Although some level of stress is an essential component of evolution (think fight-or-flight survival instincts, or the emotional response to a sad situation), most experts agree stress has taken on an entirely new form in modern society, turning into a true epidemic. These days, we have a hard time really “shutting down” and getting away from stress at all: bringing work on vacation, checking emails right upon waking up, and even creating demanding activity-filled schedules for our children and family.
But what's even more concerning is that the consequences of stress don't stop when the triggering circumstance is over. Rather, stress can have profound long-term effects on the body and the brain as well. John Carpi for Psychology Today reports, “Psychological stress doesn't just put your head in a vice. New studies document exactly how it tears away at every body system—including your brain. But get this: The experience of stress in the past magnifies your reactivity to stress in the future. So take a nice deep breath and find a stress-stopping routine this instant.”
The good news is, if you're ready to make regular relaxation a priority, there are several simple (and science-backed) ways to hit reset on your stress response. Better still, you can do them anytime, anywhere. Here are five to try:
1. Change Your Senses. Many environmental culprits induce hidden, micro-stress responses. Fluorescent bulbs, for example, emit an almost imperceptible “flicker” which can trigger nervous system stress, while artificial scents, chemicals, and even some cleaners can provoke inflammation. Even if you find yourself often in an environment you can't control, you can manipulate your sensory experience to improve your mental state. If possible, find some natural sunlight to step into for a few moments throughout the day; place your bare feet for a few minutes in some grass; or inhale a whiff (or rub on your temples) a natural stress-reducing aromatic oil such as lavender, lemongrass, or sage to help offset the stressful ones. Think of these techniques as a sensory “reset.”
2. Change Your Breath. One of your best tools for stress regulation is built right inside of you: your breath. Deep breathing has been scientifically proven to stimulate a parasympathetic nervous system reaction, helping you to biologically relax and slow down. You can download breathing apps on your phone for timing guidance, or simply take ten long, slow inhales and exhales, with a brief “hold” at the top of the inhale. Even just a minute or two of breathwork will slow your heart rate, and signal your body to cool down.
3. Change Your Nutrients. Many of us utilize stimulants to power through the day such as caffeine or nicotine. While these may help increase productivity in the short term, they ultimately tax your system by disrupting your adrenal system and nervous system balance. Instead, try incorporating nutrients that help naturally calm the brain and reduce the inflammation caused by stress. Try swapping your coffee for matcha, which is rich in the amino acid L-theanine that stimulates inhibitory (calming) neurotransmitter activity. And when you reach for a meal, be sure to regularly incorporate adaptogenic superfoods and natural nootropics which help to regulate internal stress, such as maca, rhodiola, and ashwaghanda powder. Check out the new book Smart Plants for recipe ideas and guidance on how to use powerful ingredients!
4. Change Your Mind. Mindfulness is key to stress regulation, and its time versus benefit ratio is definitely in your favor. Practicing even 10 minutes of meditation a day can help reduce stress, encourage neuroplasticity, lower blood pressure, and reduce pain. In other words, this healthy habit can help you can literally change your mind (brain) more easily, both structurally and functionally, which directly effects the function of your entire body too.
5. Change Your Language. Say you've stood out in the sun for 5 minutes while doing breathwork, practiced a brief round of mediation, and maybe made yourself a matcha. Now to fully leave your stress state behind you, you need to have a plan for how to move forward. A surprisingly effective technique is simply changing the very words that come out of your mouth, which can dramatically change how you feel. Avoid negative statements, as well as the words “busy” and “stressed.” Give yourself challenges, like having a “no complaints” week, or aim to make at least one complimentary, grateful statement an hour. Most people know the saying “you are what you eat,” but when it comes to your mindset, it's often “you are what you say” as well.