by Oksana Mulyukova, ND
Let’s face it- stress is an unavoidable, continual part of our life: stressful jobs, relationships, commutes, politics, etc. When possible, it is always worth trying to change external situations that are destructive and stressful in your life. Is your job too stressful? Find other work. Non-supportive partner? End the toxic relationship. However, simply making those kinds of changes, albeit healing in itself, does not give people tools for managing future stress any better. Learning simple techniques to help find your calm in the middle of any storm can protect you from the harmful effects of stress.
Try eliminating or reducing these things that can aggravate any stressful situation:
1. Caffeine and other stimulant drugs fuel our “fight or flight” response and are obstacles to relaxation. In order to cope with stress in a relaxed manner, reduce caffeine in your life. Try green tea instead—a cup of coffee contains roughly 120 mg of caffeine while green tea only contains 26 mg.
2. Music has a profound influence on the nervous system. Some sounds increase our level of arousal and make us tense and anxious. Others, such as nature sounds and classical music, have a relaxing effect and can enhance healing. Being choosy about the sounds you let into your consciousness is a form of “mental nutrition.”
3. To continue on the topic of mental nutrition, try unplugging from social media and the news. Tune into the news sparingly, selectively and consciously, and skipping it all together on your stressful days. Remember the agitated, angry, and anxious minds of other people may upset your mental equilibrium.
There are also a few things that should be present in your life to help you cope with stress:
1. The single most effective relaxation technique known to us is conscious regulation of breath. Throughout the long history of yoga practices, breathing has been used to reduce the heart rate, blood pressure, decrease anxiety, and promote relaxation and healing. I like the 4:7:8 breathing technique. Next time you are in a stressful or upsetting situation, try this breathing exercise. You may find an immediate shift in consciousness, allowing you to relax and relieve internal tension.
• Place the tip of your tongue on the ridge behind the front teeth.
• Exhale through your mouth, making an audible whooshing sound.
• Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
• Now hold your breath for a count of seven.
• Next exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound to a count of eight.
• This is one breath. Inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
2. Exercise is one of the most important endorphin-releasing (the natural feel-good hormone) forms of activity that should be present in our lives. Numerous studies support the positive effects of regular exercise on stress-coping abilities. Not to be forgotten is the fact that when we can’t take the stress out of our life, we can take ourselves out of stressful situations. There is a compounded positive effect of reconnecting with nature if exercising is done outside. During exercise, the levels of stress hormones decrease, emotions such as anxiety are alleviated, and the adrenal over-response to stress found in men and women with Type A (more competitive and impatient) personalities normalizes.
3. We are what we eat. This age-old adage emphasizes the importance of proper nutrition for a healthy body and mind. Organic, wholesome foods rich in vitamins (especially B and C), minerals (especially magnesium) and essential fatty acids can be beneficial in helping to prevent an overreaction to stressful events. Among the strongest stimulants of cortisol (the hormone produced by stress) production is hypoglycemia (low levels of blood sugar). To avoid episodes of hypoglycemia, make sure to eat lean, organic protein with every meal and snack. Avoid foods with high glycemic index, refined carbohydrates, additives and preservatives.
If you need help coping with stress, relieving anxiety and internal tension, as well as improving your overall health, consider using acupuncture and naturopathy as both of these time-tested, holistic medicines have helped many people on their roads to optimal health.
1. Total Wellness by J. Pizzorno, ND
2. Natural Health, Natural Medicine by Andrew Weil, MD.
Oksana Mulyukova is a naturopathic physician and an acupuncturist who practices in Tacoma and Lakewood, Washington. She is a network provider for major insurance companies. For more information, visit www.tacomanaturalhealth.com. To schedule an appointment, call 425.273.4273.