By Dr. Mercola
Every year, the American Psychological Association (APA) conducts a survey on the impact of stress in America – and as you may suspect, it’s substantial.
The latest survey found that many Americans are still reporting extreme stress levels (8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) and many say their stress levels have increased in the past year. As APA notes:1
“Stress is so commonplace in American culture that a Google search generates millions of results with essays, opinions and missives on what stress is doing to us…
Survey findings illustrate a scenario in which Americans consistently experience stress at levels higher than what they think is healthy. And while the average level of stress may be declining, people have a hard time achieving personal stress management goals…”
The fact of the matter is that stress management often takes a backseat to the responsibilities of daily life, and many regard such ‘me time’ as an indulgence that can only take place after everything else is ‘done.’ Of course, ‘everything’ won’t ever be done, which is why it’s important to weave stress relief into your daily grind such that you do it automatically – like breathing and sleeping.
Yes, Stress Relief Is Really That Important
I’ve long said that managing your stress levels is crucial to optimal health, and that is because all of your feelings, positive or negative, create physiological changes. Your skin, heart rate, digestion, joints, muscles, energy levels, the hair on your head, and countless cells and systems you don't even know about change with every emotion.
Stress plays a major role in your immune system, and can impact your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, brain chemistry, blood sugar levels, and hormonal balance, for instance. It can even “break” your heart, and is increasingly being viewed as a cardiovascular risk marker.
Extreme, sudden stress like the loss of a loved one or a job can have near-immediate impacts on your health, but so too can lingering everyday stressors that we all juggle, particularly when they're not dealt with over time. This causes your body to remain in "fight or flight" mode for far too long -- much longer than was ever intended from a biological standpoint.
One of the most common consequences of this scenario is that your adrenal glands, faced with excessive stress and burden, become overworked and fatigued. This can lead to a number of related health conditions, including fatigue, autoimmune disorders, skin problems and more.
Stress has also been linked to cancer by acting as a drive of cancerous mutations and multidrug resistance, potentially triggering the growth of treatment-resistant tumors. And stress even appears to be related to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, by triggering a degenerative process in your brain and precipitating disruption of your neuroendocrine and immune systems.2
In fact, stress, and by proxy your emotional health, is a leading factor in virtually any disease or illness you can think of.
8 Expert Stress-Busting Tips
After you’ve gone to work, finished your errands or household chores and gotten your kids to bed, many are simply too tired to think about stress relief, so they zone out to mindless entertainment or social media and go to bed feeling frazzled and anxious… and not surprisingly start off the next day feeling much the same. It’s a vicious cycle, but one that’s easily broken by turning stress management into a habit.
You needn’t devote hours to stress relief every day. Instead, you’ll find that activities you already do can work wonders for calming your nerves, especially if you make a commitment to doing them on most days of the week. Try…
Exercise affects a neurotransmitter that has an antidepressant-like effect on your brain while helping to decrease muscle tension.3 Exercise also guards against the adverse physical effects of stress. During periods of high stress, those who exercised less frequently had 37 percent more physical symptoms than those who exercised more often.4
2. Spend Time in Nature
Going outdoors helps to relieve your stress naturally, with research showing levels of the stress hormone cortisol lower in those who live in areas with the most green space, as are their self-reported feelings of stress.5 Even five minutes in nature can help reduce stress and boost your mood.
3. Focus on Your Breathing
Learning to breathe mindfully can modify and accelerate your body's inherent self-regulating physiological and bioenergetic mechanisms. These changes are in large part due to the fact that you’re oxygenating your body properly as well as correcting your internal and energetic balance, and it has a direct impact on your nervous system. Ideally you should be breathing primarily through your nose; learning a simple technique called Buteyko breathing can help you restore normal and beneficial breathing patterns.
4. Participate in Activities You Enjoy
Engaging in a hobby gives you crucial time to play and simply enjoy yourself. A hobby can take your mind off of stress and adds more much-needed fun to your life.
5. Eat Right
Schedule time to eat without rushing, and make sure to maintain optimal gut health by regularly consuming fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, or taking a high-quality probiotic supplement. Scientific evidence shows that nourishing your gut flora with the friendly bacteria within fermented foods or probiotics is extremely important for proper brain function, including psychological well-being and mood control.
6. Stay Positive
This is a learned technique that can lead to a more joyful life and likely much better health, as those who are optimistic have an easier time dealing with stress, and are more inclined to open themselves up for opportunities to have positive, regenerative experiences. Try keeping a list of all that you’re grateful for and make a commitment to stop any negative self-talk.
7. Stay Connected
Loneliness can be a major source of stress, so make a point to connect with those around you – even a quick chat while in line at the grocery store. Work your way up to volunteering, attending community events, meeting acquaintances for coffee or taking a class to meet others with like interests.
8. Take a Break or Meditate
Taking even 10 minutes to sit quietly and shut out the chaos around you can trigger your relaxation response.6 Meditating during your breaks can help you to decrease feelings of stress and anxiety even more.
Have You Tried the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Yet?
Using techniques like energy psychology, you can correct the emotional short-circuiting that contributes to your chronic stress. My favorite technique for this is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which is the largest and most popular version of energy psychology. There are many derivatives of EFT and some likely work even better -- but EFT is the one that I have the most experience with and is the most established.
EFT was developed in the 1990s by Gary Craig, a Stanford engineer specializing in healing and self-improvement. It’s akin to acupuncture, which is based on the concept that a vital energy flows through your body along invisible pathways known as meridians. EFT stimulates different energy meridian points in your body by tapping them with your fingertips, while simultaneously using custom-made verbal affirmations. This can be done alone or under the supervision of a qualified therapist.
By doing so, you help your body eliminate emotional “scarring” and reprogram the way your body responds to emotional stressors. Since these stressors are usually connected to physical problems, many people’s diseases and other symptoms can improve or disappear as well. In the following video, EFT therapist Julie Schiffman discusses EFT for stress relief. If you haven’t yet tried it… why not?
7 More Stress Management Tips to Try
Ultimately, the best stress management tool for you is the one that works to relieve your stress. Healthy diet, exercise, proper sleep, meditation and EFT are among the best options, but there are many more. The chart below offers more tips reported by the APA survey as being "believed to be effective among those who use them." Choose whichever one (or a combination of them) that appeals to you, and if you don't sense any benefits, try another, until you find what works best for you.