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Natural Ways to Relieve Stress

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Unless you live in a bubble, it's impossible to go a day without mentioning your own stress or hearing someone else complain about their work, finances, relationships, or other stressors. Stress is detrimental to one's health and can manifest itself in physical symptoms such as headaches, back pain, and stomach disorders. Libraries are filled with books on the best ways to manage stress and thereby improve your health and life outlook. So what are some of the proven methods to naturally relieve stress in your life? A website dedicated to the latest natural health news, mercola.com, suggests ten simple ways you can reduce the stress in your life without taking any medication1. The following is a review of those suggestions and an explanation of why these tactics are successful.

1. Address conflict with others

Being assertive is an essential communication skill. Stress is the workplace is often a result of taking on too many responsibilities causing you to compromise other important aspects of your life. This can ultimately lead to harboring resentment towards colleagues and dissatisfaction with yourself when you cannot maintain a good work-life balance. It is important to learn the difference between assertiveness and aggression when voicing your opinion. Communicating in an aggressive, accusatory manner can be counter-productive to your stress-relieving goals. Learning to be more assertive builds self-confidence by recognizing your feelings. When disagreements are discussed in a productive manner, it can garner respect from your peers.

2. Nurture yourself

You hear it everywhere you turn—the best way to handle stress is regular exercise and healthy eating—but what does this actually do for your body and brain? Researchers at the University of Georgia found that the brain chemical, norepinephrine, is crucial in the way our brains handle stress2. Animal studies show that exercise increases the concentration of norepinephrine in the brain, allowing the brain to handle stress more efficiently. Eating the right food is necessary to keep the body working at an optimal state. Following the FDA's recommended guidelines for carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals fuels your body and maintains balance. Excessive caffeine and sugars should be avoided because they create peaks and steep drop-offs in energy levels.

3. Apply time management principles

There is nothing more daunting than beginning a seemingly endless project. Taking the time to prioritize your activities will help you recognize what is most important to you. A well managed calendar and "things to do today" checklist is pivotal in organizing your obligations. Build your schedule to tackle the most important tasks first and include short breaks to evaluate progress along the way. This allows you to feel accomplished about what you have achieved thus far and gives you the flexibility to alter your timeline if necessary.

4. Resist cognitive distortion

Our brains have a funny way of manipulating an experience into a more stressful situation than necessary. Do you find yourself making broad generalizations like, "my boss ALWAYS listens to him and NEVER acknowledges me?" While this may be true, it is most likely an overgeneralization, which leads to more negative opinions and resentment. If you find yourself regularly distorting situations, try cognitive restructuring. Next time you think "I can't do this", instead ask yourself, "how can I do this?" This will train your brain to view situations more positively.

5. Get help when you need it

A study of nurses found that organized social support for coworkers improved job performance and reduced job-stress3. Regardless of whether or not your company has a structured mentorship program, reaching out to others for difficult problems is a proven stress management technique. The benefits are two-fold: employing the help of a friend or colleague can reduce the time spent on a project and also foster a sense of teamwork.

6. Learn how to delegate

In theory, delegating tasks should reduce stress however, if not done properly it can add to your worries. If you are a control freak, you may feel guilty handing off responsibility to others. The key to successfully delegating tasks is carefully defining the task for the other person. Assessing the person's capability and also having their verbal confirmation that they are up for the task can significantly ease your mind and stress levels.

7. Take advantage of mini-relaxation

Whenever stress feels like too much to bear, practice a relaxation technique to clear your mind. Yoga is a common practice that teaches students relieve mind and body stress. While you may not have the time or desire to take up yoga, we can all learn from the breathing techniques that promote relaxation. Research shows that spending 15-20 minutes daily practicing relaxation improved perceived quality of work life4. Short relaxation breaks are a revitalizing and cost-effective way to keep your sanity during the most stressful times.

8. Address your tension head on

When you feel the tension manifesting itself in physical ailments such as a headache, an early approach is crucial in limiting the symptoms. Massage, heating pads, or even a brisk walk can increase body flow to muscles and keep the pain at bay. Findings show that treating trigger release points, spots on muscles the refer pain elsewhere in the body, were as effective at relieving tension headache symptoms as using anti-inflammatory medication4. So the next time you feel a headache coming on, you can cite medical evidence to persuade someone to give you a neck massage.

9. Remind yourself to stay optimistic

If you are not typically a glass-half-full person, you can still train yourself to see the more positive side of unpleasant circumstances. It is suggested that positive thinkers are able to cope better with stressful situations and their health is not as negatively affected by stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter activates, then relieves your body's stress response system and increases your heart rate6. The after-effect is a soothing, relaxed feeling and a reduced level of stress in the body.

10. Connect with others

Loneliness is a risk factor in an array of illnesses. Researchers found that lonely individuals have an altered response in their bodies stress reaction system, increasing the length and intensity of experiencing stressful events7. Spending time with friends and family or even pleasant interaction with a stranger can lift your spirits and improve your body's reaction to stress.

Article Quick Facts:

  • Stress is detrimental to one's health and can manifest itself in physical symptoms such as headaches, back pain, and stomach disorders.
  • Exercise increases the concentration of norepinephrine in the brain, allowing the brain to handle stress more efficiently.
  • Cognitive restructuring trains your brain to view unpleasant situations in a more positive manner, thereby reducing stress.
  • Treating trigger release points, spots on muscles the refer pain elsewhere in the body, were as effective at relieving tension headache symptoms as using anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Laughter activates, then relieves your body's stress response system resulting in a relaxed, soothed feeling.

By Abby Johnston

References

1. Mercola, J. (2013). 10 Simple Steps to Help You Relieve Stress. [online] Retrieved from: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/05/10/10-steps-to-manage-stress.aspx

2. Apa.org (2013). Exercise Fuels the Brain's Stress Buffers. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/exercise-stress.aspx

3. AbuAlRub, R. (2004). Job Stress, Job Performance, and Social Support Among Hospital Nurses. Journal Of Nursing Scholarship, 36(1), 73-78.

4. Van der Klink, J. L., Blonk, R. B., Schene, A. H., & Van Dijk, F. H. (2001). The Benefits of Interventions for Work-Related Stress. American Journal Of Public Health, 91(2), 270-276.

5. Ghanbari, A., Rahimijaberi, A., Mohamadi, M., Abbasi, L., & Sarvestani, F. (2012). The effect of trigger point management by positional release therapy on tension type headache. Neurorehabilitation, 30(4), 333-339.

6. Mayoclinic.com (2013). Stress relief from laughter? It's no joke - MayoClinic.com. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-relief/SR00034

7. Edwards, K. M., Bosch, J. A., Engeland, C. G., Cacioppo, J. T., & Marucha, P. T. (2010). Elevated macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) is associated with depressive symptoms, blunted cortisol reactivity to acute stress, and lowered morning cortisol.Brain Behavior and Immunity, 24(7), 1202-1208. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2010.03.011