It's pretty common knowledge that our bodies don't respond well to stress. When cortisol (our primary stress hormone) is elevated for a prolonged period of time, our immune system starts to falter, anxiety steps in, libido diminishes, and aging is accelerated.
Don't get me wrong. Some stress is necessary for personal growth and motivation, but when it turns into a prolonged state of being and makes you feel frazzled and fearful during what is supposed to be a joyful time of year—that's a huge red flag. And while many people will say "stop worrying" or "just let it go," the funny thing about regulating stress levels and taming anxiety is that it's WAY easier said than done.
But don't worry, I gathered some simple tips—perfect for testing out over the hectic holiday season—that will help lower your stress levels right now.
1. Do more walking and get outside in nature.
Did you know that exercise is actually stress on your body? That's right, exercise is physiological stress that you are intentionally putting on your body. And research has shown that exercising in excess can cause an acute rise in cortisol levels. Walking, on the other hand, has been shown to lead to feelings of tranquillity and mental clarity, and it is one of the only forms of exercise that does not lead to an increase in stress hormone levels.
Other studies suggest that just being out in nature can spark creativity, increase attention, and leave you feeling more refreshed. To get the benefits of nature, a practice known as "earthing" or "grounding" can be done for free and in your backyard. Earthing is simply being outside barefoot and in contact with the earth's surface. Try doing it for 15 minutes and tell me you don't enjoy the way you feel! By getting in touch with the earth's physical surface, it is thought that the force coming through the planet can reduce inflammation and fight free radicals, thus lowering your stress levels.
Combining these two activities is even better! Even if it's cold outside, bundle up in you warmest gear and shoot for 30 to 45 minutes of walking outside every day. This can be implemented by parking farther away from work, walking to the gym and back, or even just taking a midday stroll. You will appreciate curling up by the fire or a cup of hot tea twice as much when you get back. Getting out in the fresh air can be a game changer for your mood, can help with sleep problems, and can connect us with our ancestors who spent a lot more time in nature.
2. Focus on your sleep.
It's interesting how many health-conscious people overlook the importance of sleep. Did you know that we should be sleeping for at least one-third of our lives? If I had to guess, I would say that most people fail to meet that number.
And that's not good because sleeping is the time when growth hormone levels are at their peak, our muscles recover from intense workouts, and our minds are finally at ease. Getting good rest at night is a surefire way to reduce your stress levels the next day. Why else do we sleep? Memory retention. When we sleep deeply and well, 50 percent of the information we learned the day prior transfers from our short-term memory to our long-term memory deposits.
A great way to start ensuring you get more sleep is to start calming down earlier in the day, limit exposure to electronics, and sleep in a completely dark room.
3. Fuel your body with stress-lowering foods
Isn't it cool that what we eat can affect how our bodies function and look? And isn't it also interesting how we have complete control over what we put into our bodies? When I learned about how big of a role nutrition can play in how we feel I was astonished…and I wanted to learn everything there was to know about the concept.
Here are some ways to take advantage of natural stress-lowering foods:
- Learn to love eating fish: The omega-3s found in salmon have been proven to reduce cortisol secretion in humans.
- Switch out coffee for tea: The high levels of caffeine in coffee increase your heartbeat and up-regulate cortisol and adrenaline production, while the L-Theanine in tea has been shown to lower cortisol levels.
- Eat dark chocolate: Yes! Dark chocolate tastes incredible, and it also has been shown to reduce your stress levels. The antioxidants, flavonoids, and polyphenols in dark chocolate can trigger the release of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and oxytocin.
- Add a scoop of berries to your smoothie: The high-vitamin-C content of berries has been shown to reduce oxidative stress, making it a great stress-lowering food.
- Add some garlic to that: Adding garlic to whatever you are cooking doesn't just make it taste better, but it infuses it with anti-inflammatory properties that have demonstrated stress-lowering abilities.
And with that, you have three simple (but very effective) ways to reduce your stress levels naturally. Understanding that walking can be used strategically to lower stress levels, deeper sleep will reduce cortisol the next day, and that some foods have stress-lowering properties will guarantee a more relaxed and productive day!