If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the stresses and strains of modern life, then you’re not alone. It is estimated that 77% of Americans experience physical symptoms of stress on a regular basis, while as many as 1 in 3 experience extreme stress at some point every week!
Some people believe this is down to the fact that we are now expected to work longer hours (sometimes around the clock), leaving us with less time to spend with family and friends. Others think the blame lies with our ever-growing obsession with money and status. Whatever the cause, the problem only seems to be getting worse.
Stress can have an enormous impact on our physical health. It is thought that 75–90% of all doctor’s visits are due to a stress-induced ailment. Feeling stressed on a regular basis has been linked with everything from an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, to depression, bipolar disorder and social anxiety. Clearly, we need to change the way we live before stress catches up with us. But what can we do? Here are 5 easy ways to beat stress that you can put into practice right now.
1. Tweak your diet to beat stress.
It is amazing how much of an impact tiny changes can have on your overall health and well-being. The same is true of keeping your stress levels at bay. One simple but effective way of beating stress is incorporating some high-quality dark chocolate into your day.
That’s right, you heard me: chocolate.
Although we might think of comfort-eating as a very bad way to cope with negative emotions, there is actually good reason to indulge in a small amount of dark chocolate if you’re feeling the pressure.
Chocolate contains several chemicals that closely resemble anandamide, an essential fatty acid proven to have a major role in alleviating feelings of stress and anxiety, and promoting feelings of happiness and contentment. It also contains compounds called N-acylethanolamines that inhibit the breakdown of anandamide, meaning more of it stays in the blood for longer. It is thought that these chemicals explain why chocolate has been used as a comfort food, delicacy, drug, and medicine throughout history.
Quite tellingly, the word anandamide is derived from ananda, the Sanskrit word for “bliss.”
Incorporating a small amount of high-quality dark chocolate into your daily diet can ensure that you have relatively high anandamide levels all-day long. This can have a profound impact on your stress levels.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should eat Hershey Bar after Hershey Bar every day. But by eating a few pieces of cocoa-rich chocolate when your stress levels creep up, you can take the edge off some of the worst symptoms, leaving you to get on with your day.
There are lots of other easy ways to beat stress through your diet. Feeling anxious and depressed? Try eating more asparagus. This will ensure that you have a sufficient intake of folic acid. Folic acid deficiencies have been linked with a wide range of mental symptoms, including lethargy, depression, anxiety, and acute stress. Eating just one cup of asparagus can give you about half of your daily intake of folate; more than enough to see you through the morning feeling stress-free.
Another easy way to beat stress naturally is to up your fat intake. I don’t mean that you need to start visiting McDonald’s more. Consuming more trans and saturated fats won’t do a great deal for your stress levels. What you need to increase is your intake of monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats are known to help lower LDL cholesterol (also known as “bad” cholesterol) levels. This will, in turn, help keep your blood pressure low. Many of the more serious side effects of stress can be avoided if you keep your blood pressure within a normal, healthy range.
Try eating more healthy oils, olives, avocados and nuts on a daily basis. You don’t need to make drastic changes; just chop an avocado into your salad and drizzle on some olive oil, or have a bag of nuts with lunch. Easy, cheap, and effective.
2. Exercise right.
Most people know that exercise is a good way of keeping stress at bay. It lets us let out all the anger and frustration we might have stored up over the course of a busy day. Whether you prefer pounding on a punch bag, punishing yourself in the squat rack, or hitting the pavement, exercise is a good way to clear your head and let off some steam.
However, a recent study found that all exercises are not created equal as far as stress management goes.
Researchers from a Finnish University used rats to examine the impact on brain growth of three different types of exercise: steady state cardio, high intensity interval training, and weight/resistance training. Over the course of seven weeks, the three groups were put through their specified exercise regimen on a daily basis. At the end of the seven weeks, the researchers measured how much neurogenesis (or “brain growth”) had occurred in the hippocampus.
The rats doing resistance training registered no extra neurogenesis in the hippocampus.
The rats doing high intensity interval training exhibited some growth, but nothing too impressive.
The rats doing regular steady state cardio, on the other hand, showed remarkable levels of neurogenesis. In the words of the NYT reporter who covered the story, their hippocampal tissue “teemed with new neurons.”
Why is that important? The hippocampus gets hit when we get stressed. It gets hit hard. Of all the “area”‘ of the brain, the hippocampus seems to be particularly sensitive to stress. If you find yourself stressed on a daily basis, then it’s likely that your hippocampus has experienced some degree of degeneration. This is serious: the hippocampus is largely responsible for memory, learning, and according to some, emotions.
Steady state cardio can therefore serve as more than just a way of letting off some steam. Done regularly; it can help reverse some of the worst effects of chronic stress.
3. Supplement smart.
If you find that things like diet and exercise don’t help, then supplements might represent a quick and easy way to beat stress. Done intelligently, supplementing can actually help you eliminate stress from your daily life altogether.
But isn’t that expensive?
Buying top-of-the-range supplements can be expensive, but there’s no need to part with a big chunk of your hard-earned cash to eliminate stress from your life. While there are hundreds of pre-made supplement stacks designed to promote clear thinking and reduce anxiety, you can effectively lower your stress levels by taking the right combination of good value, un-branded vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts.
For instance, if stress is keeping you up at night, you could try supplementing with some valerian root. This stuff has been used for centuries as a mild sedative, but its effects aren’t anywhere near as strong as prescription sleeping pills, and it’s nowhere near as side-effect ridden.
You can get hold of this and similar supplements in any health food shop, and some pharmacies will stock it for sale over-the-counter. While it may not be immediately effective, it is definitely beneficial to start with a weaker sedative and work your way up to something stronger if necessary. If you just need something to help you relax of an evening, this might be a great place to start.
Other natural extracts that are thought to have potent anxiolytic (stress-reducing) properties include Siberian Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Lemon Balm, Rhodiola Rosea, and St. John’s Wort. You may also be able to find some fairly cheap but effective relaxation teas to help you get a good night’s sleep.
4. Have the right attitude.
A way to beat stress immediately is to give yourself an attitude overhaul.
Obviously, I’m not so naive as to think that you can just think your stress away. If you could do that, then you would have done so already.
But, we can change how we feel about the things that are causing us stress by acting differently towards them. The simple truth of the matter is: acting happy can make us happy.
This isn’t some baseless spiel from a second-rate “life coach.” I am talking about a robustly supported psychological theory.
Numerous experiments have found that people told to act in a certain way, i.e with confidence and certainty, tended to have greater confidence in their abilities when later questioned by researchers.
You can even do a little experiment with yourself. Spend a whole morning acting sad, and you’ll almost certainly feel it for real by the afternoon.
In the same way, it’s possible to significantly reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety simply by acting as though you don’t have a care in the world. This could be in simple ways, such as smiling more, or walking calmly with your head held high.
Or it could be in more dramatic ways, such as leaving work on time every day, or turning off your phone in the evening. Whatever way you do it, just make sure that you do it consistently.
After a few days of acting, talking and smiling as though you haven’t got a clue what “stress” means, you’re bound to feel a great deal better.
5. Make your world stress-free.
Your home should be your castle. More importantly, it should be a stress-free zone at all times—no excuses!
There are some really easy ways to make sure that you don’t bring your stress home with you, and one of the simplest is to get a house plant. It shouldn’t surprise you that we have a deep biological affinity with plants; we just love being around them. It’s what we’re used to, evolutionarily speaking, and being in familiar surroundings helps us stay calm.
You don’t need to go crazy with these. Just get one for the hallway so it’s the first thing you see when you get home, and a couple more for around the house. Ideally, get something that doesn’t need a lot of attention, otherwise it might become another source of stress!
Another good tactic to employ is to build yourself a “cleansing zone.” This will be really easy if you have a porch. Set yourself up a table near the front door, with space for your keys, phone, files, wallet, laptop, mail—pretty much anything that you bring through the door with you that keeps you away from your family.
Go through everything when you get in, dealing with anything that needs to be dealt with. Once that is done, walk away. Do not return to the “cleansing zone” until you’re heading out for work the next day.
This is a really simple tactic, but in my experience, it’s really effective at creating a mental barrier between your home life and your work life.
6. Putting it all into practice!
Putting all of this advice into practice in one go is probably not the best way to go about things. Instead, try picking a few simple things to do right away, and choose one or two things to start building into your daily routine.
Start small, but be consistent. If you really want to eliminate stress from your life, then you need to understand that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Here are 5 easy steps to get you started:
- Buy a houseplant.
- Eat more avocado and have dark chocolate for dessert.
- Buy some relaxing herbal tea and drink a cup before bed.
- Take a long lunch every day where you don’t check your phone.
- Start running once a week.
Once you’ve done all of these, pick something else. Pretty soon, you’ll forget why you even read this article. You might even forget why you cared!
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