Work piles up, your to-do lists mount, your inbox fills, and you become increasingly agitated, incapable of taking a single deep breath—and then the most insignificant thing, like the store no longer carrying your favorite brand of peanut butter, pushes you over the top into a complete meltdown. Welcome to a very large club: Studies have shown that 77 percent of people in the United States regularly experience physical signs of stress and 73 percent suffer from psychological symptoms. You could just double down and tough it out—and put your health at risk—or you can try these simple things to dial back the pressure.
Natural Stress Busters
A 2011 study found that one out of every five adults in the United States—an astounding number—takes drugs to treat some type of mental disorder. Given the adverse side effects of many of these medications, and the difficulty people have in getting off them, it makes sense to try one or more of these natural stress remedies instead.
1. Milky Oat Seed. A sweet-tasting, nourishing restorative tonic produced from juice extracted from green oat seeds, milky oat seed (Avena sativa) relaxes and supports the whole nervous system and promotes healthy sleep patterns. It is also rich in protein, minerals, and fiber. Try 30 to 40 drops of Herb Pharm’s Oat Seed Glycerite in water, 2 to 5 times a day.
2. Rescue Remedy. Five flower essences combine to make this standby tonic especially beneficial in stressful situations where we temporarily lose balance mentally and emotionally, such as in emergencies, after getting bad news, or before taking an exam or going on a job interview. Recommended brand: Original Bach Flower Rescue Remedy.
3. Ashwagandha and Brahmi. The roots of these two healing herbs are ayurvedic staples. Prepared as a tincture, ashwagandha, aka Indian ginseng, rejuvenates and calms the nervous system; brahmi soothes an aggravated vata dosha and improves mental clarity. To procure, visit a registered ayurvedic practitioner.
4. Biochemical Phosphates. In the mid-1800s, German physician W. H. Schüssler discovered what he called “cell salts,” and he isolated five that the body needs to enable nerve cells to control stress. Pat Klein, RPh, homeopathic pharmacist of Wellspring Pharmacy, recommends Hyland’s Nerve Tonic, a combination of all five phosphates; take 3 tablets 4 times a day until symptoms ease.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing in a relaxed asana pose will help calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system.
Kathy Thorpe, MA, CHom, a certified classical homeopath who practices in Boulder, Colorado, recommends the following homeopathic remedies in either 6C or 30C potencies. Take 3 pellets 2 times a day.
Ignatia counters emotional stress, such as that resulting from the breakup of a relationship, the death of a loved one, or the occurrence of a significant disappointment. It can calm nerves aggravated by grief, anger, jealousy, or shock.
Nux vomica benefits people who tend to be workaholics and burn the candle at both ends and who, under stress, become irritable, impatient, and angry.
Argentum nitricum is indicated for stress or anxiety, especially before a big event. This remedy benefits people who are often anxious, obsessive, or overly emotional.
Gelsemium is excellent for stage fright, stress-induced nervousness, weakness, trembling, or forgetfulness.
Arsenicum album soothes people who have an anxiety-fueled restlessness and who exhaust themselves with worry because they obsess over small details, are fastidious, and feel a need to control things around them.
Yoga to the Rescue
Deep diaphragmatic breathing in a relaxed asana pose will help calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system, and a reclining twist will provide immediate relief to agitated adrenal glands, the source of most of the stress hormones in the body. This gentle twist floods the adrenals—located above each kidney—with nourishment and opens them to the breath. When twisting to the left, bring your attention to rest on your mid-back. Find the spot above your right kidney where you can feel the physical movement of your breath and relax into this stress-reducing pose.
Unplug Your Stress
To invite more calm into your life, turn off and unplug your electronic devices (and mute your cell phone) after sundown—and keep them off as you start your morning.
Countless studies have demonstrated the power of touch to reduce pain, anger, and depression; improve immune function; lower heart rate; and, yes, decrease stress. Tiffany Fields, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, explains that even the simplest touch stimulates the vagus nerve in your brain, slowing the heart rate and decreasing the body’s production of cortisol, a primary stress hormone. A friendly touch also releases oxytocin, a hormone that affects trust behavior and our ability to connect and bond with others.
The ayurvedic practice of abhyanga (self-massage with oil) not only calms the nervous system and grounds frenetic energy, it also improves circulation and nourishes the skin.
And while loving touch can certainly boost one’s spirit, platonic touch can have a similar effect. Simply giving an encouraging pat on the back to a coworker, an affirming touch on the arm during a conversation, or high fives and hugs (where appropriate) will take some of the edge off the day.
Better yet, treat yourself to a massage. The ayurvedic practice of abhyanga (self-massage with oil) not only calms the nervous system and grounds frenetic energy, it also improves circulation and nourishes the skin.
Another way to take matters into your own hands: gently hold onto your thumb with the fingers of your opposite hand and take six complete breaths. This calming, grounding exercise comes from Jin Shin Jyutsu, the Japanese art of tension release, which harmonizes the universal life energy that circulates throughout the body. Minimal pressure on one or more of the body’s 26 “safety energy locks” redirects or unblocks the flow of energy.