By Dr. Josh Axe
Past and present surveys reveal that Americans are among the most stressed people in the world. Back in 2018, one credible poll found that feelings of stress, anger and worry were the highest they’ve been in a decade among adults living in the U.S. In 2021, it's likely worse.
Stress doesn’t just feel bad, it’s also a major health concern when it goes unchecked for years. While some stress is normal, including “eustress” (good stress) and stress related to things such as job performance, chronic stress is linked to a range of health impacts. When someone can’t seem to get a handle on stress, it’s not beneficial for health.
As a result, I want to discuss some truly helpful stress relief strategies, including supplements as well as diet and lifestyle changes that will also help alleviate stress.
Because unmanaged, ongoing stress can directly impact both mental and physical health, it’s important to take steps to keep it under control as much as possible.
Supplements that Support a Healthy Response to Stress
This supplement brings together several botanical and adaptogenic ingredients that help reduce stress, promote more restful sleep and mental relaxation, including reishi mushroom, passion flower, ashwagandha, lavender and hops.
Generally speaking, reishi and other mushrooms can help the body adapt to oxidative stress as well as emotional stress, and work to support a variety of healthy body processes.
Like reishi mushroom, ashwagandha has long been prized for its stress-relieving effects. Ashwagandha especially offer benefits such as supporting a healthy response to physical, emotional and mental stress, supporting restful sleep, boosting energy, reducing fatigue and enhancing focus and stamina.
Certain mushroom supplements such as Ancient Nutrition's Multi Mushroom Daily Immune Defense Tablets are also made with both ashwagandha and reishi.
This cognitive support support was specially formulated to help reduce stress and promote a positive mindset, as well as support healthy energy and reduce fatigue. It uses a variety of ingredients to provide targeted support, including organic lion’s mane, bacopa brahmi, ashwagandha and ginkgo leaf.
Specifically designed for the female body, this unique formulation features a clinically studied Ayurvedic herbal blend that supports healthy energy, reduces fatigue and the effects of stress while promoting mental clarity, concentration, a positive mindset and more.
Dealing with a “stressed out gut”? In addition to an overall healthy diet and lifestyle, this bundle includes SBO probiotics and ashwagandha and provides effortless support for reduced stress, a positive mindset and concentration, along with healthy energy levels and reduced fatigue.
1. Eat A Mood-Boosting Diet
Because your gut and brain are connected and always in communication with each other, what you eat directly affects how your mind works. Eating a balanced diet — meaning one with meals that include protein, complex carbs/fiber and healthy fats — is a good way to keep up your energy, prevent moodiness and cravings and to fuel you through challenging times.
2. Avoid Stimulants, Alcohol and Too Much Sugar
Too much coffee, sugar and alcohol, as well as cigarettes and other drugs, can worsen symptoms tied to anxiousness and stress— such as trouble sleeping, headaches, mood swings and changes in your appetite.
Relying on these substances to improve your outlook and energy can create a vicious cycle in which your mood (and blood sugar levels) fluctuate throughout the day and week.
A better way to keep a positive mindset is to stick to healthy habits including exercising, sleeping and eating well, and doing other things that help clear your mind.
1. More Exercise
Physical activity is a natural stress-reliever because it helps release “feel good” chemicals including endorphins that facilitate the body returning to homeostasis after a stressful event.
Being active can also serve as a distraction when you’re feeling overwhelmed, help improve self esteem, reduce discomfort, manage your weight and improve sleep. Taking a walk, yoga, dancing, cycling, swimming or lifting weights are all great ways to lift your mood, ideally when you do them for 30 minutes or more on most days of the week.
Related: Dr. Axe's Favorite At-Home Workouts
2. Make Sleep a Priority
A good night’s sleep is one of the best ways you can support your overall health, since it restores your energy, builds your body’s defenses and makes it easier to cope with difficulties.
By making sure to get about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, you’ll give your mind and body the best chance of feelings refreshed, focused and ready to take on challenges.
Have trouble sleeping due to stress? Habits like exercising, reading and journaling at night, stretching and taking a warm shower before bed, and sleeping in a dark and cool environment can all help.
3. Spend Time In Nature and In Sunlight
There’s good evidence that visiting green spaces and being exposed to natural environments such as forests, beaches and parks can reduce psychological stress. Visiting a natural landscape while exercising or engaging in some type of physical or "contemplative-based recreational activity” (like walking, hiking, swimming, etc.) may have an even bigger impact on your outlook.
One reason nature seems to reduce stress is by decreasing secretion of cortisol and other stress hormones.
According to studies, exposure to sunlight increases the brain's release of serotonin, a “happy hormone” that can make you feel happier, calmer and more focused. Sunlight on your bare skin also helps your body synthesize vitamin D, an essential vitamin that supports a positive outlook and your immune system (which can be taxed when you’re always stressed).
4. Talk to Someone Trustworthy
Talking to either family, friends, a support group or a therapist is a great way to get stressful feelings off your mind, and to gain support and perspective. Even if there’s no easy way to fix a problem, expressing what you’re going through and being listened to by someone you trust can be very cathartic and can make you feel less alone.
At the same time, try to avoid spending too much time with people that worsen your stress. If someone consistently causes stress in your life, consider if it’s worth ending the relationship, or at least reduce the communication to infrequent at best.
5. Keep a Journal
Writing in a journal is a simple way to identify what’s stressing you out and to get troubling thoughts out of your mind. Writing can help you process how you’re feeling and facilitate brain-storming actionable steps to help you cope with problems and meet challenges.
Write in a stress journal to help you see patterns and common themes, such as by answering these questions:
- What likely caused your stress?
- How did you feel physically and emotionally?
- How did you act in response?
- What made you feel better or worse?
You can also use your journal to write down things you’re grateful for, and to help you manage your time. This way you don’t jam pack your schedule and feel overwhelmed, and you make time for happiness-boosting activities aside from work, such as relationships, relaxation, hobbies and fun.
Try to schedule in time each day for something fun, calming, creative and that makes you laugh.
6. Try Meditation and Prayer
Meditation and prayer can help you look at “the big picture” in life and gain space between your worries/thoughts and reality. They’re great strategies for staying present and helping to avoid getting swept away by negative experiences and emotions.
They can also help you adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations, attitude and reactions to stressful events. Additionally, they may boost your ability to feel grateful even in difficult circumstances.
You can also use meditation and prayer to help pinpoint which things in your environment and schedule are contributing to your stress.
For example, do you realize that certain relationships or habits aren’t serving you? What could you do instead to bring on more positive feelings?
There are lots of different ways to meditate and practice mind-body techniques, so experiment to find what works best for you, whether it’s seated or walking meditation, yoga or tai chi, guided mindfulness meditations, body scans, etc.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet, Collagen Diet and the upcoming Ancient Remedies.