Stress is pervasive and has significant psychological and physiological effects. Stress breaks down the immune barrier and integrity of the GI tract, leads to imbalances in hormones (the HPATG axis (Hypothalamus, Pituitary, Adrenal, Thyroid and Gonads (Sex hormones)) and can have a deleterious effect on sleep (can contribute to insomnia) to name but a few. Stress is also inflammatory to the body and there is mounting evidence to support that inflammation can cause and/or contribute to depression. A discussion on stress would be incomplete without mentioning some of its positive effects in preserving function and capacity of the body and mind when faced with adversity and in helping to motivate and achieve.
In a prior blog post on stress entitled ‘Improving Your Resilience to Stress’, I go into more depth on the health effects of stress, a scale to evaluate stressors in your life for the past year and some of the benefits of a healthy amount of stress. The key focus of this blog post is on achieving a balanced response to stress and to provide you with tips to help when acutely stressed and in need of a means to quickly calm down and re-center or ground.
Stress Squares – These are a biofeedback tool on a business-sized card. You place your finger on the square for 10 seconds and the square’s color can change based on your degree of tension or relaxation. The backside of the card provides tips on how to lessen tension with a focused meditation exercise. The square is re-useable and can be employed to monitor your level of stress in different situations or when around different people. If you are interested in trying such a device, you may contact the clinic at 971-678-6243 (provide full name and mailing address) and you will be sent a free card to try out this tool.
Breathing Exercises – One of the simplest is the long slow exhale (try to exhale over 10-15 seconds during each exhalation until you feel more relaxed). Another breathing exercise is the ‘4-7-8 exercise’ (inhale through nose with mouth closed for 4 seconds (or a count of 4), hold your breath for 7 seconds and then exhale for eight seconds through the mouth).
Diet –Cut down or eliminate caffeine (it can exacerbate anxiety in many and is a physiologic stressor to the adrenal glands and digestive organs which are already taxed when under stress). Hydrate well (and consider consuming electrolyte beverages such as coconut water, broths (meat, vegetable, fish or bone broths and miso broth or soup), water with lemon and a pinch of salt). Tea (green especially and non-herbal varieties from the Camellia sinensis plant) contains L-Theanine, which promotes relaxation and calm.
Eat well balanced meals and snacks (some good quality protein, fat and carbohydrate (which can be vegetable, fruit, legume or grains (in those who tolerate them) regularly throughout the day to maintain steady blood glucose control. (Mood and energy fluctuations over the course of a single day are usually related to insufficient or imbalanced intake of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) in the absence of diabetes or a medical disorder that results in imbalanced blood glucose levels.) Poor blood glucose control is a stressor on the adrenal glands (which are already working hard if under stress).
Lifestyle– Engaging in regular and moderate exercise (preferably some in fresh air and daylight) and good quality sleep can help in coping with stress and minimizing its impact on the body and mind. Working to reduce stressors as much as possible and to take some time out to relax are also important. Soaking in a hot bath with Epsom salts and lavender can be a great way to relieve muscle tension, to relax the mind and to promote sleep (when soaking before bed).
Naturopathic Interventions – Flower Essences: A good go-to flower essence for stress is Rescue Remedy (also known as ‘Five Flower Remedy’ (contains Star of Bethlehem, Rock Rose, Impatiens, Cherry Plum and Clematis flowers). It can help instill calm, ease fear and promote a sense of groundedness and confidence. Typically 3 to 5 drops are taken on the tongue acutely as needed. (If you are interested in reading more on this, here is a link to research on its use for anxiety: Anxiolytic Effect of Rescue Remedy for Psychiatric Patients: A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Randomized Trial.
Nervine Herbs: These are herbs that support the nervous system and include herbs such as Chamomile, Ashwagandha, Lavendar, Skullcap, Catnip and Linden. Typically these herbs are formulated into a customized blend for a patient by their practitioner, but experimenting with relaxing tea blends from your local grocery store can often be a good start.
If your score on the stress scale outlined in the prior blog post (‘Improving Your Resilience to Stress’) indicates an increased risk of illness, you have been suffering from the ill effects of prolonged stress or you are concerned about the impact of stress on your health, I strongly suggest that you see an integrative health practitioner who can help you in identifying your stressors and in minimizing their impact on your mental and physical health.
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Weil, A. (2016, May). Three Breathing Exercises and Techniques. Retrieved from https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/stress-anxiety/breathing-three-exercises/