Natural Solutions for Stress Reduction

Caring for ourselves and finding ways to handle our stress are important practices for assuring our long-term health. They are definitely key aspects of Preventive Medicine, along with the right nutrition and exercise programmes for our body, getting proper sleep, and maintaining a positive attitude toward ourselves, others and the world.

Learning the individual path that generates health is really the finest art of medicine and personal development, and an extremely important process in which to invest. Let us consider stress and how we can protect our body from its negative effects.

EXPECTATIONS

One of the sources of stress is inner tension between what we expect of ourselves and what actually happens. Often these expectations are quite unconscious. It’s important to identify unspoken expectations or attachments. Sometimes we need to work a little harder to bring reality in line with our expectations in order to make our dream truly attainable.

LETTING GO

At other times, we need to develop more detachment to let go of counter-productive thoughts or desires. In this effort, a meditation practice can be very valuable. All the major religions of the world include some type of meditation or prayer. Your practice can be aligned with your spiritual beliefs.

TYPES OF STRESS

Stress comes in many forms. For example, many of us are surprised to learn that intense joy is a source of stress, but since it requires more of our body and mind, it genuinely qualifies as stress (with an increased heart rate and the manufacture of certain neurotransmitters, such as adrenaline). Exercise can also be a stressor even though it is great for us. This is because of the repetitive movement in certain areas of the body, and because we create and release more free radicals and toxins into the blood and tissues. This biochemical process can best be handled by being sure you drink enough water and take anti-oxidant nutrients, such as Vitamins A and C. According to researchers on stress, the most optimal form of vitamin C is paired with the bioflavonoid, quercetin.

The various types of stress include:

  • Mental – high responsibility, financial or career pressures, working long hours at mental tasks, perfectionism, anxiety and worry.
  • Emotional – attitude toward self, issues or imbalance in our relationships, anger, fear, frustration, sadness, betrayal and bereavement.
  • Psycho-spiritual – issues of life goals, spiritual alignment, imbalance or lack of spiritual nurturing, general state of happiness.
  • Physical – exercise, physical labour, pregnancy and giving birth, developmental or life changes (adolescence, menopause and ageing).
  • Traumatic – infection, injury, burns, surgery and extreme temperatures.
  • Biochemical – deficiencies of vitamins, minerals, specific amino acids, protein, or fats and fatty acids; food allergies; genetic errors in metabolism that can result in alcoholism, other addictions, or mental illness.
  • Toxic – environmental pollutants such as pesticides, cleaning solvents and other toxins; the use of chemicals such as drugs, alcohol, caffeine or nicotine

Real stress comes from the way we react to the issues of our lives. For stress to negatively influence our health, we must experience something as danger. If we experience a threat as stress, we may go into fight-or-flight mode, which means that adrenalin kicks in and our body actually prepares to do battle, or run. Our circulation slows and there may be greater muscle tension, our digestion slows down, heart rate goes up, and we begin using up important nutrients. Often immune function is affected and we may therefore become more prone to falling ill.

Sometimes there’s no way around stress. For example, when a child falls on the playground, or we’re putting out a fire, our body prepares us for the emergency so we can respond immediately. That’s the way it should be – this level of response/reaction allows us to be more alert and ready for action.

But sometimes stress is more subtle, and it may be more psychological or emotional. When there really is no physical danger, our body may still react as if there were. Then, if there’s no physical activity to provide an outlet for the increased activity, the response may remain inward and play havoc with our physiology and organs, as well as with our emotions and our mind. At that point, we run the risk of exhausting the adrenal glands and flooding our body with metabolic toxins, such as damaging free radicals (associated with the ageing process and diseases such as cancer). It is a good idea to take ‘a walk to cool down’ mode and begin pouring out the chemical signals that we’re in danger and must react. This relaxed approach usually leads to a better outcome as well.

A SELF INVENTORY

One of the first steps in stress reduction is an honest inventory of where we are. Ask yourself:

  • Is anything very out of balance in my life? If so, what is upsetting me?
  • Why don’t I feel fully relaxed, happy and able to sleep well? What do I need to do to restore balance?
  • Is there anything particular in my life I can do something about?

For most of us, the key life challenges are in areas of:

  • Health (how we care for ourselves and the result we manifest)
  • Career (what we share with the world and the support that is returned)
  • Relationships (how we give and receive love)

If we can master these three primary areas of life, some might say we are close to enlightenment.

ANTI-STRESS NUTRIENTS

Many anti-stress formulas are based on the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C because these important nutrients are all significantly depleted by stress. In addition, stress-related problems may be compounded by deficiencies resulting from generally poor nutrition. All of the B vitamins are important here – especially pantothenic acid (B5), which together with folic acid and vitamin C is essential for the functioning of our adrenal glands. The adrenals carry perhaps the greatest load when our body is under stress.

The B-complex vitamins are ideally taken two or three times a day, particularly when we are under a lot of stress. This is especially important if the stress lasts for months: a big project at work or a challenging job, a chronically ill child or parent, unemployment, divorce – any of the life events that tend to deplete us over time. It’s best to take the B-vitamins before dark to avoid over-stimulation before bedtime. I suggest more minerals in the evening, as they tend to help with relaxation, especially a calcium and magnesium supplement. However, most vitamins and minerals are best assimilated if they’re taken with a meal.

Healthy, nurturing foods include:

  • Nuts and seeds (good snacks, but limit to one or two handfuls a day)
  • Whole grains and beans – brown rice, black beans and millet
  • Sprouts – seeds, grains and beans
  • Seaweed – kelp, kombu, dulse, nori, wakame etc.
  • Protein – soy, dairy products, eggs, fish and poultry
  • Green vegetables such as bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chard and kale
  • Spicy vegetables and condiments such as garlic, ginger, onions and leeks
  • Root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, potatoes, beets (include these foods in moderation)
  • Apples, cranberries, pears, persimmons and navel oranges
  • Tropical and dried fruits, such as papaya or raisins, tend to be very sweet, which can cause weight gain, so regard these as a special treat.

Note: Prolonged stress or lack of sleep can lead to many health problems. If these issues do not resolve with home treatment, you may need to see your doctor or other health professional.

Note: Tryptophan and 5-HTP are precursors of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which induces sleep for our brain. Improving serotonin levels can also help reduce depression. Do not take with anti-depressants.

Relaxing herbs, such as valerian root, kava kava, chamomile, vervain, catnip, hops, or linden flowers can also be used. Find a herbal formula that has one or more of these herbs, and take as directed at bedtime.

SLEEP NUTRIENT COCKTAIL

  • Vitamin C – 500 to 1 000 mg (to help mineral absorption)
  • Calcium – 400 to 750 mg
  • Magnesium – 350 to 500 mg
  • Potassium – 300 to 500 mg
  • L-Tryptophan – 500 to 2 000 mg (available by prescription from a compounding pharmacist), or try 5-HTP (hydroxy-tryptophan) 50 to 150 mg.

How to use these natural supplements:

Vitamins and minerals

Begin with vitamin C, calcium and magnesium. If these don’t work, add 500 mg of L-tryptophan (or 50 mg of 5-HTP), increasing the dosage, if necessary, by 500 mg of tryptophan (or 50 mg of 5-HTP) every three days up to 2 000 mg (or 200 mg of 5-HTP). Increases in magnesium should be tried when you’re at home over the weekend because higher dosages of magnesium can cause sudden diarrhoea.

Herbs

If you still have no relief from your insomnia, try a herbal sleep formula, beginning with one or two capsules (or three or four capsules, as appropriate) of a single herb or multi-herb formula.

Relaxants

A cup of warm whole milk before bed can also be beneficial, as long as you tolerate dairy products well. Sleepytime tea or some other night-time relaxant is a helpful addition to a calming evening routine. Natural remedies such as Sedatif PC by Boiron, Rescue Spray by Natura, Tibbs Stress-away, and StressEase tablets by Innovative Health, can be helpful for some people.

STRESS, FOOD AND WINTER

In some ways, stress in winter is different. We feel the need to eat warm, nourishing foods in winter, yet, when we’re under stress, our digestive function may slow temporarily to prepare us for physical activity (again, fight or flight). It’s best to wait to eat until our system calms down, otherwise we may not digest our food well. While waiting, we can take in liquids – water, tea, juice, even a protein drink, or some other light food if we’re hungry.

Putting together a healthy diet in each season, and throughout the seasons of your life, is definitely a worthy investment of your time, energy and money. The Ideal Diet for most people, along with menu plans and recipes can be found in my book, A Cookbook for All Seasons (available from Amazon.com).

Enjoy good food and great health!

Further reading

  1. Haas E., and Levin B. Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. Revised edition. California: Celestial Arts, 2006. (Available from Amazon.com).
  2. Haas E. A Cookbook for all Seasons. California: Celestial Arts, 2000. (Available from Amazon.com).
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Natural Solutions for Stress Reduction

Dr Elson Haas
About The Author
- He is a practising physician of Integrated Medicine, and Medical Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, California. He is the author of several books including the classic preventive medicine text Staying Healthy with the Seasons (fully revised 20th Anniversary 2003 edition).