Six Natural Stress Busters

In the midst of the holiday season with New Year’s resolutions on the horizon, my patients are frequently asking me how they can cope with the extra stress that comes with the holiday season. The truth is that most of us are dealing with stress all year round. And sometimes we may not even recognize that it is this chronic stress that is actually causing lot of our symptoms like headaches, fatigue, back pain, anxiety, depression, digestive disorders, muscle aches, allergies, insomnia and more!

Before we get into ways to help your body cope with stress, let’s talk about what actually happens in your body during times of stress. When our brain perceives stress (of any kind!!) it causes the adrenal glands produce cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, activating the Sympathetic Nervous System. These “Stress Hormones” increase our heart rate, respirations and blood pressure; send blood rushing to our extremities; dilate our pupils; and increase blood sugar. Our bodies are now in Fight or Flight mode, preparing to face a predator or run from it. Once we have effectively dealt with a stressor, the stress hormones should be broken down and then the Parasympathic Nervous System is activated, returning blood flow to internal organs, constricting pupils, and decreasing blood sugar, heart rate, respirations, and blood pressure. This is also known as Rest and Digest, and it governs digestion, urination, and sexual arousal.

Cortisol is actually a very important hormone and is what governs our natural circadian rhythm, waking us in the morning and declining throughout the day until melatonin takes over and we fall asleep. When we experience periods of prolonged stress, our adrenal glands make so much cortisol that they become fatigued and either cannot make cortisol or cannot regulate the production of it. We may be flooded with cortisol at 3am, wide awake and unable to sleep, and devoid of cortisol during the day when we most need it. Prolonged high levels of cortisol and other stress hormones can trigger anxiety, depression, ADHD in kids, headaches, and increased blood pressure all of which are things we do not want!

In a perfect world the answer would be to just completely eliminate stress from our lives, right? Unfortunately, the reality is that most of us cannot eliminate all of the stress from our lives. However, we can change the way our bodies respond to stress! Here’s how.

Breathing. One thing I teach all my patients is how to use their breath to immediately take yourself out of Fight or Flight mode. The next time you encounter a stressor pay careful attention to your breathing. Place one hand on your chest and the other over your belly. Your chest may be rising and falling rapidly with shallow breaths. Focus on expanding your belly when you breath! Take five of these deep belly breaths and you will immediately feel calm and relaxed. This may take practice but can be done throughout the day or anytime you feel stressed.

Diet. Your diet can also have a huge impact on how your body responds to stress. Foods that are processed, even those that are labeled as “fortified” or “enriched,” are harder for your body to digest than whole foods and can keep your adrenal glands from regulating stress hormones. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables for your plate, being careful to buy organic as often as possible. Organic produce has the highest content of vitamins and minerals and is not sprayed with hormone-disrupting chemical pesticides. If you are only able to buy a portion of your produce organically, check EWG.org for the Environmental Working Group’s current list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen: the foods least and most likely to have been subjected to pesticide use. Additionally, you can increase your protein to carbohydrate ratio: consume more lean proteins and less carbohydrates.

Adrenal Response: This powerful herbal supplement is a blend of living adaptogenic herbs that work with your body’s natural processes. It contains Ashwagandha which balances cortisol; Rhodiola and Schisandra which have immune boosting properties; and Holy Basil another power cortisol balancing herb. When taken in the morning, this supplement boosts cortisol, and when taken in the evening it helps lower cortisol, calming the stress response and regulating your sleep cycle. This is a great product to help train your body how to physiologically respond better to stressful situations.

B Complex. B Vitamins are so important to help repair your adrenal glands from any chronic or prolonged stress. You want a supplement that contains the full spectrum of B vitamins and you want those vitamins to be in the most bio available form.

Fish Oil. A good quality Fish Oil contains the essential fatty acids necessary for rebuilding the receptors in the brain and helps to reset the brains response to stress. It also increases memory, balances blood sugar and reduces achy joints so its hard to find a reason NOT to take fish oil! Just to note, it is very important to buy a Fish Oil supplement from a company that sources responsibly, since fish from some suppliers may have been exposed to radiation or have high levels of mercury.

Magnesium: Magnesium helps to restore the body at a cellular level and is so important necessary for making stress hormones, which can be depleted by stress, alcohol, and some medications. Adding in 400-800 mg of magnesium daily can help replenish your body’s magnesium stores.

Remember that that all supplements are not created equal; choose a supplement that has the least number of “other” ingredients and that is in capsule form as opposed to those that come in tablet form. If you have questions about the current supplements you are taking or would like recommendations to help you choose the best ones for you give us a call!

For more information on this topic, check out my Facebook Live video, Natural Stress Busters with Dr. Kinney.