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Healthy You

Ten Natural Ways to Manage Your Stress Levels

Wednesday, November 02, 2016 10:22 AM

Stress is not uncommon. Everyone experiences stress at some point. In fact, stress can be a good thing. It can boost creativity and productivity at work; however, when stress levels get too high, it can affect mood and health. When stress levels are on the rise, there are some quick options for getting them under control.

John Lin, MD, Internal Medicine at NorthShore University HealthSystem, shares simple ways you can write yourself a prescription for calm:  

Turn up the radio.  Soothing music has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety levels, which means it can work wonders on stress levels too. Create a list of your favorite songs and sounds, like nature noises, and push play. Music lowers cortisol (stress hormone) levels and increases serotonin and endorphins, which boosts mood.

Exercise! It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you choose, from walking and running to yoga and strength training, getting your heart rate up makes a difference.  Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your overall health, including mental health. Endorphins, or the brain’s natural “feel good” chemical, are released into the blood stream boosting mood and helping you focus. 

Laugh lots. Just like music and exercise, laughter just makes you feel better. It lowers cortisol levels and boosts endorphins too. Turn on your favorite comedy, read a funny book, do the things that make you giggle and enjoy the stress relief that results. Don’t feel like a belly laugh? A simple smile lowers your heart rate, decreases cortisol levels and boosts endorphins. You’ll also find out a smile is definitely contagious! 

Take a bath. Warm water and aromatherapy—lavender bath oils or lavender-scented candles—combine to relax tense muscles, increase circulation, lower blood pressure and relieve pain. 

Enjoy a nice cup of tea. Research has shown that the compounds in chamomile bind the same receptors in the brain as tranquilizers like Valium, which means it is a natural way to promote calm.  It also aids digestion, helps with sleep and, as an anti-inflammatory, reduces swelling. 

Get some fresh air and sunshine. Vitamin D, also known as the “happiness” vitamin, occurs naturally when the body is exposed to sunlight. When possible, a small amount of sun exposure without sunscreen can improve mood and reduce stress levels.

Breathe. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. When you breathe deeply, it send a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends the message to your body. Heart rate will slow, blood pressure will decrease. Try sitting comfortably in a quiet place. Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting your chest and lower belly rise and your abdomen expand. Breathe out just as slowly, repeating a word or phrase that helps you relax.

Address the stress. Ignoring the elephant in the room is a frequent source of stress. Taking positive steps towards removing that stress helps. You don't have to solve it all at once. Make a list of small, concrete, manageable steps, such as journaling or talking to a friend or making a phone call, and feel a sense of accomplishment as you check things off your list. 

Pat yourself on the back. Sometimes we have a running commentary going through our heads, and sometimes what we tell ourselves isn't very nice. Feeling bad for yourself is a waste of energy. Staying positive and encouraging yourself can help you calm down and get a better grip on the situation.

Volunteer. While you're helping your community, the environment, or other worthy causes, you're also helping your own physical and mental health. In one study, people with chronic pain who volunteered as peer counselors found that their pain, disability, and feelings of depression all lessened from volunteering.

How do you manage your stress levels?