Stress, we all hate it, but we all have to deal with it. Humans have evolved with various methods of handling stress, but unfortunately, it was for stressors that we no longer have much of. Things like being chased by lions, tigers, and bears. The types of stress we face now are those that our bodies have not evolved to deal with properly. Things like work, bills, and relationships are very different from the stressors our ancestors faced.
Each of us responds to stress differently; our responses to stress can vary depending on the type of stress we are dealing with. The two main types of stress are acute and chronic.
Acute stress, think of fight or flight, is our reaction to an immediate stressor. It is extremely intense and can be exhilarating, such as bungee jumping, or be something scary like a robbery.
Severe acute stress can sometimes lead to issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. It can also lead to other health problems such as headaches, stomach problems, or serious issues such as a heart attack.
Chronic stress is the kind that sticks around. While mild acute stress can be beneficial if it spurs us into action, chronic stress will gradually wear you down. This persistent stress can lead to all kinds of health issues and weaken the immune system. It can also lead to depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and chronic sleep issues, which create their own health issues.
So how do we deal with stress the right way?
The first part of effective stress management is to identify the sources of stress. Take a moment to write down a list of triggers or situations that are causing your stress. Some will be events that happen in your life, and others will be ones that come from within you. Be honest with yourself when making this list; avoiding the issues or pretending they are not there will not help you.
Once you have your list, you can take concrete steps to address them. The good news is that we have the ability to control and manage our stress; the bad news is that our bad habits of dealing with stress have been with us for a while, so it can take some time to start to deeply and truly address stress. We just need the right tools.
One of the most important tools available is talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy). Unfortunately, in the past, therapy was looked down upon and only needed by crazy people. Gradually that stigma is going away, and that is great for everyone. Sometimes we need help, and it is ok to admit that. Think of a therapist as a sort of brain doctor. If you had a broken leg, you would go to the doctor to get it fixed. If you had a tooth infection, you would go to a dentist to get it taken care of. Your mental health is the same way. You should look at it the same way as you would seeing any other type of doctor. You are not messed up or crazy. A good therapist will help you work through things and develop the tools you need to be able to handle the stressors of life. One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes finding the right therapist is like kissing a frog to get a prince. You may have to try a few to find the one that works for you. Do not give up if the first one you try is not for you. A good therapist is not always going to tell you what you want to hear but what you need to hear. They are going to push you a little bit to help you grow and get better. You want this. Along with talk therapy, there is a wonderful app called Youper. This app can be used as a sort of therapy add-on to help you and your therapist track your progress. It can also be used on its own if you are not quite ready to make the leap into talk therapy.
Next up in our stress toolkit are mindfulness and meditation. These are incredibly helpful and will help train your body to be able to handle stress properly. Mindfulness and meditation are practices that can help to reduce stress but also help you to cope with and deal with chronic stress much better. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment and acknowledging your feelings in it. Meditation is the practice of focusing and clearing your mind to achieve a sense of peace and relaxation. Here is a great article about it. Sometimes a book can be very helpful to teach you ways to be mindful and to meditate. This workbook is one of my favorites. It is an eight-week program that helps you develop tools to handle emotional stress. Another one of my favorite books is this one, which can help you develop the tools you need if you are dealing with a person in your life that is causing much of your stress, such as a boss, family member, or spouse. The key is daily practice. Once you are doing these things daily, they will start to become part of your life.
A simple and easy way to get started being more mindful!
Our next tool is journaling. Journaling is incredibly helpful when dealing with stress. Sometimes seeing our thoughts written down can help us to process our feelings in a way that is not possible when they are constantly being turned over in our heads. It can also help to organize our thoughts and goals while relieving stress. Journaling is a wonderful way to help get control of stress. This is a great article about the benefits of journaling about how to get started and do it right.
There are many different ways to use exercise to reduce stress. Physical activity increases endorphins, reduces the negative effects of stress on your body, helps with mindfulness, and improves mood. Whatever exercise helps you is the best. There is no one that works best for everyone. For some people, a long, intense run or laps in the pool might be best. For others, morning yoga might work. No matter which exercises you choose, the key is doing it often. The more you do it, the more effective it will be. This article has great information on the benefits of exercise for stress relief. There are many different ways to use exercise to reduce stress. Physical activity increases endorphins, reduces the negative effects of stress on your body, helps with mindfulness, and improves mood. Whatever exercise helps you is the best.
Next up is nature. Humans have evolved in nature, and we need not forget that. We spend way too much time indoors. Reconnecting with our evolutionary past is one of the most important things we can do to relieve stress. Simple things like walking barefoot in the grass (even in cold weather) for a few minutes (some people call this grounding or earthing) can greatly reduce your stress. Try at least once a week to go for a hike or sit outside in your yard, without your electronics, and soak in the outdoors. Be present and mindful when you are outside; look at the breeze going through the leaves or a chipmunk scurrying over the rocks. The more you can do this, the better. Get outside!
Parker getting outside.
Sunshine is next on our list. Getting some sunshine every day is so important. It improves our mood by increasing serotonin levels, helps our immune system to work properly, increases our ability to focus, and supports healthy sleep. The best times to get sunlight are during sunrise and sunset. Just ten minutes at each of those times will have a huge impact on your body’s ability to deal with stress. Here is a great article about it.
They say dogs are man’s best friend. Humans have long had animal companions. We domesticated wolves and wild cats for a variety of reasons, not just for work. Pets are actually a great stress reliever. They comfort us when we are sad and love to be by our side. Having a dog will make you get outside and take a walk, give you a reason to get up in the morning, greet you at the door when you get home from work, and help you to forget the stress of the day. Dogs also help to improve immune function and reduce asthma risk in children. Adopt a dog and see who rescues who! While some people cannot have pets for a variety of reasons, animal shelters and rescues are always looking for volunteers to help with walking dogs and other tasks. This is a great way to get out of the house, get exercise, and reduce stress!
Meg Meg says hello.
Stop doom-scrolling! Due to the prevalence of 24-hour news, cell phones, and social media, we are constantly being fed information, and a lot of it is not good. Set aside a few times of the day to watch the news or look at social media and stick to it. Don’t do it before bed. Once those times are over, try not to look at it for the rest of the day. This will greatly reduce low-level chronic stress. Our brains are not designed to constantly be bombarded in this way, and it only leads to trouble.
Separate work life from home life. With the pandemic, many people are working from home. This can lead to a real problem with work-life balance and lead to a lot of stress. There are a few good ways to reduce this stress.
Try and keep your work to just one room in the house. Only work in that room if possible.
Get dressed to work. Changing clothes is one way to keep them separate. The changing of clothes after helps to signify the end of the workday.
Get in the car and drive around the block after work. For many people, the ride home used to help signify the end of the workday; when working from home, this often does not happen. So a drive or walk around the block can help to keep work and home life separate.
Set a final time to answer work emails. It can be tempting when working from home to constantly answer emails. This is not a good idea as it never allows your brain to relax. Set a time and stick to it.
Sometimes things can seem so overwhelming that we do not know where to begin. This is the perfect time to focus on small good things that bring us a smile and don’t require effort on our part. These can be random events, such as seeing a butterfly or bee on a flower or things you plan each day. For example, at 6:00 each night, you and your spouse hug for a minute. For me, it is a toad I have affectionately named Melvin. Each night, before bed, when I take Meg Meg (our dog) out to go the bathroom, Melvin is always waiting by the door eating bugs (I leave the light on for him so he has plenty to eat). On the way back, I wish Melvin a goodnight. This little ritual helps to signify the end of the day and helps me relax. Sometimes the smallest things make a big difference.
Sleep is so so important. It affects every aspect of our life. When we don’t sleep well, it leads to a lot of issues. Without enough sleep, our ability to handle and manage stress will be greatly reduced. Decreased sleep leads to increased cortisol levels which creates a feedback loop that can become hard to stop. Establishing good sleep hygiene is very important to getting stress under control. This great handout will help get you on the path to a better night’s sleep.
The foods we eat can have a great impact on our ability to handle stress. Things will only worsen if we are stressed and eat lots of junk food. You don’t have to be perfect, but eating well will help you to feel better. It can be really challenging to eat well when we are stressed, so take little baby steps.
One of the worst mistakes people make is having coffee first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and not eating for a long time after that. This causes your body to run on stress hormones all day. You are not feeling good from the coffee; you are feeling the effects of your body's stress hormones. Over time this leads to fatigue and other harmful effects.
Instead of having a coffee first thing, have a protein-rich breakfast (with a minimum of 30 grams of protein) within an hour of waking up. You will feel so much better. If you need coffee, have it with this breakfast, not on its own.
Keeping your blood sugar even and stable will also help you to deal with stress better. As the Snickers commercial says, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” We all know how we get when our blood sugar is low. Start with simple steps like a protein-rich rich breakfast and an apple with macadamia nut butter before bed. Try not to skip meals and have an afternoon snack. Here are some foods that are great to eat to help with stress.
Rich in magnesium and other compounds with a wide range of stress-reducing properties.
Rich in theanine, an amino acid that helps with relaxation.
Helps to support healthy cortisol levels.
Rich in Vitamin C, which is very important for adrenal function.
Lacto-fermented veggies such as pickles.
The good bacteria in these foods can help you cope with stressful situations.
Rich in B vitamins and zinc, which are very important for a healthy response to stress.
Eggs yolks are rich in choline which has been shown to help support a healthy response to stress and improve mood.
Shellfish are rich in taurine, which helps with neurotransmitter production.
Fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, which are essential for dealing with stress.
Rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps with relaxation and the production of serotonin.
Blueberries are rich in flavonoids that help to protect the body from the damage of stress.
Rich in vitamin E.
This delicious chocolatey recipe is rich in stress-busting nutrients!
There are a number of supplements that can help with stress. There are way too many to go through all of them, but I wanted to highlight a few of them that can make a big difference.
Sometimes we can feel so overwhelmed by stress that it can be hard to do anything else. During these times, you want something that works fast to help you relax and feel calmer. Concentrated Maca Oil works fast to calm the stress response and allow your body to relax.
The second is whole food B vitamins. When you are stressed, your body uses up your stores of B vitamins much more quickly. This can lead to a worsening of the stress response over time because the body becomes depleted. Real whole food b vitamins are much different than traditional b complex products. No weird vitamin smell, no yellow urine, and no upset stomach; check them out here.
Another great supplement for stress is Activated Maca. Maca is an incredible food that, over time, helps to support the body’s response to stress by nourishing the nervous system and supporting adrenal function. Activated Maca is key to nourishing and building a healthy stress response. No other food or herb has such a dramatic effect on your body’s stress response systems. Beware, though, many Maca products are not made properly and can have contaminants such as mold. Here is our recommended Maca for stress support. Activated maca can be used alongside the maca oil. The oil provides short-term relief while the Activated Maca nourishes and rebuilds.
Last but certainly not least is Ceremonial Cacao. Cacao is rich in amino acids, minerals (such as magnesium), and flavonoids. Cacao helps the brain to release endorphins, aka happy chemicals. Ceremonial cacao is a big step above your traditional chocolate experience. It is made using the whole bean, which gives you more of the oils and other volatile compounds that provide a much more uplighting and relaxing experience than simply eating a chocolate bar.
Try and add a few of these stress reduction tools to your life at a time. You won’t get them all at once, and you won’t be perfect (trying to be perfect is just adding stress) at it. That is completely ok. Stress can be overwhelming. Making small changes and improvements is a great way to go. Keep in mind that it can take at least twelve weeks to make real changes in your habits. It does not happen overnight. Over time they will become second nature, and you will notice that you are able to handle stress better and better. Stress does not have to control your life. You can do this. As they say in one of the greatest movies of all time (and every therapist’s nightmare): baby steps.