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5 Natural Ways To Relieve Stress and Anxiety

By on August 13, 2016

man anxiety stressStress is a normal part of life. No one can completely escape its effects, unfortunately! Stress can affect us in a variety of ways- both mentally and physically.

Emotional symptoms of anxiety may include difficulty concentrating, feeling preoccupied, obsessive thoughts, and difficulty falling asleep.

Physical symptoms can show up as racing heart, shortness of breath, shakiness, dizziness, and nausea, to name just a few.

When anxiety becomes so severe that it affects your ability to function on a daily basis, you could be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Psychotherapy is an effective method of reducing emotional distress.

The most common form of therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), helps people change thought patterns that contribute to anxiety.  It also focuses on behavior change and learning problem-solving skills.

Anxiety and stress can also be treated with medication.  While most associate SSRIs (Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors), such has Prozac, as used for treating depression, they are frequently used to treat anxiety as well.  Benzodiazepines are another class of medication used to treat symptoms of anxiety.  Xanax is an example of benzodiazepine that most people have heard of.

Many people express concern about taking medication to address anxiety.  Benzodiazepines do carry the risk of abuse and it’s possible to form physical dependence on them if taken regularly over a long period of time. Medications carry the risk of side effects, which is also worrisome for some people.

With these concerns in mind, we compiled a list of alternatives to prescription medication for tackling the effects of everyday stress. Always keep in mind, that just because a remedy is touted as “natural” does not mean there is no risk of side effects or interactions with other substances.  We have provided links for each which provides additional information.

 

5 Natural Stress Relievers

 

1. Tea Time

A 2009 study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania researcher found evidence that suggested Chamomile capsules have a calming properties.  Chamomile Tea may have both antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties.  The warmth of a cup of tea can be soothing in itself.

Camomile herbal tea by Twinings with box

Research on L-theanine, an amino acid found in Green Tea suggests it may have anti-anxiety properties. Be aware, however, that it also has caffeine so don’t overdo it! Green Tea has become fairly mainstream since people in the West have begun to discover its health benefits.

Nowadays Green Tea is available in different forms.  For those who aren’t keen on the mild flavor, its extract can be taken in capsules.  Matcha, a powder derived from the plant, can be used in smoothies or made into a warm beverage.

 

2. Put Down the Coffee and Soda

Coffee is a cultural staple in countries throughout the world. Coffee has a lot of caffeine, a naturally occurring stimulant that makes us more alert and focused. It also increased energy level and improves mood. The down side is caffeine can worsen symptoms of anxiety.

For the average person enjoying one cup of joe is not likely to throw them into a full-blown anxiety attack, however if you are sensitive to caffeine or if your anxiety is severe, it’s probably best to forgo the coffee as it can cause racing heart, shakiness, and insomnia.

Choosing a decaffeinated coffee, (which one should be aware still has small amounts of caffeine) or some other non-caffeinated beverage is probably wise. Some teas have their fair share. For example, black tea and earl gray.

It is worth mentioning here that choosing soda, as an alternative to coffee isn’t necessarily a good option, as most soda contains significant levels of caffeine. Many energy drinks that are relatively new to the market and are growing in popularity also contain high amounts of the caffeine.

 

3. Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation exercises such as simple stretching, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and yoga have been yoga stress reliefscientifically shown to be effective in combating anxiety and stress.

When we feel overwhelmed, the idea of trying something new may seem like just another thing we don’t have time for.  The great thing about the following is some can be done in the middle of the day, in virtually any setting.

 

Deep breathing: There are various ways to use deep breathing in order to experience a decrease in anxiety.  Here is one option:

  • Inhale and exhale through your nose, keeping your mouth gently closed. Keep each breath short and rhythmic.
  • Attempt to breath in and out three times per second. This is considered a “cycle”.  This purpose of this quick breathing is to engage the diaphragm.  After the completion of each cycle, breathe normally.
  • Start for a short period of time- no more than 15 seconds.  Each time you complete this exercise, try to increase your time by 5 seconds, with the goal of reaching a minute.

 

Yoga: An ancient practice, yoga has long been touted for its mental and physical health benefits. Stretching releases
muscle tension and the flow of movement from position to position helps to calm the mind.

 

Progressive relaxation: This activity involves the progressive tensing and releasing of major muscle groups. Generally, you start at one end of the body and progress until you’ve reached the other end; for example, head to toe or vice versa.

 

Mindful walking: Nowadays life is so frenetic that it’s difficult to stay focused on the moment. Mindful walking is just one example of an activity we can do with a focus on the present.  We can be mindful in all daily activities.  We can pull our minds away from worry about the future and the past, however it is NOT simple.

Our minds have been trained to focus on almost everything except the present.  Focusing on the moment can relieve us of a lot of unnecessary pressure and tension.

 

Massage: Massage helps to relieve tension in both the mind and body.  It is a practice that originated thousands of years ago. There are an enormous number of massage styles and schools of thought related to the practice. The more common types include: Shiatsu, Swedish, deep tissue, and trigger point massage.

Professional massage services can be pricey. Even an amateur massage can feel great.  If regular professional massage sessions are outside of your price range, ask (nicely) your partner or someone else you trust. There are products on the market today that are effective and inexpensive, such as massage roller sticks.


 

 

4. Consider Herbs

Before discussing specific plants that can be used to soothe the nerves, it’s important to keep one important thing in mind when considering natural remedies.  Just because a remedy is natural does not mean there aren’t potential risks involved in taking it.  Some can have side effects and one thing in particular to be aware of is the potential to interact with other medications.  

Make sure to speak with your healthcare provider if you are taking any medication – both prescription and over-the-counter.

Here are some common plants people use to alleviate anxiety:


Valerian
 
(Valeriana officinalis) is a flowering plant, native to Europe and Asia. This herb is commonly used to treat insomnia. Its use goes back to ancient Greece and Rome.  As to Valerian’s efficacy, it seems the scientific evidence is inconclusive at this point.

In spite of this the European counterpart to the FDA, the Europeans Medicines Agency, has permitted marketing Valerian as a treatment for stress and insomnia.  Many dedicated users swear by it as a sleep aid and mild sedative.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), a small flowering plant native to Europe and Asia, is now cultivated throughout the world.  This plant has been shown by at least one study to have calming effects.  Lemon balm is prepared in two forms: tea and essential oil.

Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata) As the herbs listed above, formal research studies have shown mixed results with regard to the effectiveness of this plant’s ability to reduce anxiety. It is generally embraced in Europe as a viable treatment for nervous disorders and it’s used all over the world.

In North American Native Americans introduced the plant to colonists. To this day Native Americans use the herb for other purposes, for example treatment for physical symptoms such as a pain, inflammation, and abdominal cramps.

Kava (Piper methysticum), a plant native to the Western Pacific, has been long used for its soothing qualities. Kava, also known as kava- kava, has an active ingredient known as kavalactones. This ingredient acts as a sedative and also has painkilling properties.  Kava can be taken in a variety of forms.  It’s sold in pre-packaged capsules or tea bags, for example.


For those who want to experience Kava like a native, you can purchase the dried root to make a beverage. The root is steeped in warm water and strained using cheesecloth or a specially designed straining bag.  The beverage made from Kava root is extremely bitter – definitely an acquired taste!

 

Always keep in mind, if natural remedies still leave you with significant symptoms of anxiety, you should consider seeking professional help.

5. Exercise

Exercise is a natural tension reliever.  Not only does it benefit us physically, but there are advantages to our mental wellness too.   Exercise, especially cardio activity, stimulates the production of certain neurotransmitters, chemicals that are produced and used by the brain. In particular exercise can affect the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These chemicals create a general sense of well-being.

Those who claim they aren’t athletic or hate exercise may want to re-consider their stance.  There are so many options available to us today; there surely is some kind of enjoyable activity for everyone. Even if the idea of “exercise” feels intimidating or overwhelming, try to ease in by doing the following.

 

Start simple. There is no need to go all out from one day to the next.  No need to go from couch potato to training for a marathon.  Changing any behavior in such an extreme way is unlikely to stick over the long term.

Change your perception. Call it “physical activity” or “relaxation activity” rather than “exercise”.  Try to focus on today and avoid thoughts such as Ugh. I’m gonna have to do this forever?

walking stress anxietyDon’t set goals. If physical activity is new for you and you aren’t particularly keen on getting active, don’t set expectations of yourself.  Don’t set goals, at least not when you first start increasing your activity level. We have enough obligations in our lives.  No reason to add this to your list.

Don’t compare yourself to others. You may have friends who are super-ambitious athletic types.  This isn’t a competition.  Your focus is to improve your mental well-being. Don’t worry about what others do.

Fit it in. Fit this change into your existing schedule.  If you walk the dog daily, walk a little farther.  Instead of driving over from shopping center to another close by, walk over.  Get up from your desk during lunch or your 15 minute breaks and take a stroll with a co-worker.

As you see from the various techniques and strategies we have reviewed, there are many options from which you can choose.  Try the ones out that fit best with your lifestyle.  If you try deep breathing or an herbal remedy, for example, and it isn’t effective, move onto another option.

Some skills will take some practice. Mindfulness, for example, is not a natural brain state.  When mastered, though, it is a powerful antidote to anxiety.  It may be worth investing some time and effort with some of the techniques listed here.

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