Stress Relieving Techniques

The stress triggers these days are everywhere. Two minutes on Twitter alone is enough to get me feeling the anxiety! The political and environmental climate these days feel extra stressful. Maybe you are the same. So let's review some simple stress relieving techniques to keep in your routine to balance the stressful moments in our day.

In general, stress is a natural (physical and mental) reaction to all kinds of experiences and can actually be beneficial to your health and well being.  When faced with an anxiety-inducing situation, the body's sympathetic nervous system automatically triggers physiological changes. Our breathing quickens, adrenaline is secreted, and our heart begins to race. This natural survival mechanism -- called the fight or flight response -- is designed to help us to escape true, life-threatening emergencies. However, when the threat is imagined (e.g., if this person is elected all of my fears are going to come true), the fight/flight response is unnecessary and often uncomfortable. This fight or flight response triggers the increase production of cortisol, aka the stress hormone. When cortisol is flowing strong for too long, it can interfere with learning and memory, lower the immune function and bone density, cause increases weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease... The list goes on and on.

Here are some techniques to try in order to consciously ask the body to relax and reduce anxieties.  These suggestions can only work if you try them!  Try a new one every day or repeat the same one over and over, it doesn’t matter. The purpose is to stop and connect.

Alternate-Nostril Breathing
What it is: A yogic technique designed to promote relaxation.
How it can help: Reduces blood pressure; may have an anti-obesity effect; boosts cognitive function on spatial tasks.
How to start:
1. With your right thumb, close your right nostril and inhale slowly through your left nostril.
2. Now close your left nostril with your pinky and ring fingers, release your thumb, and exhale slowly through your right nostril.
3. Keep the right nostril open, inhale, then close it; open the left nostril, and exhale slowly through the left. That's one round. Start with three rounds, and add a round each week until you are up to five. Then practice whenever you're feeling stressed out.

Muscle Relaxation Technique.
What it is: a two-step exercise of systematically tensing particular muscle groups in your body, such as your neck and shoulders and then releasing the tension in order to notice how your muscles feel when they are relaxed.
How it can help: People with anxiety difficulties are often so tense throughout the day that they don’t even recognize what being relaxed feels like. Through practice, you can learn to distinguish between the feelings of a tensed muscle and a completely relaxed muscle. By tensing and releasing, you learn not only what relaxation feels like, but also to recognize when you are starting to get tense during the day. 
How to start:
1. Applying muscle tension to a specific part of the body. I like to start with my feet and work my way up the body. For example, I apply tension by trying to make a fist with my foot, the toes are curled, my foot is flexed and all my foot muscles are engaged.
2. Now quickly relax the tensed muscles. After about 5 seconds, let all the tightness flow out of the foot and exhale as you do. You should feel the muscles become loose and limp, as the tension flows out. 
3. Remain in this relaxed state for about 15 seconds, and then move on to the next muscle group. If you start with the foot you would move to the calf, then knee, then thighs, buttocks and so on.

Check in with your diet.
What we eat and drink has a big impact on our emotional state. It is especially important in times of high stress to notice what you are consuming.  Aim to eat a clean diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, seeds and healthy fats will allow your body the proper energy to process the extra stress. Drink lots of clean filtered water. Avoid eating or drinking anything associated with exacerbating anxiety like caffeine and alcohol.  Coffee and wine may be what you reach for during stressful moments but it's important to know these drinks actually amplify the physiological response to stress and dehydrate the body, ultimately increasing anxiety.  Same with sugary food and drinks. Too much sugar increases our blood sugar levels and the more uneven our blood sugar levels; the more uneven our moods.

Herbs.  
If you are in a State which has approved marijuana for medical or recreational, you have an extra advantage. As it turns out, relief from anxiety and stress happens to be the most commonly reported reason for using marijuana. But be careful, not all strains deliver the same effects. Check in with your local dispensary agent and work with them to find the right strain that will work for you.
For the rest of the country not yet given the option to medicate using cannabis, there are other herbs you can try. Herbal teas are available with anxiety reducing ingredients like Passionflower, Valerian Root, Ashwagandha, Chamomile, Peppermint, Lemon Balm and Lavender. (Always check with your physician or naturopath when taking medication. Herbs are powerful and can disrupt or interact with some medications.)

Get moving!
Exercise has been proven to reduce stress, improve mood, enhance self-esteem, and increase energy levels. The body releases chemicals called endorphins during exercise which interacts with receptors in the brain to cause euphoric feelings and reduction in physical pain. So if you are feeling stressed - go for a run, even if it’s in place! Roll out your yoga mat or just take the dog for a nice long walk. Connect to your breath and move our body.

Sleep is important. 
Sleep is so important! Disrupted sleep is common when emotions are high and it's difficult to know which started first -- stress or poor sleep. A study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that losing just a few hours of sleep increases feelings of stress, anger, sadness, and exhaustion.  Be aware of how much sleep you are getting and implore natural sleep remedies to increase your rest.  Here is another area where those in marijuana approved states have an advantage. Check with your dispensary agent to find a consumption method and strain to promote sleep.

Above all remember, this too shall pass. Keep your internal dialog positive and loving. Our actions are inspired by our thoughts. If we can change the way we think, we can begin to change the actions we take.

Jen King