Once upon a time, many centuries ago, stress, anxiety and worry served a greater purpose for mankind. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors used these feelings to survive. If they didn’t worry about where food or shelter was coming from, they would starve to death or be stranded in the elements.
Today, the problem is that this anxiety is in overdrive, and most of us don’t know how to turn it off. As a primary care physician, I often see patients struggle with work/life balance, relationships, financial stress and the inability to disconnect from it all.
In this era of where “screen” time often takes over “me” time, how can we stave off the blues and de-stress? While it’s not always easy to tame our emotions, the following tips and tricks can be useful to calm the storms in our daily lives.
Exercises to help de-stress
Different systems in our bodies are activated both during and after exercise. These systems release substances known as neurotransmitters, such as endorphins (your body’s natural opioids), nitric oxide, serotonin, catecholamines and endocannabinoids, which all help modulate pain perception and help relieve anxiety, stress and depression.
According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 23 percent of Americans get enough exercise each week. For my patients, I recommend doing 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week, to help improve both mental and physical health.
Almost any form of exercise can help reduce stress, but research shows the following types of exercise not only help decrease stress levels, but can also improve your overall wellbeing.
This practice has origins that are more than 2300 years old and consists of breathing, mindfulness, spirituality, body and their connection. Through its three main components (postures, breathing and meditation) and non-specific events, yoga appears to be a safe and effective way to improve mental and physical health, as well as quality of life. Studies show that the health effects of yoga are numerous.
A form of mind-body exercise that originated in China, Tai Chi involves martial arts, meditation and dance-like movements that focus on the mind and body connection.
Give your brain a workout too
Mindfulness meditation gives your brain a workout by focusing your attention on the present. Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way — on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement. Being fully present in the moment is probably the hardest thing to do, but just like most things that improve your life, mindfulness is tool that is worth the work.
You can start practicing mindfulness with as little as five minutes a day. I like doing this when I first wake up to start the day with a clear head and an open heart.
If you’re anxious or thinking about something that you’re worried about, you may notice that your tongue is at the roof of your mouth. First, remove your tongue from the roof of your mouth, then identify five things around you (table, chair, horizon, coworker, etc.). Mindfulness is the act of recognizing when this is happening and removing it from the top of your mouth. Take a moment to breathe deeply through your nose, and out of your mouth. You’ll feel more relaxed.
Fortunately, there are several smartphone apps available that can improve mindfulness, recommended by the American Academy of Family Physicians. They all have free options and most have meditations that go anywhere from one minute up to 30 minutes.
Nourish your body
The right nutrition can also help keep us healthy and happy by reducing stress. There is a clear connection between your brain and your gut, so you have to make sure to feed yourself foods that will help decrease stress. These are foods that are high in Vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids and probiotics. Turmeric has also been shown to reduce inflammation.
The best way to get Vitamin D is from the sun, but make sure to wear sunscreen if you’re in the sun for more than 15 minutes. You can get your omega 3’s from fish, like salmon. Probiotics are in most yogurts, but if you are lactose intolerant, you can get them in supplements from your local grocery store.
Last but not least — sleep is necessary for your body to fight stress and anxiety. When you sleep, your brain consolidates your memories and information you’ve gathered throughout the day.
Stress and anxiety may be a normal part of life, but if you find that anxiety or depression is disrupting your daily life, please seek help.