If you’re an adult living in modern society, you likely experience stress related symptoms like headaches, insomnia, low energy, frequent colds, and nausea. While some stress is not bad for you, chronic stress can take a toll on your body and pose a serious threat to your physical and mental health. “Stress is like a violin,” says stress expert Allen Elkin, PhD, “If there is no tension, there is no music. But if the string is too tight, it will break.”

In the US, the string is tighter than ever before. Americans are so stressed that it’s estimated that 75 – 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for problems associated with stress. In a 2006 Workplace Stress & Anxiety Survey conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 7 in 10 adults report that stress affects their personal relationships, mainly with their spouses.

According to the ADAA, we also don’t cope with stress in healthy ways. 31% of us consume more caffeine, 27% smoke, and 20% drink alcohol. Stress expert and president of StressStop.com James Porter says these coping strategies do more harm than good. “The trouble with treating symptoms and not addressing the source of the problem is that you’re masking your symptoms,” he says.

So how do you go about solving the problem? We’ve put together a list of strategies to help reduce stress and anxiety you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Short-term techniques

First, deep breathing. Studies show that taking deep breaths can help reduce the stress hormone cortisol in your body and even cause a temporary drop in blood pressure. The great thing about this one is that you can begin as soon as you feel stress symptoms and use it anywhere. The ADAA recommends taking deep breaths and counting to 10 slowly.

Second, try prayer or mantras. This depends on your relationship with religion. If you’re religious, studies have shown that repeating mantras or a prayer to yourself can help reduce stress and anxiety. If you’re not religious, mantras can still help. Begin by looking up mantras (a repetitive phrase), then write them down and say these phrases to yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Third, remember that some herbs can serve as powerful stress relievers. Try drinking passionflower or chamomile tea. Research shows that passionflower can help relieve stress, anxiety and insomnia. Similarly, chamomile tea can reduce your stress level and irritability. If you’re still struggling with insomnia and anxiety, valerian root can help. Take 120-200 milligrams of valerian root three times a day, and make sure to take your last dose before bedtime.
L-theanine is a water-soluble amino acid that has been shown to help reduce stress related symptoms without causing drowsiness. You can get small doses (about 25mg) from a cup of black or green tea, but go for a 200mg supplement if you want a more potent effect.
Lavender is another herb that’s been shown to relieve pressure and stress. Keep some lavender oil on hand to use anywhere or light up a lavender-scented candle at home.

Fourth, hypnosis can be a great stress management technique. This may be a somewhat less mainstream way of coping with stress, but hypnosis has been around for centuries and has been shown to effectively relieve stress, anxiety, and even pain.
“By accessing this subconscious part of the brain, we can bypass all the negative critical thinking and open inward to an awareness of potential and knowledge,” says hypnotherapist Marty Lerman.

Fifth, Listen to music. Research points to multiple ways in which music can help relieve stress, from triggering biochemical stress reducers to assisting in treating stress associated with medical procedures. You can also try nature or ocean sounds.

Long-term techniques

First, keep in mind that understanding your stress triggers is the first step when it comes to figuring out how to manage them. The ADAA recommends writing in a journal when you feel stressed or anxious so you can look for patterns afterward.

Second, adjust your relationship with food to manage your stress. Adding the following foods to your diet will bring your stress level down: 

  • Foods high in B vitamins: fish, poultry, meat, eggs, or dairy
  • Foods high in calcium and magnesium: yogurt, beans/legumes, leafy greens, nuts, avocados.
  • Healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids: wild-caught fish like salmon or sardines
  • Diet with different kind of healthy grains.
  • Tempting fatty foods like fried and shakes aren’t great for your mind or body. Try to limit your intake.

Third, exercise. Maintaining a regular exercise routine can help prevent excess stress. It keeps your cortisol levels down and helps you sleep better at night.

Fourth, try to unplug. Much like eating fatty food, watching your favorite TV show can actually produce more feelings of guilt and shame – not a great stress-busting technique. Studies have also shown that the more people use Facebook, the more their happiness declines. Limit your media time and try a media detox to reduce prolonged stress.

Fifth, try guided meditation.

Guided meditation can help you clear your head, make better decisions, and cut down on stress. Stress expert James Porter also says it helps him sleep better. “I NEVER need sleeping pills,” he says, “although I still occasionally have trouble sleeping. But I meditate now until I fall back to sleep.”

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