6 Real-World Stress Support Strategies‡
Learn real-world stress support strategies
Stress is a part of modern life. The key is to learn how to manage your stress, so it does not rule your life.
In this blog we give you 6 ways to support yourself during occasional stress. From getting more sleep to cutting back on caffeine to learning about supplements that can support you during occasional stress, we want you to understand your options.
Your body is designed to manage small levels of stress. The adrenaline rush you feel after a near-miss in the car for example, is your body’s coping response for a stressful event. The key is that once this event is over, your body calms down and relaxes.
However, for so many of us, we’re not able to relax and instead feel like we’re living in a state of feeling wound up or frenzied. This is where stress crosses the line and moves from good stress to chronic stress.
Chronic stress is like a slow leak from a water pipe under your house. Over time the leak grows, and what was once a tiny puddle can destroy the entire foundation. With chronic stress, your body is trapped in fight or flight mode, and the constant wear and tear of stress hormones can impact your long-term health.
While it’s not possible to eliminate all stress from your day-to-day, you can learn strategies to better manage your stress.
you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or constantly stressed, please talk to a friend, family member, health care specialist or call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline for free support 1-800-950-6264.Too much stress can cause serious emotional, physical, and mental health conditions. Please speak up if you’re feeling overly stressed.
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What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s response to an external or internal situation or event. A threat or startling experience causes the body to react with protective hormones and chemicals. This is often called the fight or flight response.1
Ideally, once the event or challenge has passed, your body settles down and recovers from the stress. However, too many challenges or events can cause the body to enter a cycle of constant stress response, causing trickle-down impacts to your emotional, physical, and mental health.1
This definition of stress from a recent study into the impact of stress on the body, sums up how serious stress can be:
Any intrinsic or extrinsic stimulus that evokes a biological response is known as stress. The compensatory responses to these stresses are known as stress responses. Based on the type, timing, and severity of the applied stimulus, stress can exert various actions on the body ranging from alterations in homeostasis to life-threatening effects and death. Stress can be either a triggering or aggravating factor for many diseases and pathological conditions.2The 4 types of stress are:
- Eustress: often called good stress, this is the stress you feel when you’re excited or anticipating something positive. For example, if you are a runner, this is the stress you feel when you line up for a running race–the excitement and nervous butterflies in your stomach. Researchers believe eustress helps us stay motivated to take on challenges, can build confidence, and adds satisfaction and fulfillment to life.3
- Acute Stress: everyone experiences acute stress. This is your body’s reaction to a new, unexpected, or challenging situation. For example, when you ride a roller coaster for the first time or have a job interview. These stressful situations are beneficial, giving your body and brain a chance to develop a stress response for future stressful events.4
- Episodic Acute Stress: is regular and frequent episodes of acute stress. If you’re feeling nervous or worried about the future, decisions you need to make, or feel like life is constantly chaotic, this can lead to episodic acute stress. Working and living in constantly high-stress situations can create episodic acute stress. Episodic acute stress can impact your physical, mental, and emotional health.3
- Chronic Stress: occurs when you’re in a constant state of stress. Chronic stress can have serious negative impacts on your health including, cardiovascular conditions, anxiety, depression, a compromised immune system, and high blood pressure. People with chronic stress can experience frequent headaches, digestion problems, and low sleep quality.3
Remember, good stress or eustress is a sign you’re challenging yourself –but it’s important to be aware of when this eustress becomes constant or crosses the line into episodic acute stress or chronic stress.‡
While you cannot avoid stress or remove yourself from all stressful situations, you can use strategies and make lifestyle choices to help you better manage your stress response.
6 Ways to Support Occasional Stress
You need to know what to do when you are stressed and have go-to strategies for stress.
These 6 ways to support occasional stress are simple and accessible tools you can add to your stress management toolbox:
1. Make Sleep a Priority
Does this sound familiar? You’re stressed and over busy, so you cut back on sleep. When you do sleep, your sleep is inconsistent and involves tossing and turning. It can feel like you can’t quiet your brain and get relief from your day or what’s to come tomorrow.
The catch-22 here is that the more sleep you miss out on, the more stressed your body becomes.5 When you don’t get the recommended 7 or more hours of sleep6, your body’s natural circadian rhythms can be disrupted, triggering an increase in your cortisol levels making it more difficult to fall asleep, even when you’re exhausted.7
Approximately 35% of Americans do not routinely get the sufficient sleep they crave.8 This creates a cycle of sleep deprivation, an increase in your stress hormone (cortisol), and the build-up of stress.9
To help you support your sleep and make sleep a priority, try introducing some new sleep routines and lifestyle habits:
- Focus on sleep hygiene: along with regular sleeping and waking times, create a restful bedroom environment. Do not watch television in bed or bring your mobile devices to bed. Use blackout curtains to limit light interruptions. Consider investing in a new mattress or bedding so you’re not too hot or too cold at night.10
- Cut back on evening screen time: studies show that mobile devices can interfere with sleep by suppressing the production of melatonin, a natural hormone released in the evening to help you feel tired and ready for sleep. This causes you to feel alert when you should be winding down for a night of sleep and recovery. To help cut back, do not bring your mobile devices into the bedroom, and try to reduce the time spent on these devices leading up to your bedtime.11
- Take supplements to support sleep: you are likely familiar with melatonin and how it may help support your sleep quality.12 Along with melatonin, botanicals including lavender, lemon balm, or valerian root can have the double benefit of promoting sleep while supporting feelings of relaxation and calming the nervous system to help you get a restful sleep.13 14 15 16 ‡
- Establish a regular sleep pattern: create a nighttime ritual that involves turning off the television and electronic devices, relaxing, going to bed at the same time each night, and waking up at the same time each morning.10
2. Move Your Body
Exercise and movement do more than build healthy muscles and bones, they also help you relax and relieve stress. Many people think they’re too busy to exercise – but it’s this exercise that can help them calm down and feel less busy.17
The wellness benefits of physical activity include better sleep, improved mood, and even an enhanced ability to bounce back from stressful events.18 Researchers suggest that since exercise induces physiological responses that match anxiety symptoms(think heart pounding and sweating), the body can recognize and recover more quickly even if the feelings come from a stressful event.19
Multiple studies have also found correlations between improvements in mental health and exercise.20 A meta-analysis found that physical activity significantly improved feelings of anxiety across various studies with a range of subjects.21 This may be because exercise can influence the neurotransmitters that affect positive emotions, including serotonin and dopamine. Your body also naturally creates endorphins through various forms of exercise that can relieve stress and pain.
Try these strategies to get more movement in your day:
- Start your day with 15-minute walk outside.
- Take a break at lunch to go for a walk, do some light stretching, or a run.
- Schedule a movement date with a friend or family member. This helps you get out the door when you know someone is waiting for you.
- Find activities you can do with your family and friends. Cycling, swimming, playing soccer, or throwing a Frisbee around are all great ways to get outdoors for fresh air and exercise.
- Establish an exercise routine. This could be doing yoga 3 days a week, lifting weights twice a week, or joining your local swim club. Whatever it is, make sure you enjoy it.
3. Cut Back On Coffee
While coffee is surprisingly high in antioxidants,22 for some people the high amounts of caffeine may be doing more harm than good. Many of us turn to a late afternoon latte for an energy boost, but this extra dose of caffeine late in the day can increase feelings of stress and sabotage sleep.
Green tea can help you reduce your coffee habit while still giving you the healthful benefits of caffeine. This soothing cup of tea does have small amounts of caffeine (about one-third as much as coffee) and contains l-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea or supplements, and it is not easily obtained through diet. Evidence suggests that this amino acid may reduce occasional nervous tension and promote relaxation.23
Try these 4 tips to help you cut back on coffee:24
- Do not completely stop drinking coffee.
- Keep a coffee journal, tracking when you drink coffee, why you’re drinking it, how you feel afterwards, and your sleep quality. This can help you understand how coffee is impacting you.
- Slowly cut down on your coffee, substituting green tea or decaf coffee.
- Pay attention to when you crave coffee. Remember, coffee is okay, you just want to make sure it’s not interrupting your sleep quality or causing you to feel overly stressed.
4. Consider Adaptogens
Adaptogens are botanicals that help your body respond appropriately to occasional stress.25 These herbs are named because they appear to adapt to each person’s needs. There are several types of adaptogens, each providing a unique benefit for the stress response, from calming your stress hormones, supporting energy metabolism, and even supporting sleep.26 ‡
One of the most widely used adaptogens is ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that moderates occasional stress while providing immune and cognitive support.27 ‡
Ashwagandha has a notable amount of evidence behind its use for supporting occasional stress. In one study, people who took a daily dose of ashwagandha for 60days noted significant improvements in mood, and cortisol response compared to placebo.29 ‡
Ashwagandha may help moderate occasional stress and enhance memory function‡:
- Helps moderate the effects of occasional stress‡
- Helps offset the effects of occasional physical and mental stress‡
- Supports cardiovascular, immune, cognitive, and joint function‡
5. Make Sure You’re Consuming Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have a wide range of health benefits including:
- Supports cardiovascular health‡
- Helps maintain healthy blood flow‡
- May promote emotional well-being‡
- Provides support for joint and tissue health‡
Numerous research studies have been conducted to examine the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on emotional well-being.28 32‡
One study conducted on medical students found that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids significantly improved mood and provided support for occasional stress.29 ‡
To support your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, try to add these foods to your diet:30 ‡
- Cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines.
- Seeds and nuts including flaxseed, walnuts, and chia seeds.
- Plant-based oils such as flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.
- Foods fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. This can include yogurt, juice, milk, milk alternatives, and eggs.
If you struggle to eat these foods, an omega-3 supplement can be a good choice in helping you to reap the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.‡
6. Keep an Eye on Your Magnesium Intake
Magnesium is an overlooked nutrient, particularly when it comes to helping you maintain a healthy response to occasional stress. In fact, many of us are likely falling short of the recommended intakes of this vital nutrient.36 ‡
The current recommended daily allowance of magnesium for adults is between 320 –420mg, and the average U.S. intake is around 250mg.31
This critical nutrient can help with your response to occasional stress and even support your sleep patterns. Magnesium helps to support the activity of neurotransmitters that regulate the stress response, but stress and sleep disruption can also deplete magnesium.32 ‡
If stress reduces magnesium levels, this could potentially affect stress responses and sleep.33 ‡
To ensure you get enough magnesium in your diet, try to eat these foods:34
- Dark chocolate
- Almonds, cashews, and Brazil nuts
- Lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas, and soybeans
- Flax, pumpkin, and chia seeds
- Wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, and quinoa
- Salmon, mackerel, and halibut
- Kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, and mustard greens
Supplementing with magnesium may also provide mood support in people who have suboptimal magnesium status.35 ‡
Real Life Natural Stress Management
Stress is a fact of life. We know it’s very likely you cannot remove major stressors from your life. Jobs, family, health challenges, daily modern life, bills, etc. all contribute to your stress level.
Try to focus on the day ahead of you and remember you can only control the controllable. You cannot change what someone says or does – you can only focus on how you respond and react to challenges, situations, and events.
By incorporating these 6 strategies for occasional stress support, you’re able to increase your stress resilience. When a sudden stressful event such as buying or selling a house or a job loss occurs, your body is ready to respond proactively. As an extra bonus, these stress-busting strategies are your go-tos when life throws you a curveball.
If you are feeling overly stressed, overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious – please talk to someone. Reach out to your health care practitioner, a friend, a family member, or call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline for free support 1-800-950-6264.
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