The Essential Guide to Reducing Stress

Reducing Stress

Not only is chronic stress toxic to the brain and body, it triggers cravings for salty and sugary foods. This  promotes weight gain and accumulation of excess fat around the abdomen (i.e., beer gut, muffin top, love handles).

Experts have found a connection between stress, high blood sugar levels, and abdominal fat. Stress promotes high levels of insulin (a fat storage hormone) and cortisol (stress hormone). This drives relentless metabolic dysfunction that manifests as weight gain, insulin resistance, and ultimately diabetes.

Stress is a thought or perception of a threat, even if it isn’t real.

We have complete control over stress, because it’s not something that happens to us. It’s something that happens within us. Stressors can be real or perceived. For example, you might imagine your boss is angry with you. Whether this is true or not, it creates the same stress response in your body.

Here are some suggestions for reducing stress:

Eat Well

Eat clean, unprocessed foods. Include more lean meats, healthy fats, vegetables, and unprocessed complex carbohydrates in your diet.  Reduce or eliminate sugars, gluten and dairy. Fruit intake should be moderate.

Try a few different things to find what works the best for you. Exercise is a great stress reliever because it makes people chemically happier, thanks to endorphins.Endorphins are a byproduct of vigorous aerobic exercise and are responsible for “runner’s high.” The main function of endorphins is to block pain signals, however they also produce calm and happy feelings.

Prioritize sleep to get 7-8 hours per night. Be very selfish about this if you have to.

Maintain Social Connections
Spend quality time with friends, family, and supportive members of your community.

Write Down What You Are Grateful For
Doing this daily can refocus your mind on what you do have, instead of what you don’t have. If you’re focused on what you lack all the time, you will be miserable…no matter what. Think about this. Do you know anyone who complains constantly about their first world problems or is obsessed with acquiring more material possessions? Are any of these people truly happy?

Reframe Your View
Challenge your own beliefs, attitudes, and responses to common situations to reduce your stress.  This can be quite difficult if you have deeply ingrained patterns of thought—however it is possible to retrain your mind. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) are very helpful for this purpose. I used to struggle with panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. CBT has helped turn things around. Many of my issues stemmed from my negative interpretation of events and challenges.

Combat Worry By Disputing “What If” Thoughts
We stay fixated on a negative outcome when worrying. Dispute this by focusing on some of the positive outcomes if your “what if” event really did happen.

For example, if you think: “what if I lose my job?” ask yourself what good can come of it if it actually does happen. Perhap:, “I will have more time to spend with my kids,” or “it could lead to a more fulfilling job afterward.”

Not all imagined outcomes are gloom and doom. Often it is the anticipation of the negative outcome that is worse than the actual outcome.

Supplement with adaptogenic herbs, vitamins, and minerals. The top adaptogenic herbs include American ginseng, holy basil, ashwagandha, astralagus root, licorice root, rhodiola rosea, and cordycep mushrooms. Vitamin C, B complex vitamins, and magnesium are also helpful.

Focus on One Thing At a Time
Multitasking actually promotes a stressed out feeling. Try doing one thing at a time with your attention only on that particular task.

It will rewire your brain and consciousness. If you don’t know how to meditate, there are apps that can help you with this. The one that I use is called Stop, Breathe, and Think which helps me to slow down and reduce negative emotions and responses. Try meditating for at least 10 minutes a day.

Be selfish with Your Self-Care
That means prioritizing your sleep schedule, workouts, and “me time.” If you feel guilty about this, remind yourself that you will be a better spouse, parent, friend, and worker if you take good care of yourself. You may need to have a difficult conversation with your partner to pitch in more with child rearing and other household burdens. Give yourself permission to take some sacred time for yourself every day to recharge your batteries. No one will give this to you on a silver platter, but it is yours to take.

Reduce Negative Stimuli, Especially in the Morning
Ever since I stopped reading, listening, or watching the news first thing in the morning, my moods have improved throughout the day. Paying attention to the news pollutes the mind with negative information and emphasizes the worst parts of humanity. Don’t be afraid to appear uninformed. If it’s really important, the information will find its way to you.

Reduce or Eliminate Consumption of Alcohol and Other Substances

Alcohol is sometimes used as a coping mechanism, but it actually can make you more anxious after the buzz has worn off. The same goes for cigarettes, anti-anxiety medication (such as Xanax or Valium), and other recreational substances. Caffeine should be reduced or eliminated in times of high stress.

Spend Time Outdoors
Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, go out where there are trees, water, and no fluorescent lighting and soak it in. Studies have shown that people are less stressed and more content when they take regular walks outside.

Learn New Skills
Try something new, or revisit something you’ve only tried once. There are literally hundreds of activities you can do to actively relax yourself. The key is to find something that engages the mind and body in a way that works for you.

Some examples are dancing, playing an instrument, singing, making art, doing yoga, cooking, trying out a new sport, fitness class, or activity. Sports like rock climbing, bouldering, and trail running are considered “moving meditation” because they can get you into a state of intense focus on moving your body, instead of focusing on your problems. Same for aerial yoga.

Running can promote a more mindful and contemplative state of meditation. I love running when I have an important or difficult decision to make; it helps me think about the problem from new angles and find creative solutions.

As you can see, there are many ways to cope with stress. Keep experimenting and refining your coping skills until you find the best combination for you.

Also, keep in mind that using just one single coping skill during times of high stress will not be helpful. It is better to try multiple coping skills when you feel like you’re about to lose it.