Although some level of stress is an essential component of evolution (think fight-or-flight survival instincts or the emotional response to a sad situation), most experts agree stress has taken on an entirely new form in modern society, turning into a true epidemic. These days, we have a hard time “shutting down” at all: bringing work on vacation, checking emails right upon waking up, and even creating demanding activity-filled schedules for our children and family. But what's even more concerning is that stress doesn't just stop with the time frame of the triggering circumstance. Rather, stress can have profound long-term effects in the body as well.
John Carpi for Psychology Today reports, “Psychological stress doesn't just put your head in a vice. New studies document exactly how it tears away at every system—including your brain. But get this: the experience of stress in the past magnifies your reactivity to stress in the future. So, take a nice deep breath and find a stress-stopping routine this instant!" If you're as ready as we are to relax, here's a simple five-step plan for hitting reset on your stress response that you can do anytime, anywhere:
1. Change Your Senses. There are many environmental culprits that induce a stress response. Fluorescent bulbs, for example, emit an almost imperceptible “flicker,” which can trigger nervous system stress, while artificial scents or even chemicals and cleaners can provoke inflammation. Even if you find yourself often in an environment you can't control, you can manipulate your sensory experience to improve your mental state. If possible, find some natural sunlight to step into for a few moments throughout the day; place your bare feet for a few minutes in some grass; or inhale a whiff (or rub on your temples) a natural stress-reducing aromatic such as lavender, lemongrass or sage. Think of these techniques as a sensory “reset.”
2. Change Your Breath. One of your best tools for stress regulation is built right inside of you: your breath. Deep breathing has been scientifically proven to stimulate a parasympathetic nervous system reaction, helping you to biologically relax and slow down. You can download breathing apps on your phone for timing guidance or simply take 10 long, slow inhales and exhales, with a brief “hold” at the top of the inhale. Even just a minute or two of breathwork will slow your heart rate and signal your body to cool down.
3. Change Your Nutrients. Many of us utilize stimulants to power through the day, such as coffee or nicotine. While these may help increase productivity in the short term, they tax your system by disrupting your adrenal system and nervous system balance. Instead, try incorporating nutrients that help naturally calm the brain and reduce the inflammation caused by stress. Swap your coffee for Matcha, which is rich in the amino acid L-Theanine that stimulates inhibitory (calming) neurotransmitter activity. And when you reach for a meal, be sure to regularly incorporate adapotegenic superfoods, such as Maca, as well as ashwaghanda, which help to regulate internal stress (you can slip these ingredients into a smoothie, sauce or dressing very easily).
4. Change Your Mindset. Mindfulness is key to stress regulation and its time-versus-benefit ratio is in your favor. Practicing even 10 minutes of meditation a day can help reduce stress, encourage neuroplasticity, lower blood pressure and reduce pain. In other words, you can literally change your mind (brain) more easily, both structurally and functionally, which directly affects the function of your entire body.
5. Change Your Language. You've stood out in the sun for five minutes while doing breathwork, practiced a brief round of mediation and made yourself a Matcha Latte. Now to fully leave your stress state behind you, you need to have a plan for how to move forward. A great technique is to simply change the very words that come out of your mouth, which can dramatically change how you feel. Avoid negative statements, as well as the words “busy” and “stressed.” Give yourself challenges like having a “no complaints” week or make one complimentary, grateful statement an hour. Most people know the saying “you are what you eat,” but when it comes to your mindset, it's often “you are what you say.”