While stressed, your body is in an emergency state: your brain releases adrenaline and cortisol (two chemicals that could cause depression), stress hormones cause your liver to produce more blood sugar and increase your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease, among other possible risks. But don’t worry; there are many natural ways to avoid stress and its hazardous side effects.
1. Rhodiola rosea: This supplement fights fatigue and chronic stress by enhancing your mood, concentration and energy levels. Sixty study participants aged 20–55 years were either given a daily placebo or Rhodiola rosea extract (576 mg) for 28 days. Mental performance in people struggling with stress-induced burnout improved significantly after receiving the extract compared to the mild results of the placebo group (1).
2. Magnesium: Chronic stress depletes the body of magnesium, so replenish your system with this muscle-relaxing supplement. Magnesium also assists with sleep, anxiety, muscle cramps and energy production. But be careful! This supplement should not be taken if you are suffering from kidney failure or severe dehydration, unless your doctor says it’s okay.
3. L-theanine: A calming element in green tea is L-theanine, a neurologically active amino acid that causes the sense of relaxation. It stimulates alpha-wave activity in the brain, thus L-theanine also is connected to the increased production of dopamine and serotonin, known for shutting down your brain’s “worry mode” (2).
4. Pantothenic acid (B5): This supplement is vital in helping your adrenal glands decrease the production of cortisol and other “stress” hormones to counteract anxiety and enhance your metabolism. Although naturally produced in your body’s intestines, it is important to keep your B5 levels high.
5. 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan): This amino acid increases your body’s serotonin levels to reduce stress, enhance sleep and support a good mood. However, while ingesting 5-HTP you must be careful. Doses of 200 mg or higher a day may cause gastrointestinal problems and nausea, so make sure to talk to a doctor.
6. EPA and DHA: These omega-3s are essential in reducing stress. In a three-week study, 43 college students were randomly given a placebo or an omega-3 supplement daily. After measuring the blood pressure and heart rate of both groups at rest and then while doing mental arithmetic, results yielded in favor of the omega-3 group, where participants’ stress response was much lower than the placebo groups’ (3).
7. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so include stress-reducing foods to keep focused and relaxed. Try adding omega-3 rich flaxseed oil to breakfast foods, which slows the release of inflammatory hormones the body creates during stress. ALA from flax also helps maintain healthy serotonin levels.
8. Doctors recommend small snacks throughout the day to keep blood sugar steady and reduce stress. Chyawanprash is a jam-like mixture that contains vitamin C-rich amla, which prevents cortisol release in your body (4). Some other options are oranges (provides vitamin C to lower blood pressure and cortisol levels), dried apricots (rich in magnesium) or nuts, specifically almonds, pistachios and walnuts (packed with vitamins B and E to boost immune system and lower blood pressure).
9. Why not end your day with a dinner fit to reduce the previous 24-hours’ stress? Try turkey; it contains L-tryptophan, an amino acid known to trigger the release of serotonin. Also, salmon and other cold-water fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential in avoiding heart disease and in maintaining low levels of cortisol and adrenaline.
10. Try Ujjayi breathing techniques. Created to help clear and cleanse the body and mind, Ujjayi concentrates on diaphragmatic breathing. First, breath into your lower stomach, activating the lower rib cage, and allow the air to travel to your upper chest and throat. Inhalation and exhalation should occur through your nose. Practicing Ujjayi several times a day is proven to lower stress levels (4). Or, try massage therapy. Did you know the ancient Chinese used massages for centuries as a mean of opening blocked energy channels along with reducing stress?
11. Take an “e-mail vacation.” According to a study, taking a vacation from daily e-mail checks can increase concentration and decrease stress levels. During the study, 13 office workers discontinued their e-mail use for five consecutive days. Tracking their progress through wearable heart monitors showed that the vacation improved work habits and stress levels (5).
12. Exercise! Exercise increases your body’s endorphins causing that “runner’s high,” feel-good sensation. It has been proven to enhance your mood, self-confidence, improve sleep and lower symptoms often associated with mild depression and anxiety. WF
1. “Rhodiola Rosea Reduced Stress-Related Fatigue in New Human Study,” www.vrp.com/stress/rhodiola-rosea-reduced-stress-related-fatigue-in-new-human-study, accessed June 13, 2012.
2. C. Perrini, “L-Theanine: How a Unique Anxiety Reducer and Mood Enhancer Increases Alpha Waves and Alertness as seen in Infinite Play the Movie,” http://web-us.com/l-theanine_anxiety_reducer.htm, accessed June 13, 2012.
3. “Evidence that Omega-3 Supplementation can Reduce Reactivity to Mental Stress,” www.dhaomega3.org/Mental-Health/Evidence-that-Omega-3-Supplementation-can-Reduce-Reactivity-to-Mental-Stress, accessed June 13, 2012.
4. “Deepak Chopra’s 4-Step Plan to Stress Less,” www.doctoroz.com/videos/deepak-chopra-4-step-plan-stress-less, accessed June 13, 2012.
5. N. Bilton, “Taking E-Mail Vacations Can Reduce Stress, Study Says,” The New York Times, http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/04/taking-e-mail-vacations-can-reduce-stress-study-says, accessed June 13, 2012.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, August 2012