Got Stress? An 8 Step Guide on How to Lower Your Stress

How often do you find yourself feeling stressed? Do you ever feel like you have a list full of tasks to complete and by the time you check one off of the list, three more appear on top?

In today's society, we are living in a time where we are exceeding our multi-tasking superpower skills and leaving ourselves feeling overworked, tired, burnt out, anxious, and ready to book our next flight out of town to escape our stressful reality.

With our busy, multi-tasking, on-the-go lifestyles, we have learnt how to suppress our feeling of stress and have put our health on the back burner.

As much as we tend to avoid stress altogether, the unfortunate reality is that it will eventually catch up with us and may cause some major health concerns along the way.

In holistic health, it is crucial that we handle stress by focusing on the body, mind, and spiritual connection. This includes looking at the mental, emotional, physical and psycho-spiritual aspects of how stress may impact the body and mind. You may be asking yourself how stress arises in the body and how alternative health can assist with reducing stress so you can live a day-to-day life, stress-free.  Ultimately, we have all the tools we need; it is just a matter of incorporating them into our daily lives.

To begin lets focus on the physical aspects of stress. Although stress is considered neither “good nor bad”, it is important that we begin to address it before other health concerns arise. When stress becomes chronic it can cause issues such as inflammation in the body, poor immune function, stress on the adrenal glands, poor digestion, chronic fatigue, and oxidative stress in the body (free-radical damage).

When we are in constant fight-or-flight mode, an ancient method our body uses to fight against fear, our adrenal glands produce stress hormones. Our adrenalin is going and we are ready to attack. Often when we think of these stress hormones we turn to cortisol to be the “bad guy”.  Although some think that cortisol may be the culprit to the stress, it is actually how we process it in our bodies. Therefore, too much cortisol can cause issues to arise.

“When stress becomes chronic it can cause issues such as inflammation in the body, poor immune function, stress on the adrenal glands, poor digestion, chronic fatigue, and oxidative stress in the body (free-radical damage).”

When the adrenals are over stimulated and overworked, this is when we may run into concerns such as adrenal fatigue and possible “burn out.” When we are overstressed this can also cause certain food cravings. Chocolate, chips, candy, alcohol, caffeine are the most common foods to consume that allow us to void these feelings of stress. Although these foods help us in the moment and might make our stress go away temporarily, they can cause the stress to manifest in the long run.

One fascinating part of holistic health is we can begin to lower and manage our stress levels with important nutrients from our foods. Eating in a way that improves our health can be beneficial to adapting to our stressors. I often recommend consuming more whole, nutrient-dense foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein (animal or plant-based), and legumes. Simple adjustments to what we are consuming can be extremely powerful in lowering our stress and can provide us with the nutrients our body may be lacking.

“One fascinating part of holistic health is we can begin to lower and manage our stress levels with important nutrients from our foods.”

When it comes to our mental, emotional, and psycho-spiritual health, feeling overstressed can cause us to feel anxious (related to fight-or-flight), depressed, defeated, spiritually exhausted, and even feelings of shame, guilt, anger, sadness, etc. One of the first steps is to recognize the stress and begin to address it.

Often sitting with the feelings of stress and feeling into what comes up, allows us to pinpoint what these triggers may be. We can begin to manage stress once we lay out exactly what is causing the stress to rise and sometimes we need to dig deep and explore what the root cause of the stress is. Could it be something from the past? Something holding you back from living your dreams? Someone in your life? Maybe it’s your day job or a financial stress.

Lean into these questions and give yourself permission to feel whatever comes to surface. I often recommend stress management tips such as deep breathing, yoga (or any form of movement), meditation, spending time in nature, and journaling. Once we begin to practice these tools daily, we become one step further into adapting to our stressors and restoring our adrenal function.

Although stress is becoming a major epidemic, I believe that when we give ourselves space to slow down, pause and look around, we can begin to shift from the fast-pace society into a more calm, at ease environment. Everyone deserves to live their life free from stress; we just have to remember the tools that we have in our hands.

What to Do Next

1) Consume more whole foods

Consuming more whole/nutrient-dense foods is important when it comes to lowering stress levels and balancing out our stress hormones. Providing our body with simple key-nutrients can help our physical bodies adapt to the release of these stress hormones and give our bodies the nutrients it needs to function optimally.

Some foods I suggest are fresh fruits, vegetables including leafy greens, legumes, animal protein, and whole grains. These foods are packed with powerful nutrients that will support our bodies and reduce stress in the body.

It is extremely important to nourish our bodies with whole-foods and can be a simple way to avoid health concerns associated with the stress. Consuming healthy fats, protein, and complex carbohydrates can help us balance out our blood sugar levels and adapt to stress.

2) Eat mindfully

Simple, free, yet crucial. Mindful eating includes slowing down when consuming meals, practicing breathing techniques before eating, chewing your foods longer, eating at more of a relaxed state, being aware of the foods being consumed, noticing the colours, textures, flavours, and balance of the foods, understanding the importance of what foods nourish your body.

When we are experiencing stress while eating, we can actually shut down our digestive tracts and deplete our body of some key nutrients. This can lead to digestive issues and inflammation in the gut, which may cause a gut-mind connection imbalance.

Slowing down and eating in a more relaxed state can allow us to break down and absorb these nutrients from these foods.  As a holistic nutritionist I believe that all foods should be consumed in moderation. At times when we are experiencing stress and may reach for foods that fill our cravings, I always suggest following these mindfulness tips to enjoy and appreciate what we are eating.

3) Eliminate caffeine and sugar

Caffeine and sugar can stimulate our adrenal glands and produce more of these stress hormones. They can also cause an imbalance in blood sugar levels, which will cause us to experience afternoon crashes and trigger our stress response.  Although consumed in moderation, caffeine and sugar may be the reason we are unable to adapt to stress. I suggest lowering these stimulants, or removing them during periods of high stress.

4) Move your body daily – exercise

Daily exercise does not have to be running 5 miles a day, performing in a triathlon or attending a spin class every day. It can include going for a walk outdoors, going up and down the stairs at home, swimming in the pool, or whatever way you enjoy moving your body. Exercise is a powerful way to eliminate stress and can help improve energy and sleep. I also recommend practicing yoga or tai chi as this allows us to move our body in a more relaxing way.

5) Get regular ample sleep

Getting regular, ample sleep can improve our adrenal function and reduce the release of stress hormones. Sleep will also help improve your digestive tract, immune function, and provide you with sufficient energy. Creating a bedtime routine such as staying off electronics before bed, reading a book, taking a shower, etc. can help improve your sleep and produce melatonin instead of your cortisol to rise in the evening.

6) Meditate and reflect

Allowing yourself to breathe and practice living in the now can be a simple escape from reality. Although I advise not running away from the problem, I believe that meditation can give us that space we need to replenish our minds and give us a sense of what we may need to get clear on. Mediation and focusing on the breath can deliver oxygen to areas in the body and relax the mind.

I also think it is important to reflect on our thoughts and notice what comes up during times of mediation. I often recommend journaling afterwards and writing down anything that comes to mind. It is amazing how creative we can get once we give ourselves space to become clear.

7) Become aware of your triggers

As mentioned earlier, the first step to eliminating stress is to become aware of what is triggering you to feel and experience stress. A helpful tool is to take out a pen and paper and write them down. This is a great way to let out what is contributing to stress instead of bottling it up inside. Recognizing what is causing stress will allow you to shed some light on what may be underlying.

Once we understand what is causing stress to occur, we can begin to peel back the layers and address the root cause. It is important that we face the stress and bring it to surface, instead of avoiding it and tucking it away.

8) Schedule time for yourself

Sometimes life get’s in the way of making time for ourselves. This is why it is essential that we schedule ourselves in to unwind and do what brings us joy. If you are thinking to yourself  “I have absolutely no time to schedule myself in to relax” then you absolutely need to be taking time for yourself. It is in the really busy moments in our lives, when we need to be paying more attention to what our bodies need.

When we listen to how our body is reacting or how the feeling of exhaustion and overwhelm is creeping in, it is the best time to take a step back and focus on how we can replenish our connection to the ourselves.

Christina Anania is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She works one-on-one with clients educating them on how to live a happier and healthy life. She specializes in mental health and gut health. Christina is the owner of Eats By Tee, which is a nutrition consulting business, as well as a recipe/food blogger. She signed up to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition and graduated with her diploma and Award of Merit in December 2017. Christina loves being a holistic nutritionist because she believes in diving deep and getting to the root cause of ones health concern.

Thank you for reading my article. I hope you found it helpful or at least thought-provoking. If this post did help you, consider sharing it with someone you think it would help too.