Though a little stress can be positive in motivating us to achieve goals and change parts of our lives we don’t like, there’s widespread agreement that too much is certainly NOT a good thing. Indeed, stress is being implicated in an increasing number of ailments and illnesses, both physical and mental. But when stress and stressful things appear to be all around us, what can we do to beat feeling frazzled – naturally? Read on to find out.
Firstly though, what happens when we’re stressed?
Stress interferes with homeostasis, the self-regulating process by which the body maintains a stable, constant internal environment. When the body is subject to a ‘stressor’ (something which provokes a stress response, whether this is a loud noise or the swirl of thoughts in your head), its first reaction is to prepare for danger. The adrenal glands secrete cortisol and adrenaline until a state of physiological arousal is reached whereby the person can fight with or flight from the perceived danger. Pupils dilate, breathing and heart rates rise and digestion stops. This response was helpful back when humans spent much of their time hiding from wild animals, but perhaps less so when we’re stuck in traffic in 2012.
Such feelings can often lead to people ‘self-medicating’ with alcohol, food, tobacco or drugs and chronic stress is associated with conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder, OCD and panic attacks which negatively impact on a person’s quality of life. So how can we learn to manage stress naturally?
First off, remember that there are no genuine quick fixes; learning to create and maintain balance is an on-going process throughout one’s life. Think of it as nurturing yourself in the same way a gardener would tend to a special plant.
- Learn to think differently. Stress isn’t so much to do with the outside world, but our response to it. NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) can be very helpful in reframing life situations in more positive and less overwhelming ways.
- Don’t be all thrill and no chill. Make 20 minutes of relaxation every day as part of your health regime, as essential cleaning your teeth. Try a variety of techniques such as Tai Chi, meditation and self-massage until you find what you like best.
- Ditch the coffee for herbal alternatives. If you’re feeling stressed, a caffeine hit is certainly not going to calm and often makes symptoms of anxiety worse. Many herbs have soothing qualities when drunk as a tea, particularly the pleasant-tasting ones such as Chamomile, Limeflower and Lemon Balm. Pre-blended loose teas such as Four Flower (Chamomile, Lavender, Rose and Limeflower) and Rose and Lavender are pleasurable both in the teapot and in the bath!
- If you struggle to get through the day without some caffeine, drink more tea than coffee. Tea (especially green tea) may contain caffeine, but it also contains theanine, an amino acid helpful for alleviating stress. Theanine is now available in capsule form from Solgar.
- Ask for help. Consider meeting a counsellor or therapist for unbiased, professional support. We are now lucky enough to have a counsellor, Francesca Howell, at Woodland Herbs. Your health professional can likely recommend a counsellor in your area. Counsellors are trained in tried and tested ways to cope productively with tricky life situations such as family problems or work pressures.
- Exercise. Whether it’s a brisk walk to the park or a long-distance run, exercise increases blood and oxygen to the brain and triggers the release of feel-good endorphins.
- Learn to say No. Remember that we don’t have to do everything we’re asked and it doesn’t mean we’re selfish. In fact, learning to say no (nicely!) can be a responsible act. If we run ourselves so ragged that we make ourselves ill, what use are we to anyone?
- Make bath and bedtime special. Have a routine that you find nurturing and relaxing. If it means banning phones and computers after a certain hour, DO IT. The world will still be there in the morning. Make this your special time; you deserve it.
- Use Essential Oils. Many essential oils are calming (eg Lavender) or uplifting (eg Bergamot) or help promote a feeling of being ‘grounded’ (eg Cedar or Sandalwood). Use them in the bath, in soap stone burners, on tissues to inhale during the day or use diluted (1 drop to 2mls of carrier such as Grapeseed or Sweet Almond oil) for self-massage. For an accessible, handy guide that won’t break the bank, try Christine Westwood’s Aromatherapy A Guide For Home Use.
- There are a wide range of therapies that different people find helpful during periods of stress. Massage is a very popular way of de-stressing, and many also use therapies such as Acupuncture, Medical Herbalism, Reflexology and Reiki to relax and unwind.
Don’t suffer alone. Always see your health professional if you have pronounced or prolonged symptoms of stress.