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6 Tips for Dealing With Stress

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Stress is something we’re all familiar with, being ever so common in our 24/7 lifestyles. While a little stress once in a while is okay, long term stress increases risks for heart diseases, diabetes, poor weight control, reduced immunity, depression, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, reduced fertility and overall inflammation. These problems are largely derived from the stress hormones, such as epinephrine, that are released during stressful situations to aid to our ‘fight or flight’ response. While this was clearly advantageous to our ancestors, resulting in higher heart rates, cortisol levels, blood sugar, blood vessel constriction and ultimately more strength, speed and endurance, long term stress is detrimental to us in modern times. With that said, here are 6 stress busting tips to help you mellow out and relax!

1. Find the stressor

Is it work? A broken relationship? Or maybe even financial problems? The first step in dealing with stress is to face your problems head on. Solutions are highly individual and depend on what kind of changes you’re willing to make. While the best thing to do would be to eliminate your stressor, which is often not possible, the next best thing would be to brainstorm what could make your situation. Maybe getting ahead on your workload or confronting your significant other?

2. Aromatherapy

Lavender flowers and their extracts have been used for centuries for anxiety, sleep troubles and depression. The relaxing experience associated with lavender fragrance has led to its therapeutic use in aromatherapy. Aromatherapy with lavender has been demonstrated to be effective for anxiety, depression and overall stress in both small and medium-sized controlled and uncontrolled clinical trials. Want to give lavender a shot? Head to your nearest health store and pick up a bottle!

3. Laughter

A good laugh is an excellent form of stress relief with both immediate and long term benefits.  Laughter stimulates the release of feel good endorphins, relieves stress responses, reduces tension, improves your mood, relieves pain and improves your overall health. Laughter is a powerful and under recognized form of medicine that is both easy and fun to incorporate into your routine! Go ahead, watch that funny TV show, spend a night out with friends or maybe head to your local comedy club! A little laughter will do wonders to help you bust your stress.

4. Sleep more

Sleep is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle but over the last 50 years Americans have reported getting less and less sleep. Modern work and school schedules constantly devalues a good night’s rest, with praises going out to those bold enough to pull an all-nighter to get more work done. While you can probably get away with a night here and there of poor sleep, resent research is linking sleep loss with our immune and inflammatory systems resulting in higher risks for not only stress and anxiety, but also chronic diseases including heart disease and diabetes. How can you get more Zs? Naps are great! Short naps under 20 minutes will avoid a lot of the grogginess associated with longer naps. Try getting into the habit of going to bed earlier. If you have problems falling asleep, it would be a good idea to avoid brighter lights (e.g. computer) before bedtime.

5. Exercise

I’m sure you’ve heard of the mood boosting endorphins associated with exercise, making exercise programs superior drug free options to elevate your mental state and relieve stress. While one bout of exercise is a sure fire way to leave you feeling fresh and happier, long term exercise programs have been demonstrated to be seriously effective at treating mental disorders. By just walking an hour 5 days a week, exercise will actually increase brain hippocampal sizes in previously sedentary people! Getting started can be daunting but it doesn’t have to be! Try taking walks on you breaks or taking the stairs more frequently or maybe even pick up a new activity! Head over to your local college and consider some fitness classes or try something a bit more daring (rock climbing anyone?).

6. Eat a healthy diet

Long term stress has been linked with tendencies to store fat around the midsection, poor sugar control and reduced metabolisms. For many, stress is a serious barrier for weight management, which can result in more stress and so on. How can we make healthy changes to deal with stress? Eat frequently throughout the day and be sure not to skip breakfast. This will help boost your metabolism, maintain blood sugar levels and help maintain energy throughout the day. Focus on mood boosting nutrients, such as potassium (bananas and avocados), vitamins B (leafy greens) and C (citrus fruits, tomatoes, and kiwi) and magnesium (nuts and leafy greens).  Finally, reduce your intake of high-glycemic, refined carbohydrates and eat the rainbow in terms of fruits and vegetables.

 References:

D’Andrea W, Sharma R, Zelechoski A, Spinazzola J.(2011) Physical Health Problems After Single Trauma Exposure : When Stress Takes Root in the Body. doi:10.1177/1078390311425187

Lucini D, Pagani M. (2012) From stress to functional syndromes: An internist’s point of view. doi:10.1016/j.ejim.2011.11.016.

Toda N, Nakanishi-Toda M. (2011) How mental stress affects endothelial function. doi:10.1007/s00424-011-1022-6.

Image Source: UrbaneWomensMag/Flickr

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