Our last two posts in this series have covered everything from a general overview of stress and the negative/positive effects it can create within our bodies. We’ve also looked at the physiology, or the how, of the HPA axis. Finally, let’s discuss the practical side of things. It’s great to know the how and why of everything, but it doesn’t help anyone to leave out the action steps.
What Do We Do?
Now that the fire and brimstone portion is out of the way, the only thing we need to discuss is how to start reversing this dysfunction. We want to remove as many avenues of stress as we can control.
1. Diet. As always, let’s start with the most obvious. Since eating processed, high-sugar foods is a stress for the body, let’s agree that those need to go. Instead, opt for a diet focusing on whole foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats are the best choices. Please remove food intolerances that you know or suspect. If unsure, an elimination diet is a good idea.
2. Exercise. Get moving, plain and simple. Exercise for stress-reducing purposes isn’t CrossFit, triathlons or powerlifting. We don’t want to put more stress on the body while trying to reduce it. Start with walking/jogging, cycling, or yoga. Also, try to get outdoors and perform some of this exercise. Exercise in the fresh air is rarely a bad idea.
3. Sleep. Let’s talk about sleep. This one seems to be the easiest to change, but the most difficult to implement. Sleep is important for several reasons. One of which is the healing properties of sleep. This is a good time for your metabolic reserve to recharge. Go ahead and let that happen. Another reason is the circadian rhythm…in which rhythm refers to measured pace, such as sleeping and waking for a certain number of hours each day consistently. Strive for 7-8 hours of sleep per night, and make sure the room is completely dark. Turn off computers, phones, and TVs around 30 minutes before you plan to go to sleep. While we all love to binge Netflix or Hulu all night it’s stressful for our bodies to do so.
4. Adaptogens. Adaptogenic herbs have a tremendous impact on our stress systems. They are aptly named because they help our bodies adapt to stress and protect us from the negative effects of stress through various mechanisms. For example, Schisandra and Rhodiola have been shown to modulate gene expression in the hypothalamus in order to decrease the amount of CRF released, essentially slowing down the HPA axis. Ashwagandha, another adaptogen, has shown to greatly reduce stress-induced anxiety and improve resistance to stress (1, 2)
5. Mindfulness. Glass half-empty or half-full? Which type of person are you? The way we react to stress emotionally has an impact on how our bodies handle that same stress. Approach stress with a better attitude or more positively. Psychology refers to this practice as “reframing”. This gives us a measure of control in the chaos, and perception is all-important.
6. Don’t be a lump. This is one of my wife’s favorite things to say to me. And, as always, she’s right. Once of the best ways to reduce stress is to get out and do something. Spend time with family, find a hobby, play ball with friends. One of the best ways to reduce stress is to remove yourself from it and focus on something else.
7. Take a breath. No, really. Breathe. Deep-breathing exercises are a great way to reduce stress. How many times have you been stressed and someone told you to breathe? Deep breathing activates our rest-and-digest system (parasympathetic nervous system), which is important for healing and recharging.
Stress plays a key role in our daily lives, both good and bad. There’s no way to avoid it. There’s also no way to truly control all stress. Also, everyone’s stress is their own; no two people have the same stressors or level of stress in their lives.
We can, however, help our bodies become better at handling stress. After all, one of the biggest issues stems from an inability to adapt to stress. Employing some of the strategies covered here can certainly help with that endeavor. Have some fun, be mindful, and somewhere along the way start building some resistance and becoming a healthier version of yourself.
I’d love to hear from you. Are there any other techniques or suggestions for reducing stress that you use? Do you have any other questions regarding stress? Leave a comment and let me know. Thanks for reading!