Stress is a prevailing health issue in the United States. Although 61 percent of adults feel that stress management is important, only 35 percent believe they cope with stress at an optimal level, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Luckily, there are a number of effective natural ways to reduce stress.
Exercise has long been touted as one of the most effective and immediate sources of stress relief available. “It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress,” Harvard Medical School says. The Mayo Clinic adds that “exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever.”
For optimal health, adults should participate in two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week and two or more days a week of muscle strengthening activities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Regularly elevating the heart rate produces endorphins, boosts the immune system and stabilizes emotions.
In addition, exercise can increase mental capacity. “Studies show that [exercise] is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function,” the Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains. “This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.”
Although walking, running and yoga are cited by doctors as the most preferred exercise methods, any activity that gets the blood pumping is efficacious. Alternatives include swimming, cycling, aerobics and the use of elliptical machines.
When it comes to exercise, Americans still have a long way to go. Even though 50 percent of adults believe exercise is important, only 27 percent say they do an excellent or very good job at getting the recommended weekly amount, the APA states.
Nutrition, Diet and Substances
Healthy eating is another key practice for stress reduction. Doctors recommend maintaining a balanced diet, which includes getting appropriate amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, antioxidants and water, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. They recommend minimizing the intake of processed foods, as well as those high in sugar and salt content. Doctors emphasize lowering the intake of caffeine and alcohol and completely eliminating the use of drugs and cigarettes.
Herbs may be helpful. Ginseng, green tea, valerian, kava kava, catnip, chamomile and lemon balm are all notably effective natural ways to reduce stress. Finally, aromatherapy is known anecdotally as a suitable stress reliever. Recommended scents include sandalwood, lavender, ylang ylang and peppermint.
Mental Activities and Stress Management
Certain mental exercises can relieve stress. Positive self-talk is recommended, Psychology Today reports. People intuitively know how to help others fight stress better than they know how to help themselves. For example, when people make mistakes, they may call themselves “stupid.” Yet they wouldn’t respond that way to a friend or a young child. Positive self-talk can include phrases such as:
- “This feeling will pass.”
- “I am safe right now.”
- “I am feeling anxious now, but I have the power to make myself calm.”
- “I can feel my heart rate slowing down.”
Meditation, which is among the most popular ways to reduce stress, is the practice of training the mind to focus and observe without judgment or attachment. Certain sections of the brain are more prone to the effects of meditation than others, Fast Company explains.
The reticular formation, for instance, is responsible for your brain’s intake of stimuli. When you meditate, it tends to slow down. The frontal lobe (in charge of reasoning and emotions), the thalamus (attention) and parietal lobe (sensory information processing) all scale back their functioning as well. If practiced regularly, meditation can actually heal the damaging neurological effects of stress over time.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends engaging in pleasurable activities for at least 15 minutes per day. Although what is defined as “pleasurable” may obviously differ among individuals, common activities include listening to music, participating in hobbies, playing games, visiting with family and friends, reading or taking classes. By combating negative feelings with positive ones, stress may decline significantly.
Although stress affects everyone, there are numerous natural ways to reduce stress. At Touro University Worldwide, individuals can learn to help others help themselves. TUW offers fully online degree programs in psychology and health and human services, designed to prepare students to reach their career goals.