What are your mornings like? Do you check your phone messages before you even get out of bed? Do you hurry to get the family up, prepare meals, answer a few work emails, read some news and be out the door to beat the morning rush, if you can?
For many people, the day becomes a hectic maelstrom even before 8 a.m. arrives.
And if just reading this makes you feel anxious and exhausted, that’s no surprise. As hectic schedules accelerate, so do our stress levels. On the other hand, our health and wellness decrease.
So what can we do about it?
First of all, here’s what we should avoid: Don’t keep moving at breakneck speed without taking the time to reduce stress with healthy stress-control techniques.
Chronic stress and anxiety increase levels of cortisol, the hormone linked to the fight-or-flight reaction. Cortisol and other biochemical stress chemicals can fuel inflammation while increasing the risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight gain, autoimmune disorders — the list goes on. What’s more, anxiety can deprive us of sleep. That leads to more stress and inflammation.
Tools To Cope
What’s the best approach to anxiety? My first suggestion: Slow down.
Of course, slowing down is difficult for many people. They think that if they slow down, things don’t get done — a perception that produces anxiety.
In truth, if we slow down just a little bit, say with a 10-minute morning meditation session, we can actually get more done. That’s because stress can impair the brain, making us feel frazzled and less effective in our tasks. Conversely, regular meditation and other mind-body practices that help us slow down, even momentarily, have been shown to increase brainpower. These cumulative effects, over time, allow us to function from a calmer and clearer state of being.
But there’s no substitute for taking care of ourselves physically as well as mentally. In a rushed state, we may neglect to eat properly or exercise, two activities that mitigate stress.
I cannot exaggerate the extreme importance of eating right. Stay away from high glycemic index foods that rapidly boost blood sugar and then allow it to quickly crash. Stick with whole, unprocessed foods emphasizing high-quality protein, healthy fats and lots of green vegetables. These foods can boost brainpower, help stabilize moods, support detoxification of stress hormones and provide the body with optimal nutrition to better address anxiety.
Adapting To Stress With Adaptogenic Herbs
Adaptogens are botanicals that armor us against stress and illness. They work by helping us adapt our internal responses to external influences, as their name implies. A variety of studies have shown that specific plants can reduce the biological response to stress on the cellular level.
Two excellent examples:
- Ashwagandha root: Also known as Indian ginseng, ashwagandha has been shown to reduce stress in a number of studies. In one study, people with chronic anxiety experienced a significant reduction in symptoms, as well as lower cortisol levels, after ingesting ashwagandha for 60 days. In another, ashwagandha reduced evidence of anxiety in animals. Other research found similar anti-anxiety effects. Traditional use and recent research demonstrate ashwagandha to be free of unwanted side effects, including dependency.
- Schisandra chinensis: One of the most important, fundamental herbs in traditional Chinese medicine, schisandra is a powerful antioxidant that can help defend against acute and chronic stress, along with related imbalances. It is used as an anti-aging herb to combat premature aging and promote longevity. It may strengthen immunity, normalize blood pressure, balance blood glucose levels and help heal tissues after surgery.
Natural Calming Herbs
Some herbs are prized in traditional, natural medicine for their abilities to calm anxiety through different mechanisms.
Here are some particularly effective herbs and extracts that can support natural calm without causing dependency, mental fog or unwanted side effects. In fact, these herbs can also boost other areas of health as well (a win-win situation).
- Passionflower: Anxiety can be linked to low levels of the neurotransmitter. Passionflower has been used for centuries to control anxiety, and recent research has demonstrated that it works by modulating GABA receptors in the brain to support increased GABA activity.
- Lavender: A recent study found that lavender is a potent sedative, making it especially useful to overcome anxiety as well as insomnia. Many people find relief just smelling the essential oil. It’s also available as a tea and in some supplements. There’s nothing as uplifting as fresh lavender; so if you can, consider growing some near your home to have on hand whenever stress arises.
- Honokiol: Honokiol is a particularly useful botanical. Extracted from magnolia bark, honokiol is powerful antioxidant (1,000 more potent than vitamin E) and anti-inflammatory. It modulates GABA receptors, providing natural relaxation. And while drugs like Xanax and Valium target GABA, honokiol works gently and doesn’t cause side effects. It has also been shown to fight depression and is an excellent sleep aid.
Chronic stress and anxiety are like background noise. We become so accustomed to these feelings that we hardly notice them anymore. But just because we get used to the stress doesn’t mean our bodies can handle it any better. Eventually, chronic stress has cumulative effects on our physical and mental health. But if we pay attention to our stress triggers, do what we can to control the underlying causes and finally take measures to alleviate it with natural solutions, we can gain some relief. We can also achieve greater wellness, satisfaction and, ultimately, more productivity along the way. Here’s to a happier and healthier New Year!
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