Say the word “stressed” and chances are you’ll think of a host of situations that typically cause worry—from a conflict with your partner to a problem with your boss.
But stress isn’t always a bad thing. Our contemporary definition of the word comes from Hans Selye, who characterized stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” Meaning, of course, that stress is felt whenever some part of ourselves is exerted. A power yoga class can engender stress. So can a great piece of news.
Positive stress—found in everything from training for a marathon to starting a new job—can be a boon for the brain and body, boosting our motivation, improving our performance, and flooding us with vitality. Negative stress, however—the type of stress we generally associate with stress itself—can take a serious toll on our mental, emotional and physical well-being, thereby transforming into anxiety.
The effects of anxiety cannot be overstated. Whether it’s caused by a divorce, an ill child, or financial insecurity is irrelevant—after all, everyone experiences stressors differently. What is relevant is that negative stress—or distress—is experienced as beyond our ability to cope with stress.
With this arrives a number of unsettling symptoms, from muscle tension to insomnia to panic attacks. Indeed, chronic anxiety can affect every major domain in your life and leave you feeling simultaneously fraught with worry, physically weakened, and helpless.
The good news is that help is available—and natural help at that. Here are 6 smart ways to cope with anxiety naturally:
1. Keep your blood sugar in check
When life seems to be throwing you one curveball after the other, it’s important to pause amid it all and ask yourself what you do have control over. Odds are you don’t have much say over your adult daughter’s choices or the line of traffic ahead of you.
One of the things you do have control, however, is your health—and that starts with what you choose to put into your body. Eating several small meals throughout the day that are high in lean protein, nutrient-rich, and low in sugar can help keep your blood sugar at an even keel, rendering you less prone to reacting outrageously when triggered, and more inclined to approach life with grace and clarity.
Not convinced? Consider this: hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar) can cause symptoms that mirror a panic attack, including trembling, unsteadiness, and light-headedness. In other words: grab that apple and take a breather.
2. Work up a sweat
You may argue that you don’t have time to exercise during a crisis, but the truth is you don’t have time to not exercise. A full hour on the treadmill isn’t required—simply carving out 15 to 30 minutes for exercise, whether it's a a walk, bike ride, calisthenics or anything else that gets your heart pumping may diminish your anxiety and the aggression that often arrives with it.
Exercise can also clear your mind and release endorphins—feel good chemicals that may inspire happiness, reduce worry, and encourage a more restful night’s sleep. Furthermore, exercise can empower you to tackle your troubles from a fresh perspective.
Take it from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, who reports that exercise is “very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.”
3. Take a bath
Luxuriating in a bubble bath may run counter to the go go gos coursing through your mind. But a warm soak—particularly when it’s accompanied by Epsom salt—can promote calm. Epsom salts are high in magnesium—an essential mineral that can naturally support relaxation, ease the sore muscles that often arrive with sleeplessness and anxiety and alleviate tension headaches. Light a candle, prop open a book and let your troubles dissolve away—even if only temporarily.
4. Brew a pot of tea
Stress is often engendered by problems with solutions that elude us. This can aggravate the issue even more and intensify your anxiety at the same time, resulting in a racing heart, agitation and an urge to flee the premises.
While you might not always be able to flee, you can give yourself a time-out—and nourish yourself while you’re at it.
The healing benefits of brewing a pot of tea to relieve anxiety are well-documented. “As well as the soothing qualities of the tea itself,” The Telegraph reports, studies have found “that the act of putting the kettle on also help.” Filling the kettle with water, waiting for it to boil, allowing your tea to steep—all force you to step away from your worries and slow down.
What’s more, many herbal teas (such as chamomile and peppermint) naturally support a calmer state of mind, while the warmth and comfort of a cuppa may reassure you that you’re alright, right now—and becoming aware of this fact alone cultivates tranquility.
5. Give yourself permission to sleep
Anxiety is frequently accompanied by restlessness and insomnia, while our ever-striving society may lead some to believe that sleep is an indulgence—particularly during a time of crisis or when you’re anxious and extremely busy.
Sufficient rest, however, is absolutely key to your well-being—and to coping with the anxiety you may be experiencing in your waking hours. In fact, sleep is one of your greatest healers, regenerating your brain along with every other part of your body.
Whether you’re suffering from general anxiety or in the midst of a crunch, it’s essential to prioritize rest and create a plan for it. You may be tearing your hair out with worry, but making sure that you’re in bed by a certain time every night—even if you don’t feel tired—is critical, as your brain and body need regularity.
To encourage sleep, you may want to consider oatstraw—which can naturally support the nervous system—or wood betony, which has the potential to inspire restoration, clearer thinking and a sense of grounding.
Whichever way sleep arrives, know this: it’ll help you deal with your worries when you rise.
6. Bring some lavender into your space
For many, the mere whiff of lavender creates a sense of calm. Why? Smell appears to have an immediate connection to the limbic system—the emotional center of the brain—through the olfactory nerve. This gives plants and essential oils the unique potential to directly affect your moods and feelings, and even to reduce your anxiety.
Lavender is a perennial favorite for a reason: the herb has a long and colorful history as both a tonic and a perfume. If you’re agitated and anxious, it can potentially offer calm; if you’re exhausted, it can organically support rejuvenation. In Chinese medicine, for instance, the herb is used to circulate heart Qi (pronounced “chee,” and means vital force) and relieve tension.
There are a variety of ways to bring some lavender into your life. Diffusing lavender oil will give your home a soothing, delightful scent, while keeping a satchel of the dried herb on your nightstand may foster a better night’s sleep. Or, add a few drops of lavender into that bath you’re running now—and grab that cup of tea on your way to the tub.