I have to admit that despite all of my efforts to eat Paleo, exercise regularly, and avoid a myriad of environmental toxins, I am not so good when it comes to controlling my stress levels. I think it comes with the territory of holding down two jobs, having an active social life, and frankly, being a type A personality. While I would like to think otherwise, reducing and properly managing the amount of stress in life is just as much a critical component of the ancestral health lifestyle.
While we can’t escape stress, as it comes with the territory of the hustle-bustle, high-pressured challenges we face with everyday modern life, we can take some steps, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day, to decompress, unwind and release the crazy pressures that life throws our way. I just did a 1.5 hour work out and I can tell you that it works great for de-stressing, but I am sure you don’t always have the time for this. I know I don’t!
Here are a few quick ways to relax, recharge and de-stress that take only 5 minutes or so.
Simple, deep-breathing exercises have been shown to immediately decrease stress levels. Deep breathing can alter the pH of the blood, lower blood pressure rapidly, and can actually help condition the body to better respond to stressful situations. I use this technique whenever I feel anxious and it definitely helps.
2. Just say NO
While this would seem a simple thing to do, many people have a hard time telling others “No” when asked to take on more than they can handle. By refusing a commitment that is outside of your own time or activity limits, you can control the stress by not creating the situation in the first place. I am learning to decline invitations regularly unless I feel very strongly that the activity is a must do. Pick and choose your priorities wisely.
3. Snuggle with your pet
Petting your furry baby not only makes them feel good, but it can have a great relaxation effect on you too. Even spending just a few minutes with a companion animal has been shown to reduce stress levels and make people feel less anxious. Physiological changes occur in the body that increase oxytocin (the feel good hormone) and lower cortisol (a hormone associated with stress). I make it a point to cuddle with my dog regularly and when I am blue, I find spending time with him is a great comfort. Of course, if you are a cat lover, and are allergic to dogs, you will need to modify this strategy.
4. Get social
Talking about a stressful situation to a friend or colleague who’s calm and receptive can make you feel better immediately. However, talking to anybody and everybody about a problem is probably not the best idea because it will keep you in a chronic state of upset. It is better to select one or two individuals to share your woes with. While having a friend always around for this is not feasible day in and day out, maintaining a network of friendships is important for all-around happiness as well as reducing our anxiety levels. If you feel like your network needs a boost, consider going to meetup.com to research friends in your area with common interests.
Knowing what types of relaxation you best respond to—whether it’s the sights you see, the sounds you hear or the scents you smell can lead to discovering your own quickie routes to stress relief. You may want to buy a beautiful plant or take out a favorite photo and focus on it to help remove your mind from the present situation if you are a visual person. If you are sensitive to sounds or noise, you could benefit from listening to soothing music or natural soundtracks. Alternately, you may want to invest in a small tabletop fountain so the peaceful sound of bubbling water can enter your environment. If you love great scents, open a bottle of essential oil in a calming blend like lavender and either diffuse it or dab it on.
6. Move more, stress less
Whether it’s a five minute mini-walk, doing some neck rolls, or squeezing a stress ball, moving physically and engaging your muscles helps diffuse anxiety and release some of the tension at hand. Abraham Low Self Help Systems, which is a free program to help people manage stress and anxiety associated with fear and anger, recommends you change your thoughts and move your muscles. Sometimes, just getting busy with something that distracts you can do the trick.
While there are many ways you can work on lowering the stress load in your life, including meditation, biofeedback, exercise, massage, etc., you can also try adding one or more of these quicker methods to your stress control plan to achieve the balance and health that comes with a Paleo lifestyle.
About the Author: Wendy J. Schwartz is a graduate of New York University and holds a BS and an MS Degree in Food and Nutrition. During her early career, she worked at both Mt. Sinai Hospital and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Wendy is currently a member of the Nutritional Therapy Association. She is the author of the upcoming Paleo Shopping Survival Guide and is currently creating a large, free online US resource for Paleo consumers. Her blog, Go Paleo!, can be visited at http://www.gopaleo.com.