Let’s face it: these “unprecedented times” over the past few years haven’t been good for anyone’s mental health. In fact, according to a January 2021 report from the American Psychological Association, 84% of adults reported feeling at least one emotion associated with prolonged stress.
So, what can we do about it? We can start incorporating natural ways to reduce stress into our daily routines. As part of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, here are the best ways to manage stress naturally.
As we’ve discussed before, spending time in nature has tons of mental health benefits. For example, being outside increases your Vitamin D, which can boost your mood. Exposure to natural light can also increase your serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine levels, all of which are influential in increasing your happiness.
Sleep and stress are completely intertwined: poor sleep can cause feelings of stress, and high stress levels can make sleep feel impossible. Improving your quality of sleep, then, is instrumental in reducing your stress and anxiety levels. Start by working on your sleep hygiene by making sure your bedroom environment is conducive to good sleep (keeping the room dark, the temperature cool, and electronics to a minimum). Then, create a relaxing bedtime routine to signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down. That might include aromatherapy, light stretching, meditation, or journaling.
You might remember that the vagus nerve is the longest, most complex cranial nerve. When all is calm, your vagus nerve is involved in the “rest and digest” process. However, in times of stress, stimulating your vagus nerve helps your body relax so that you feel calm, clear, and under control. There are a few ways to stimulate your vagus nerve, like deep breathing, cold water immersion, and even humming. You can learn more about stimulating your vagus nerve here.
Beyond just deep breathing, there are certain breathwork techniques that can help reduce stress naturally. In particular, elongating your exhalation can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system. For example, try a 4-4-6-2 breath pattern: inhale for four counts, pause for four counts, exhale for six counts, and pause for two counts. Repeat for two to three minutes.
Meditation is one of the most popular ways to reduce stress naturally, and it’s also associated with mental health benefits like focusing on the present, increasing patience and tolerance, and reducing negative emotions. A body scan meditation might be especially good for stress. In a body scan meditation, you progressively focus on each part of your body, noticing sensations, feelings, and discomfort without judgment. That way, you’re focused on different areas of your body instead of ruminating on the thoughts circling inside your brain. It’s just another example of the importance of the mind-body connection.
Certain sound waves have been shown to reduce anxiety and maybe even affect the sleep cycle, making it easier to manage your stress naturally. You might try a device like the Apollo, a wearable that uses waves of vibration to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Or, listen to binaural beats or sound meditations when you’re feeling especially stressed.
Of course, the best way for you to manage stress naturally will depend on your specific stressors, your overall health, and your daily lifestyle. Not sure which stress reduction techniques are best for you? A precision medicine doctor can help you take a holistic approach to your life and your stress, so you can give your mental health the attention it deserves.