Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your overall health.
Stress, actual or perceived, increases cortisol levels. Your body can’t tell the difference between you just worrying about an upcoming job interview, traffic getting to work, or you’re about to be eaten by a giant grizzly. Your body responds to any stress by going into a flight-flight-or-freeze mode and releases adrenaline and sugar into your blood so you have resources if you need to run or attack. When your body runs at this level of intensity throughout the day for months and years it can cause disease. Weight gain, higher blood sugar levels, which leads to diabetes, and increased blood pressure promoting heart disease. Plus a weaker immune system leaves you even more susceptible to disease.
High Stress over time can lead to a metabolic disaster. Rather than just saying, “this is how I am and this is how I deal with stress”, let’s see if we can improve upon your coping skills and reduce your daily stress levels so you can live a calmer and carefree life.
But first, let’s take a deeper look at where all this stress is coming from… your Nervous System. We know what turns the nervous system on, so in order to fix high-stress levels, we need to know what turns it off. During stressful times, your sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, which needs to be shut off by activating the PARA-Sympathetic Nervous System.
The parasympathetic nervous system promotes calmness and signals the brain that you’re safe to relax. I’ve shared with you my top 15 tips on how to calm your nervous system and reduce chronic stress.
Here are some of my top tips to help lower your stress levels:
- Deep Breathing Exercises – Stress and tension cause you to breathe short shallow breaths. Primarily using your upper airway which then increases strain on neck and shoulder muscles. Focusing on slow deep breathing helps relax upper muscle strain and improves airway gas exchange, which means more oxygen to your brain!
Belly Breathing – Better for calmness throughout your day. Reduces cortisol levels (stress hormone) and activates your parasympathetic nervous system to promote muscle relaxation and a calm mind.
4 Square Breathing – Best for calming an anxiety attack. Focus attention on the air coming in and out of the lungs while counting. With each breath try to inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds and hold again for 4 seconds while imaging the sides of a square.
- Exercise – Exercise burns adrenaline from stress as well as extra circulating glucose. It’s a physical and emotional release for the mind and body. However, not everyone feels that exercise is stress-relieving. The key to “exercise” is finding a movement that you enjoy doing. Dancing, walking, biking, and yoga is all a form of exercise. Choose a movement and turn up the intensity over time and you’ll feel that stress release and endorphin high.
Exercise reduces cortisol levels, promotes relaxation, and improves blood flow. Exercise is meditation in motion.
- Meditate – This doesn’t need to be an hour of humming sitting on the floor. Meditating can be done however you want to do this. It’s just a few moments in your day to calm the body and quiet the mind. You can choose to focus on something or let your mind just go blank. Telling your mind not to think can be very challenging.
- Getting Outside – Studies have shown that spending time out in nature can enhance your overall well-being, and improve anxiety, depression, as well as other ailments that can worsen stress levels. Get outside more or plan time to sit by an open window for a few moments in your day. Take deep breaths of fresh air and appreciate your life and the life around you in nature.
- Massage – We tend to not spend our time or money on ourselves, especially for a massage, but you know it’s worth it! If this is you, I recommend looking into a massage membership. Opt for the membership so that you can get monthly or weekly massages. You will have less tension and will look forward to your “me time”.
- Magnesium– Stress can increase the excretion of magnesium. But, low levels of magnesium contribute to worse stress outcomes on the body. The magnesium-stress cycle continues to deplete magnesium levels until this deficiency leads to disease. Low magnesium levels cause fatigue, weakness, irritability, anxiety, and possibly sleeping problems, which can all worsen stress and lead to chronic disease. Studies show that magnesium deficiencies correlate with depression.
Dietary sources of magnesium: greens, nuts, beans/legumes, fruit, and coffee
You can take supplements as well but should discuss them with your healthcare professional first.
Epsom salt baths have magnesium that soaks into the skin and helps reduce inflammation and muscle tension.
- Kava Kava – Kava tea is derived from a natural plant that promotes calmness, relaxed muscles, pain relief, and a general boost of happiness. In small doses, Kava can be great for stress. For a quicker method, you can also try the Kava Tincture which comes in drops.
I tried Kava Kava for the first time when I was a nurse in Hawaii and I can say that the experience was amazing!
- Journal – Think of this as an emotional release of your stress by putting your thoughts on paper. This can help to clear the mind if you have racing thoughts.
- Sents & Sounds – Certain scents can have a calming sense for the body and mind. Studies have shown that Aromatherapy helps promote relaxation, better sleep, and less overall stress.
“aromatherapy with lavender or grapefruit oils may act on the immune and autonomic nervous systems in healthy adults, reducing stress and enhancing topical immunity” (Takagi, et al., 2019).
We all love to crank up the dance party hits, but sometimes we need some calm background elevator music. Sounds can trigger memories that can either lead to distraction and negativity or focus and productivity.
I love to listen to calm piano or classical music when I’m trying to concentrate.
- Therapy – If you’re still dealing with stress that doesn’t seem to be getting any easier, look into professional help. Try to find someone that you can trust and be open with to get the most out of your sessions. TalkSpace and BetterHelp are great resources to get you started.
You do not need to do all of these, just pick ones that you can relate to and adopt into your current lifestyle.
The first thing to do is identify your stressors. This may be harder than you think. Often we go to money, kids, or relationships, but see if you can dig deeper than this. What is it that’s stressing you out and what can you do about it? If you can’t do anything about it that day, table it. Don’t overthink, stress, worry, and build this up more. Learn to adapt to the present and cope with the past one day at a time.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health conditions without consulting your healthcare provider. Information used is based on experience and opinion, not 100% evidence. Always consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website. Some links in this article may contain affiliate links.