I don’t know about you, but to me these numbers are unacceptable. We’ve become a society of camels carrying an almost unbearably heavy load. The good news is that you can do something about it through a simple and natural approach that greatly reduces the load you’re carrying.
What is Stress and Anxiety (and Why Does it Matter)?
If you want to reduce (and even prevent) your stress and anxiety levels naturally, then you need to first understand the various types of stress, the difference between stress and anxiety, and the causes for your stress and anxiety.
Eustress versus Distress
Some stress is caused by events that are generally considered positive, such as having a baby, getting married, or getting promoted at work. Although these are generally positive events, there’s stress that goes along with these experiences. This type of stress is known as eustress and tends to:
Provide motivation and additional focus (and can thus enhance performance); and
Feel exciting and more positive.
Stress caused by events that are perceived as negative is called distress. Distress has the following characteristics:
Causes anxiety and/or worry;
Feels overwhelming and outside of your ability to cope; and
Has a negative impact on performance.
Distress can be either short-term or long-term. It’s important to note that stress that starts out as a positive can over time transform into negative stress.
Chronic stress is persistent stress that’s experienced over an extended period of time. Chronic stress can be caused by traumatic events that are out of your control and from daily stressors that aren’t managed properly.
Why is chronic stress so bad for you? Stress activates your sympathetic nervous system and your adrenal-cortical system, also known as the fight-or-flight response. This causes your body to go into survival mode, which:
impedes bodily processes that aren’t essential for emergency survival (such as your immune system, your digestive functions, and your reproductive system);
stimulates what’s needed for survival (such as your circulatory and respiratory systems);
causes a bunch of hormones to be released into the body;
stimulates your pancreas to produce extra insulin and glucagon to provide you with energy; and
makes you more aggressive and less likely to feel pain.
These responses are helpful when dealing with an emergency, but not if undergoing long-term chronic stress. When undergoing chronic stress, your body is being subjected to a continuous assault.
Anxiety and Why It’s Different Than Stress
Stress and anxiety are often grouped together. This is because stress causes anxiety symptoms. Although stress and anxiety are interrelated, they’re distinct.
Although stress generally dissipates once it’s cause has ended or passed, anxiety can persist. That’s when it has moved beyond being a normal reaction to an anxiety disorder.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety
Common symptoms of anxiety are:
Increased blood pressure;
Feeling restless, tense, or nervous;
Having trouble concentrating;
Sweating, trembling, or feeling tired/weak;
Constant worrying; and
Having a sense of impending danger.
The Relationship Between Stress and Anxiety
Anxiety is a behavioral and cognitive response to stress. And anxiety can cause more stress too.
Untreated stress tends to feed your fears and anxiety levels. And that can lead to development of an anxiety disorder (and yet more stress). This is yet another reason why it’s important to learn how to manage stress and anxiety naturally.
Common Causes of Stress and Anxiety
Common causes of stress and anxiety can be broken into three primary categories: external causes, internal causes, and lifestyle choices.
External Causes of Stress and Anxiety
External causes for stress and anxiety are events and circumstances that are out of your control.Examples are:
death of a loved one;
a cancer diagnosis;
stroke or heart attack; and
a life-altering injury due to a car accident.
External causes for stress and anxiety typically relate to traumatic events that affect your life and/or your relationships. Although you can’t prevent this type of stress, you can manage it.
Internal Causes of Stress and Anxiety
Internal causes of stress and anxiety stem from your mindset, attitude, and expectations. They’re based on how you think, what you fear, and your reactions to events. Internal causes of stress can exacerbate external stress events.
For example, when I had cancer I was obviously stressed by it. But I understood that I had control over my mindset and could manage and even reduce my stress this way. To help manage my stress, I adopted a daily gratitude and prayer practice. This kept me (mostly) positive and reduced my stress levels.
Not everyone I met throughout my journey did the same – and it showed.
Lifestyle Choices that Cause Stress and Anxiety
Your lifestyle and bad habits cause added stress. Here are some examples of habits and lifestyle choices that cause and exacerbate stress and anxiety:
Drinking too much (drinking isn’t something you should use to manage stress!)
Not taking breaks (leading to overworking)
Going to bed late
Not waking up around the same time every day
Staying up too late
Constantly checking email
Too much time on social media
Little to no exercise (or haphazard exercise)
Bad time management
Lack of prioritization
Note that these all relate to your behavior. Although you have complete control over these things, they’re often difficult to change because willpower alone doesn’t work.You must change how you think if you’re going to change your behavior.
That’s why I believe so strongly in coaching. Coaching is about helping you change your mentality and patterns of behavior through proven techniques grounded in psychology and neuroscience.
Luckily, there are numerous ways to take care of your body, mind, and soul naturally that will help you to manage, reduce, and prevent stress and anxiety. Here are 5 natural practices that will help you reduce, manage, and prevent stress and anxiety:
#1: Eat Real Food.
To help fuel your body, eat food that’s unprocessed and in its natural state (or as close to its natural state as possible). Here are some simple rules to apply when following a real food diet:
Eat fresh fruits (including unsweetened dried fruits), vegetables, and legumes. When fresh fruits and veggies aren’t available, frozen fruits and vegetables work too.
For protein, eat seafood and healthy lean meats (such as chicken, pork, and beef) in moderation.
Include dairy (if you don’t have an intolerance or allergy), such as milk, unsweetened yogurt, (real) cheese, and eggs.
Eat seeds, nuts, and even popcorn as snacks (and add to other meals).
Stay away from fast food and boxed/prepackaged foods that have more than 5 ingredients or include ingredients that you’re unfamiliar with or can’t pronounce.
Limit sugar intake. And only as needed (and in moderation), use natural sweeteners.
#2: Reduce Caffeine and Alcohol and Drink More Decaffeinated Teas.
What you drink can have both a positive and negative effect on you. For example, moderate caffeine intake increases attention and cognitive function. It’s even associated with mood elevation. But high doses of caffeine can induce and exacerbate anxiety.
As for alcohol, a study published by the British Journal of Psychiatry found that abstinence from alcohol was associated with a lower risk of depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, most adults use alcohol to de-stress at the end of a hard day. It’s time to stop viewing your nightly glass (or two) of wine or beer as a form of stress relief, because it’s not.
Luckily, you can naturally reduce stress and anxiety by drinking certain types of decaffeinated teas.Here’s why:
The brain, like every other muscle in your body, gets tired after overuse. And that means that you must take regular breaks throughout the day to stay fresh and be most productive.
How often should you take breaks and for how long? Research shows that you need to take regular breaks of about 15-20 minutes in length every 50-90 minutes to be your most productive.
If you have trouble with that, note that any break is better than none. Consider starting with breaks that are at least 10 minutes long – with at least one that’s 15-20 minutes long. Also, the amount of time your brain needs will depend on what you’ve been doing.
What should you do when taking a break? Get away from your phone and computer, move around, and stop thinking about work. The point of giving yourself a break is to shift your attention and use a different area of the brain. Consider meditating, chatting with co-workers about the previous night’s football game, or reading something for fun for a few minutes.
And don’t forget to take longer breaks on weekends and via regularly scheduled vacations.
One of the biggest complaints I get from my clients is that they’re unable to be present in the moment. When they’re at work, they worry or think about personal issues. When they’re with family and friends, they think about work. This results in guilt and lots of stress and anxiety.
That’s where a mindfulness practice comes in.
Mindfulness is about purposefully focusing on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. A regular mindfulness practice will help you retrain yourself to be more aware of and focused on the present moment. That’s why mindfulness helps to increase productivity while also decreasing stress and anxiety.
Most people think of mindfulness as meditation. Although meditation is one way to be mindful, it’s not the only way. Here are are few simple mindfulness exercises to try:
Mindful eating. Pay close attention to the taste, feel, and smell of your food. Focus on each bite and appreciate it. Chew slowly and don’t rush your eating. Enjoy!
Mindful walking and/or watching. Take a walk outside (or look out your window) and pay attention to all that you see, hear and feel. Notice the colors, textures, shapes, and patterns that are before you. Try not to label or categorize what you see (instead, view everything as though you’re unfamiliar with it). If you get distracted, gently pull your thoughts back.
Although mindfulness isn’t the panacea some would have you believe, the benefits of training your brain to be more aware, focused, and attentive are obvious.
Time to Put These Stress and Anxiety-Reducing Practices to Use
Although stress and anxiety seem to have become a “normal” part of life, they don’t have to be. Start implementing these simple yet effective practices into your life to help you prevent and manage stress naturally.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Schedule down-time. Schedule time for self-care activities and down-time. If it’s in your calendar and blocked off, you’ll be more likely to consider it as important as it really is (and do it).
Use a timer. Keep track of how long you’re working through a timer that goes off when it’s time to take a break.
Combine practices. Although it doesn’t take as much time as you might think to prepare real food, it does take some time. So, instead of thinking of that time as wasted utilize it (1) as part of your down-time by listening to music or (2) by practicing mindfulness during your prep time.
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