Natural approaches to Reducing Anxiety and Stress
Updated: Jan 30
Is your New Year's Resolution to have less stress and be healthier this year? Stress and anxiety can effect almost every major organ system of the body. They cause physiologic changes due to increased production of stress hormones. These can cause increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, nausea, and digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea and stomach ulcers. Stress and anxiety effect the muscluloskeletal system by causing prolonged contraction of muscles leading to symptoms like headache, neck and back pain, and muscle tension. When we are relaxed, our nervous system is in a parasympathetic state, also known as "rest and digest." In this state, our digestive organs and autonomic (automatic) nervous system is able to function properly and regulate our heart rate and rhythm and breathing. When we are stressed or anxious, we are put into a sympathetic state, also known as the "fight or flight response." This state is important if we are in a dangerous situation and need to quickly remove ourselves from it, but in our daily lives, being stuck in a sympathetic state can cause us to develop ulcers from excess harmful bacterial growth, can cause us to breathe more shallow causing lightheadedness, dizziness and tightness in the neck and shoulders due to using muscles of accessory breathing and can lead to adrenal fatigue and cardiovascular problems.
Scientist Hans Selye identified 3 stages of stress known as General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). The first stage is the Alarm Stage, which causes production of stress hormones, increases blood pressure, increases heart rate and increases blood sugar. The second state he identified was the Resistance Stage where the body tries to reverse what happened in the alarm stage. The body attempts to decrease cortisol, reduce blood pressure and reduce heart rate. The third stage is the Exhaustion Stage. This is when the body is unable to recover from alarm stage. People will experience depleted energy, may experience fatigue, depression, anxiety, and/or inability to cope. Chronic stress can lead to fatigue of our adrenal glands due to constantly pumping out glucocorticoid hormones, like cortisol. According to the American Pshychological Association these stress hormones can lead us to chronic health problems like diabetes, obesity and depression. There is a lot we can do ourselves to better manage stress and anxiety and decrease risk of acute and chronic stress related symptoms and disease.
If you have done yoga, taken meditation classes or used meditation apps, you may have learned mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness has two definitions: "1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something or 2. a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique." Helping make your body aware of the present moment can help reduce unwanted, racing thoughts and emotions. One way to help to focus on the present moment is with breath. Doing counted breaths where you are inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for a count of four helps you to focus on breath and counting rather than outside thoughts. Slowing your breath causes you to relax the muscles and helps to slow heart rate. Another breathing technique that promotes mindfulness is Breath Awareness. With this technique, you simply breathe and notice how fast or slow your breath is, how deep or shallow your chest rises and falls, and how your breath sounds. You simply notice your breath without attempting to changing and many times it will naturally slow down.
Another way to manage stress is to exercise. There are countless studies on the effect of exercise on stress reduction. Overtime, exercise helps to improve resting heart rate, improves blood sugar, improves brain function, helps maintain a healthier body composition and so much more. Find an exercise that you enjoy that helps temporarily elevate your heart rate. Studies show that exercise with other people helps with accountability and enjoyment of exercise and has been shown to be even more effective if a friend is present and a our friend is getting great results. Tension and relaxation exercises help to increase your body's awareness of tension and allow yourself to release the tension.
Getting adequate rest also helps reduce stress and anxiety. Sleep Help states that healthy adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night even more for younger people. Get off screens at least an hour before bedtime. Exercising during the day, limiting caffeine, alcohol, and sugar intake and working with your body's circadian rhythm (natural sleep and wake cycles) can help your sleep quality.
Lastly reprogramming your brain to think positively can improve effects of stress. Your brain can create new connections to help you relieve stress when you give it positive information. Gratitude journaling, finding positivity in a negative situation, positive affirmations, focusing on a favorite positive quote, verse, or image are ways to help rewire your brain.
One of the best and easy to incorporate ways to reduce stress are chiropractic adjustments. Adjustments help to reduce interference on the nervous system and restore joint function. Chiropractic adjustments can positively influence the nervous system by reducing pain, improving organ function, improving brain function and blood flow to the brain also improving immune function. Contact us for more on chiropractic care, yoga, and mindfulness for reducing symptoms related to anxiety and depression and stress management.