep but the lack of sleep causes even more stress, what do you do?
Natural remedies for stress reduction before you hit the pillow include deep breathing, meditating, avoiding screens (e.g., phones, computers, TVs), and taking a hot bath or shower before bed, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Developing a regular sleep schedule that trains your body to go to bed and wake up at the same times daily can also help you fall and stay asleep which should reduce stress regularly.
2. Reverse the Time-Flying Perception
Although there are 24 hours in a day and that never changes, you perceive time to speed up as you get older. Biochemical research shows that the release of dopamine, the body’s chemical messenger involved in reward and the main neurotransmitter involved in time processing, begins to drop after age 20. That makes time appear to pass faster and oftentimes prompts feelings or symptoms of stress and anxiety because you perceive that there’s never enough time to get everything done.
There are a couple of ways to reverse this perception with a natural remedy for anxiety by practicing stress management.
- You can aim to cram fewer activities in your day.
- You can break routine and experience fresh things—particularly something enjoyable—that force your brain to learn something new. The extra processing time makes you feel as though time has slowed down and, therefore, you can feel less stressed.
3. Eat More Stress-Reducing Foods
When you’re stressed or feeling anxious, your hormones can make you crave and eat large quantities of unhealthy foods, such as sugar-laden desserts. Instead, eat more foods regularly that contain healthy fats—avocados, eggs, walnuts, chia seeds, olives, and salmon. A study of medical students linked increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in foods such as salmon and walnuts, to reduced anxiety.
Foods high in vitamin C (e.g., citrus fruits, broccoli, red peppers), complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains, vegetables, fruits), and magnesium (e.g., spinach and other leafy greens, nuts, seeds) can also help stabilize moods and provide stress relief.
4. Socialize in Person
It’s not uncommon for people with depression to also have anxiety and vice versa. Research done on people 50 or older concluded that frequent face-to-face social interactions with friends and family equate to fewer symptoms of depression. And it doesn’t stop at the end of the in-real-life interaction. That same study found that positive gains of regular in-person bonding lasts for years. The researchers noted that digital communications—such as texts, emails, social media, FaceTime, and phone calls—don’t have the same effect.
Put your phone down and go see your friends and family to reap the anxiety-reducing benefits.
5. Write It All Down and Practice Gratitude
Writing can be a helpful form of therapy. And you don’t have to be a professional writer to do it. Journaling isn’t about polished grammar and punctuation, and well-crafted transitional sentences. It’s about coming into the present moment, and taking your thoughts and feelings out of your head/body and putting them onto a screen or a piece of paper. This could look like a 20-minute, all-out exercise in jotting down or typing out what’s causing your stress and anxiety, and how it makes you feel. Or, it could be a regular gratitude journal practice, where you list things you’re thankful for or write letters, emails, or texts to people in your life for whom you feel gratitude for.
Nearly 300 adults—most struggling with issues related to anxiety and depression—sought mental health counseling at a university and were recruited to participate in a research study. Everyone received counseling and therapy; however, some of the participants were also asked to write a letter of gratitude to someone in their life each week for three weeks. Researchers found that the group that wrote gratitude letters reported better mental health following the study than those who either wrote nothing or only wrote about their thoughts and feelings about stressful experiences.
Neuroscientist and author Alex Korb noted that the brain is unable to focus on positive and negative information at the same time. A gratitude practice can train the mind to lock in the positive.
6. Be Mindful During Transition Times in Your Day
Oftentimes you may be hyper-focused on key moments or events that fill the calendar: arriving at work, attending meetings, having lunch with a friend, working out, etc. However, every single one of these moments is sandwiched between important transitional moments—commuting to and from work, walking from your office to the restaurant and back, and more. It is important to remember to practice stress management so that you don’t feel overwhelmed in these instances. Plan to pause and be present in these transitional moments. So often you go from one activity or event to the next without any buffer in between. Running from one thing to the next without relief doesn’t allow the mind and body to process or recover from what it just did and prepare for what’s to come, and can, therefore, trigger the stress response.
If you have three in-person, back-to-back meetings in the same building, try scheduling them for 50 minutes instead of an hour so you can give yourself 10 minutes in between each one to mentally transition from one topic to another and to get from point A to B. During your commute at the end of your workday, be intentional about mentally shifting from whatever you were working on to the personal things you’re about to do for yourself and/or whomever you may be headed to see (e.g., a spouse, friends, a roommate, children).
7. Crack Up
Literally laugh so hard that your belly aches, eyes water, and face hurts. How do you arrive at this kind of laughter? That’s up to you decide. It might be your dry-witted friend whose sense of humor cracks you up every time you’re around him. It could be YouTube videos of animals doing ridiculous things. Seek out whatever triggers laughter in you and seek it out often. Do natural remedies for anxiety get better than this?
Laughter decreases serum levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Additionally, laughter releases endorphins, which are the chemicals produced by the nervous system to cope with pain or stress.
8. Take Time to Think Through What’s Troubling You
Denial is meant to give you some time to adjust to distressing situations. However, it’s not intended to be a permanent houseguest in your mind. It’s important to acknowledge when you’re feeling stressed or anxious so you can implement strategies, such as the ones detailed in this article, to remedy the challenges. Don’t run from your thoughts and or numb your feelings. Invite them in.
Headspace, which is an app and a blog dedicated to mindfulness and meditation, points to creating a routine and scheduling time to think through what’s weighing on you rather than letting these things build up and potentially create more stress and anxiety.
9. Work It All Out
It’s well-documented that physical activity, particularly aerobic exercise, reduces stress and anxiety symptoms. Even just five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to reduce anxiety. Pick your exercise of choice and use it to work out your stress. Even better, do the exercise outside. Research shows that just 20 minutes spent in nature can lower your stress hormone levels making this one of the best natural remedies for anxiety.
If you have concerns around feelings of stress and anxiety, talk with your health care practitioner first. If you both agree to incorporate natural remedies into your overall wellness plan, give the aforementioned ideas a try and see what works best for you.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
Learn a natural, effortless style of meditation that helps invite renewal and freshness into every day with Basics of Meditation, a self-paced online course guided by Deepak Chopra. Learn More.