Managing Stress & Anxiety Holistically
Can you relate to the quote above? I know I can! I used to suffer from debilitating anxiety. Whilst I'm grateful for my stress/anxiety giving me the push I needed to get good grades, get a good job, perform well and generally for making me a chronic over-achiever, I have also learned that it's possible to achieve the things you want + live a happy, fulfilling life without stressing and trying to control everything.
Anxiety never goes away fully, but there are tools, habits and lifestyle changes you can implement to help manage it. Today I'll be talking about how stress impacts the body and some tools & techniques you can implement to help you live a happier, less stressed life encompassing my 3 pillars of health- the body, the mind & the soul/spirit. While I acknowledge that stress is short term and anxiety is more of chronic reaction to stress, the majority of these things apply to both of those conditions.
First things first- stress isn't all bad
Let me make one thing clear- stress is not all bad. In fact, stress was designed to keep us out of danger. Think of our primal days when predators and other conditions could pose a physical threat to our lives- if, say, a giant tiger were charging toward you, you'd definitely want your body to release some stress hormones like adrenaline to kick into your fight-or flight mode, right?!
The problem is, most of us are NOT physically in danger, but we are experiencing more stress than ever due to work, family, social/societal obligations, social media, death of a loved one, and more. I'm writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic, so many of us are experiencing stress/fear due to the health crisis, the economy plummeting, and the millions of jobs lost.
What happens to your body when you are stressed?
Your muscles tighten, your breathing increases, your heart rate increases, and your focus sharpens. Again- these are all good things for a short-term physical danger, but not healthy for us long term. Here's just a few things that happen to your body under chronic stress.
Managing stress- physical practices
1. Grounding/Earthing- this is essentially connecting to the earth with your bare feet (or skin). The earth has a giant electromagnetic field, and we humans have a biomagnetic field. Studies have shown that grounding/earthing helped to lower cortisol and improves circadian rhythms. How to do it? Just walk outside barefoot! All you need is a patch of grass or even some dirt will do. You can also get the benefits of the grounding effect by going to the beach and putting your feet in the sand, or even going for a walk and touching the trees. Try it for at least 20 minutes a day. What do you have to lose? It's free!
2. Breathwork- deep belly breathing activates the parasympathetic nervouse system. Try box breathing: breathe in for a count of 5, hold for a count of 5, breathe out for a count of 5, hold for a count of 5.
3. Exercise- Exercises like strength training, pilates, barre and yoga are great for balancing cortisol, releasing endorphins in your body & managing stress. High-intensity workouts and running are great also, but keep in mind they do encourage cortisol so you'll want to save your HIIT workout for mornings only.
4. SLEEP! This comes up in every talk I have. A good nights' sleep will set you up for a happy, stress-free day. Have a good bedtime routine and try to get 8+ hours of sleep. Not getting enough sleep can mess up your circadian rhythms, causing a spike in cortisol at times you don't want it!
Managing stress- mental/spiritual practice
1. Think about your thoughts. So many of us become victim to our thoughts, and we allow our thoughts to control us (instead of us controlling our own thoughts). Observe your thoughts (without judgement) as a third party. This requires a very deep level awareness and if this is a new concept for you, I highly recommend reading some psychology books or even speaking to a therapist (I saw a therapist for a year, read about my experience here). Journaling is also a powerful way to observe your thoughts and manage stressful situations. Next time something stressful happens, get your pen and paper and ask yourself- what is this teaching me?
2. MEDITATION!! I wrote a blog post for beginners which you can read here. The one thing I will tell you is, meditation is not always a zen experience. Sometimes you have to sit with uncomfortable emotions and work through them!
Supplements/herbs to manage symptoms of stress/anxiety
I saved this section for last because, frankly, you can't out-supplement a bad diet and unhealthy lifestyle! Many people are looking for a "quick fix" (even in the holistic health world) but there is no magic pill for stress or anxiety management- it truly requires a HOLISTIC approach with a combination of lifestyle changes, new habits, a healthy diet and smart supplementation to double down on those efforts.
There are a few herbs that I take to support my stress/anxiety management. I've been taking all of these for years and highly recommend them. These are all safe for most people, but if you are taking any meditations or have a chronic illness, you might want to chat with your doc before taking any medicinal herbs.
1. Ashwagandha- is an adaptogenic herb that helps balance the body's cortisol levels. This herb has been used for over 3,000 years as an Aryuvedic remedy for many health problems. Clinical studies have shown it to significantly reduce cortisol when taken consistently.
2. Reishi- is a medicinal mushroom that's been used for years in Eastern medicine. Reishi not only helps you sleep, but it also supports the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis (HPA) which is your body' central stress response system, supporting efforts in managing stress & anxiety.
I get my ashwagandha & reishi supplements from Organifi. I drink their green juice in the morning that contains ashwagandha + 11 superfoods to start my day, and I drink the gold tea in the evening which has reishi, turmeric, black pepper, & other nutrients that support cortisol levels + a good night's sleep. Their products are organic, vegan, third-party tested, and they taste great. Check them out!
3. Chamomile- It's not a just a nice herbal tea- turns out it has some serious benefits for stress hormones! Studies have shown chamomile to be better at decreasing cortisol levels + balancing mood than some medications! I drink Traditional Medicinals organic Chamomile Lavender tea every night with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
4. CBD- You probably know what CBD oil is by now, but just in case, it is one of over 100 compounds derived from the marijuana plant. CBD is non-psychoactive, so you don't get high from it. Our body has cannibinoids naturally present to manage stress, so supplementing CBD is a nice way to give it a little more support. CBD helps your body get back to homeostasis. I really like the CBD from ICARIA- they are a female-owned biz (yay!) and their CBD is third-party tested for purity. They also have unflavored options, which is great if you're like me and don't like the help aftertaste!
*There are certainly other great herbs for stress management, but I'm only comfortable recommending the tried-and-true ones that I use daily. This is not an extensive list, but a great place to start!
I hope this was helpful for you, and stay tuned next week when I'll be talking allll about sleep.