Stress is an unfortunate fact of modern life and it can have long-term repercussions for our health. Even medical experts are not immune to stress, and their own experiences plus their health expertise leaves them best placed to advise us on how to deal with the problem. From doctors and psychologists, to health coaches and nutritionists, we have collected together medical professionals’ opinions on the best ways to manage stress levels. Their diverse backgrounds provide a variety of opinions, so you should be able to find a method that works for you!
1: Take Time For Yourself
Holistic health expert and vitality coach Jen Wittman recommends making time to reconnect with yourself. She puts aside four hours a week to write in her journal, read, and breathe deeply. She values this time and views it as her weekly 'reset' button.
Nurse practitioner and co-founder of Women to Women Marcelle Pick suggests using this time to free yourself from all your activities and responsibilities, and consider your life. Some might enjoy attending a formal religious service while others can sit quietly in a peaceful place. Just ensure that you are not focused on a task and can fully relax. She refers to this as time as an “inside job”.
Doctor David Jockers, a corrective care chiropractor, nutritionist, and exercise physiologist spends his alone time out in nature. Being in nature, whether the local park, beach or the mountains can help you feel more relaxed. If you take off your shoes and feel your feet against the Earth, it can help you heal. Similarly, he advocates finding a creative outlet to strengthen your spirit and captivate your heart.
Design & organization expert Dawn Falcone believes clutter of either your physical space or mental processes can add to your stress levels and detract from your ability to relax and breathe. She advises that you take some time to de-clutter, but don't try and do it all in one day, just start with a drawer or shelf. Falcone explains that if something has stopped making you feel good, it’s time to let it go. She also suggests getting rid of anything that hasn’t been used for the last 6 months. And as for mental clutter she recommends that you cross off any non-priority events on your calendar and delegate tasks where possible, while not being afraid to say 'no' to invitations.
3: Take Supplements
Many of the experts suggested taking supplements to help your body fight stress on a physiological level. Medical doctor, naturopathic doctor, herbalist, and nutritionist Carolyn Dean endorses taking magnesium, as food doesn’t always provide you with enough of this mineral. Magnesium helps your body make energy, digest food, detoxify heavy metals, relax muscles and nerves, and aids you in getting a good night of sleep.
Digestive health expert and author of the Ultimate Candida Diet program Lisa Richard recommends a dose of good quality probiotics because recent studies have shown that it lowers your physiological response to stress. Naturopathic Doctor Kelly Austin recommends an injection combo of vitamin B12 and B5 as both are known to improve energy levels, mood, memory, focus and overall adrenal health. They also can help relieve nerve pain, burnout and anxiety.
4: Turn to Others
Sue Johnson, psychologist, researcher and founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy advises not to go through stress and uncertainty alone. A loved one’s comfort and touch can encourage the nervous system to calm down. In her opinion confiding in someone you trust can turn-off fear and pain as communicating helps you make sense of your emotions and fears and enables you to receive support. She adds that evidence shows that simply holding someone’s hand can turn off the brain’s alarm response to stress.
Awarding-winning author of 'How to be Sick' Toni Bernhard advocates a technique called Active Listening, where the person listening to you will reiterate how you’re feeling so that you feel heard. She explains that this technique makes you feel deeply cared for and alleviates stress.
5: Proactive Stress Combat - Diet, Sleep and Exercise
Many professionals encourage a proactive attitude to fighting stress. The ones mentioned repeatedly are diet, sleep, and exercise. Personal trainer and founder of 12 Minute Athlete Krista Stryker finds she de-stresses best with intense workouts. She maintains that the physical exhaustion enables you to clear your head of a day’s worries.
Diane Sanfilippo, certified holistic nutritionist and holistic lifestyle coach advocates avoiding toxic people or situations and strongly recommends prioritizing sleep and not overtraining. She explains that your body is better able to cope when you don’t purposefully expose it to stress-inducing people (or situations) and give it time to rest and restore. To balance intense workouts she embraces more gentle practices such as meditation, walking and yoga, as they lower cortisol levels.
Functional diagnostic nutritionist, corporate holistic health educator, and personal trainer Keri Brooks adds that sex also does this and shouldn’t be ignored as a tool for helping calm stress. Brooks also suggests eating real food and avoiding foods that slow down your adrenal function, and lead to poor sleep and increased irritability such as sugar, fake fats, processed goods, and caffeine. Skipping meals and overeating, she warns, can affect your blood sugar levels and burn your adrenal levels. Like Sanfilippo, she also emphasizes the importance of sleep and recommends having a consistent routine for 'winding down'.
6: Distraction - Make the unpleasant pleasant
Some events and activities are unavoidably unpleasant, taxing and stressful, such as being stuck in traffic or doing the housework. Pharmacist and author of On the Topic of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Izabella Wentz recommends turning these stress inducing activities into something more enjoyable. She suggests listening to podcasts or talking to someone on the phone to keep the mind engaged and distracted from worry can reduce your stress levels. It also gives you a chance to connect with a friend or learn about a topic of interest.
7: Pamper yourself with a massage
Founder of Replenish PDX and celebrated functional nutritionist Andrea Nakayama says you can address your adrenal health and reduce your stress with a gentle self-massage with essential oils. Make your hands into fists and rub the area of your back near your kidneys, just above your waist on the rear of your body. She explains that these moments of pampering promotes relaxation and strengthens an overtaxed system.
8: Positive body language
Janine Driver, NY Times best-selling author and president of the Body Language Institute, recommends three body movements to give your body a boost of confidence and drive away any unnecessary stress.
Firstly, before meetings she recommends staying away from smartphones and tablets. Using these devices changes how you position your posture and this affects your demeanor. When you shrink yourself to see a screen this movement undermines your confidence levels and increases stress levels. You will feel more composed and assertive if you avoid the electronic devices prior to a potentially stressful event.
Secondly, she recommends the use of 'power poses'. These are expansive body postures such as posing like Superman with hands on your hips, your hips out and your chest exaggerated. This raises testosterone but lowers cortisol levels, leading to a greater sense of well-being and increased confidence, both healthy ways to alleviate stress.
Thirdly, she suggests clapping and rubbing your hands together. This action sends a message to the brain that success is coming and gets it excited. This trick helps calm nerves and lower anxiety levels.
Stressful situations and high running emotions can make you argue with partners, co-workers, and friends, and the idea of simply letting go seems impossible in these heated moments. Instead of lashing out and arguing, corporate coaches, authors, and meditation experts Ed and Deb Shapiro recommend laughing. When you look for the funny side of things this reminds you to not take yourself too seriously and puts your ego in check. They explain that looking on the lighter side of life can help you refocus, remain objective and stay mindful.
Doctor Jen Landa, hormone expert and author of The Sex Drive Solution for Women endorses eating chocolate. She elaborates that cocoa is one of the stronger sources of antioxidants, which protect people from unnoticed stressors such as pollutants and pesticides. Cocoa also contains high amounts of magnesium which, as mentioned in #3, has a calming influence. Landa explains that cocoa contains the same chemicals that your body produces when it falls in love, and these can reduce elevated stress levels.
She does caution that the results are best seen when we eat chocolate with 70%-100% cocoa content and low amounts of added sugar so that you won’t send your blood sugar levels spiraling, or gain too much weight.
Another concept experts recommend for fighting stress are habits which keep your sense of perspective in check. Dr. Alan Christianson, an author of two books on thyroid disease, makes it an evening ritual to recall three positive things about his day and to think of three positive aspects for the next day.
Naturopathic doctor, and author of MAXIMized Health Andrea Maxim shares the best advice she received about stress: if you can see that you won’t be stressing about whatever’s presently stressing you out in a year’s time, it’s not worth stressing about it now.
Author, speaker, and founder of Flatiron Functional Medicine Doctor Jill Carnahan encourages you to have “an attitude of gratitude”. She recommends keeping a gratitude journal, which can be looked upon in times of stress or anxiety. The practice of looking for the positive gives your mind a boost and can help produce endorphins. This can lower stress levels and encourage other healthy emotions like joy, contentment, and hope.
Kinesiologist and creator of the www.healmyadrenalfatigue.com E-course, Kerry Belviso, recommends positive self-talk as a tool that can go a long way in times when you feel overwhelmed and stressed. Negative voices and thoughts can make you feel more disempowered and depleted. When you spend time judging and criticizing yourself, you are less resourceful. Instead, give yourself a break and think of advice you would give a close friend if they were in your situation. Supporting yourself and giving yourself compassion is a practice for relieving stress that many people forget to embrace.
It sounds much too simple, but the way you breathe can help fight stress and affect your state of mind. Christa Orecchio, a clinical nutritionist, holistic health counselor, and founder of The Whole Journey explains that slow, deep breathing can help alkalize the body and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This allows the body to recuperate and regenerate. She warns that as people age, they tend to breathe shorter and shallower breaths, more from the chest. Deanine Picciano, a doctor of oriental medicine, and acupuncture physician specializing in women & children’s health, recommends belly breathing, as this can lower cortisol levels. It lets more oxygen enter your lungs, allowing you to stay focused and centered.
When you’re tense, you’re more likely to tighten your diaphragm muscles. Release and loosen these to achieve full, optimal breathing. She recommends that you start slowly in the lower belly, and then move upward towards the heart. Your breath should fill the bottom of your belly first and move up to the chest. This technique can counter the physical effects of stress. What's more, these exercises can be done anywhere, at any time.