Stress Relief Tips

These are trying times, indeed. Many unknowns revolving around COVID19, and the concern and angst over what may happen has us staying home to protect ourselves and our neighbors.


That said, stir craziness, fear and stress have settled in for some. Thankfully, there are many simple and easy ways to alleviate these emotions and feelings. I will outline some ideas below.


Please note: The health, fitness and nutritional information contained in this post is intended for educational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should consult your licensed health care provider before engaging in any diet or exercise program discussed or recommended herein. The use of any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.



MINDFUL BREATHING

“At any given moment, you’re only one slow breath away from a new point of view.” – Wit & Wisdom from the Yoga Mat

(Source: Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation)


There are three basic ways to do this: a) belly breathing, b) 4-7-8 retained breath, and c) using a breath prayer.

"BELLY BREATHING Belly breathing is easy to do and very relaxing. Try this basic exercise anytime you need to relax or relieve stress.

  • Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.

  • Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.

  • Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.

  • Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out.

  • Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath.

  • Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.


4-7-8 BREATHING This exercise also uses belly breathing to help you relax. You can practice this breath either sitting or lying down.

  • To start, put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as in the belly breathing exercise.

  • Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, and silently count to 4 as you breathe in.

  • Hold your breath, and silently count from 1 to 7.

  • Breathe out completely as you silently count from 1 to 8. Try to get all the air out of your lungs by the time you count to 8.

  • Repeat 3 to 7 times or until you feel calm.

  • Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise."


BREATH PRAYER

Maintaining awareness of the fullness of each breath and following the prompts for belly breathing, you can add a prayer or mantra to accompany the rhythm of your breath.

  • To start, bring your hands to whatever position feels appropriate for you. Maybe they are drawn together palm to palm, maybe they are resting in your lap or on your legs, or maybe they are in some other position of your choosing.

  • Pause to think about what you need at this moment. Is it peace? Is it calm? Is it strength? Comfort? Courage? Wisdom? Health? Love? Etc. Choose your intention. For demonstration purposes, I will choose peace, and I will address my prayer to God. Again, I encourage you to utilize this practice in whatever way is appropriate for you.

  • Example 1: Inhale a slow deep breath, and think silently: "Loving God." Exhale slowly, and think silently: "Grant me your peace."

  • Example 2: Inhale, and think: "I am inhaling peace." Exhale, and think: " I am exhaling chaos."

  • Each time your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your prayer or mantra. Repeat over and over until you feel calm.

  • Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.



MOVEMENT

“If you are in a bad mood, go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood, go for another walk.” - Hippocrates

(Sources: Exercising to Relax, 6 Ways to Switch off the Fight/Flight Response)


In addition to the laundry list of health benefits gleaned from exercise, it is proven to "reduce levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, while increasing production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators." When we start to get fidgety, this can actually be a sign that we need a happy hormone boost. Listen to the body and move.


"Exercise is the quickest thing you can do to manage the stress response. You don’t need to learn a new technique. You can do anything at all that gets your heart rate up and you can do it anywhere. Just 5 minutes of intensive sweat-inducing movement will start breaking down excess stress hormones."


So, if you start to feel stressed and anxious, get down and do 50 pushups, 50 sit-ups, jumping jacks, jump rope, run in place, run or walk up and down the stairs, shadow box and punch the air, whatever works and is available to you and is right for YOUR body. By moving to the point of sweating, you can effectively counteract the ill effects of the fight/flight response, bringing it to an end.


Additional ideas:



LAUGHING

“Humor keeps you balanced. A person without humor is like a wagon without springs – jolted by every pebble in the road.” – Henry Ward Beecher

(Source: Stress Relief from Laughter)


"A good sense of humor can't cure all ailments, but data is mounting about the positive things laughter can do.


Noted Benefits

When you start to laugh, it doesn't just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:

  • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.

  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.

  • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress."


Need some inspiration? Try these:

  • Look at photos that remind you of humorous memories/events.

  • Spend time with people who make you laugh.

  • Practice laughing. Your body can't differentiate between authentic and forced laughter. And, many times, forced laughter can trigger spontaneous real laughter.

  • Try not to take yourself too seriously. Laugh at yourself when you can.



SINGING/DANCING

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” – Confucius

(Sources: Singing: A Stress Reliever, Singing Changes Your Brain, "Using Music, Dance and Exercise to Relieve Stress")


"It does not matter what kind of music you listen to, what song you sing, or how off-key you might be. All that matters is that you do it. Embrace the joy singing can bring and watch as it lifts your spirits, makes you laugh, eases your tension, and makes you feel great overall."


Singing "is proven to calm nerves, release endorphins, release oxytocin, and it eases the symptoms of panic attacks. If you add some movement like dancing or even nodding your head to the beat, you are upping the feel-good quotient and giving your body the extra boost it needs to take the edge off and get you back into the right headspace."


"Dancing to music is a level of expression that one may not be able to put into words[...] The aftermath of a dance concludes with relaxation of the mind and the body. Quality of a dance [...] is not a cause for concern. The primary focus of the dancer is to convey true feelings in order to attain peace. Psychologically, dancing to music is a way to freely to express oneself."

So, what are you waiting for? Turn on your favorite playlist, and sing along with reckless abandon while dancing in all the ways that you know how! Even better if you have company to join you.



"GOOD MOOD" FOODS

“Let food by thy medicine, and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates

(Source: Foods for a Better Mood, Prime-Time Health)


Recognized as the "father of modern medicine," Hippocrates said it best. We can cater our food selection to match our health needs. Below you will find a list of "good mood foods" whose chemical structures have been shown to boost the production of happy hormones and neurotransmitters, assisting to prevent and alleviate stress. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

"Research shows that people who eat the highest amounts of seafood have the lowest rates of depression[...] Omega-3s seem to act like serotonin-boosting drugs, producing mood-stabilizing antidepressant effects but without unpleasant side effects."


Good Sources:

  • Wild Alaskan salmon (canned or frozen are fine!)

  • Sardines

  • Anchovies

  • Mackerel

  • Other oily fish

  • Walnuts

  • Flax and chia seeds

  • Purslane (an herb)




Fermented Foods

"Probiotics are best known for their role in digestive health, but emerging research suggests that bacteria in the gut sends and receives signals to the brain (known as the gut-brain axis)."


"There are more nerves in the intestines. than anywhere else in the body, except for the brain. The gut-brain shares many of the mood-altering hormones of the brain[...] and it's the main supplier of the "happy hormone" serotonin, the neurochemical that is thought to be stimulated by antidepressants. A disturbance in serotonin levels from depression or anxiety affects the mind and upsets the gut."

Studies have shown that probiotic consumption has improved not only digestion but also symptoms of depression and anxiety amongst participants.

Good Sources:

  • Yogurt

  • Kefir

  • Buttermilk (the real, cultured kind)

  • Sauerkraut (the real, cultured kind)

  • Korean kimchi

  • Miso

  • Tempeh

  • Pickled vegetables (the real, cultured kind)


Whole Grains "Whole grains are important sources of B vitamins, nutrients vital for brain health. For example, thiamin (vitamin B1) is involved in turning glucose into energy, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) is needed to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (involved in learning and memory), vitamin B6 helps to convert the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, and vitamin B12 is involved in the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, among others, all of which help to regulate mood."


Additionally, the carbohydrates in whole grains are needed to help the happy hormones cross the blood-brain barrier to actually get into the brain and uplift your mood.


Good Sources:

UNREFINED grains such as:

  • Steel-cut oatmeal

  • Quinoa

  • Brown rice

  • Amaranth

  • Millet

  • Bulgur

  • Wild rice

  • Buckwheat

  • Sorghum

  • Teff


Leafy Green Vegetables and Legumes

"Green vegetables contain the B vitamin folate. Although the connection isn't fully understood, low folate levels have been consistently associated with depression in research[...] Several studies have found that greater vegetable and fruit consumption is associated with a decreased risk of depression."

Folate is also plentiful in beans and legumes, especially lentils.


Good Sources:

  • Spinach

  • Edamame

  • Artichokes

  • Okra

  • Turnip greens

  • Lentils

  • Avocado

  • Broccoli


Foods High in Vitamin D

"Known as the sunshine vitamin, this nutrient is made naturally in the body when skin is exposed to the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. In the past few years, research has suggested that vitamin D may increase the levels of serotonin, one of the key neurotransmitters influencing our mood, and that deficiency may be linked with mood disorders, particularly seasonal affective disorder."

Good Food Sources:

  • Wild-caught Salmon

  • Cod liver oil

  • Mushrooms

  • Canned Alaskan/sockeye salmon and sardines that contain the bones

  • Cheese

  • Egg yolks

  • Foods that may be fortified with vitamin D (milk, soy milk, and orange juice)


Foods High in Tryptophan Foods high in the amino acid tryptophan can have a calming effect on the mind and are necessary for the production of the happy hormones dopamine and serotonin.

Good Sources:

  • Seafood

  • Turkey

  • Whole Grains

  • Legumes

  • Nuts

  • Sunflower and sesame seeds

  • Eggs

  • Dark Chocolate (85% +, or Raw Cacao)

  • Tofu


"Good Mood" Meals for a Day

Breakfast: Steel-cut Oats cooked with Unsweetened Almond Milk and Banana

  • Topped with Almond Butter, Ground Flax, Cinnamon or Cardamom, Splash of Vanilla Extract, and Blueberries

OR

Pasture-raised Egg Omelet prepared with Spinach, Mushrooms and Organic Turkey/Tofu

  • Served with Brown Rice topped with Olive Oil and a sprinkle of Turmeric, and Steamed Asparagus


Lunch:

Dark Leafy Green Salad, topped with Quinoa, Walnuts, Avocado, Chickpeas and Strawberries

  • Dress with Olive Oil, Fresh Lemon Juice and Fresh Mint


Snack Options:

  • Boiled Egg and Zucchini w/ Olive Oil, sprinkled with your favorite herbs

  • 85% Dark Chocolate with Almonds/Brazil Nuts and Berries

  • Hummus and Carrots/Cucumber and Brown Rice Tortilla

  • Orange, Pistachios and 85% Dark Chocolate

  • Lentils, Avocado and Whole Grains


Dinner:

Tofu or Wild-Caught Salmon

  • Served w/ Broccoli or Zucchini, and Roasted Sweet Potato, Olive Oil and Fresh Lemon Juice

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