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Ten Natural Ways to De-Stress
by Ruby Bayan

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The body has a natural defense for life-threatening situations -- a hormone called adrenaline. Conflicts, accidents, problems, and other crisis are recognized by the brain as life-threatening. The brain triggers the adrenal glands to secrete the "red-alert" hormone which activates the body to pump the necessary energy to cope with the perceived danger. Heartbeat increases, blood pressure rises, and muscles tense, priming the body ready for action.

Unfortunately, the body can normally deal with only sporadic amounts of stress. If there is no recuperation or relaxation period, meaning, the body is in a constant state of stress, the condition slowly deteriorates into what is better described as "distress". Consequently, disorders and illnesses begin to manifest themselves, including feelings of anxiety and moodiness, trouble concentrating and sleeping, muscle pain and headaches, all the way to depression, panic attacks, and nervous breakdown.

Relaxation, therefore, is *the* remedy against stress and tension. Here are several natural ways to relax, or "de-stress", a distressed body and mind:

  1. Exercise -- Stress is often the result of boredom, excessive worrying, and job burnout. Exercise loosens tense muscles, takes the mind away from worries, and releases pain-suppressing endorphins that promote the feeling of calmness and well-being. It also improves circulation that is otherwise abnormally hampered by stress. Sports is a good form of exercise.
  2. Yawn, Stretch, Sing -- If exercise is not feasible for the moment, yawning and stretching are excellent alternatives. The additional intake of oxygen, and the stretching of cramped muscles and joints, helps relax the body even for brief periods during the day. Deep breathing at regular intervals also helps provide adequate oxygen to the body, which is why singing is a good relaxant.
  3. Appreciate Art -- Therapists swear that music, painting, gardening, needlework, and other such artistic hobbies help relieve the ill effects of stress. Focusing on heartwarming things of beauty takes the mind away from stress-related worries.
  4. Bathe in Relaxing Oils -- Lavender and lemon-balm oils are known to release aromatic relaxants. They can be added to the bath water or diluted and rubbed gently over the body after a shower. Widely used in aromatherapy, these oils are effective in relieving insomnia and nervous tension.
  5. Take Vitamin Supplements -- The acclaimed calming and anxiety-busting vitamins are: calcium (at least 1000 milligrams/day), magnesium (500 milligrams/day), folic acid (600 milligrams/day), B6 (2 milligrams/day) and B12 (100 milligrams/day). Deficiencies in these vitamins can lead to a weakened stress tolerance.
  6. Snack on Nuts -- Rich in magnesium and B vitamins, nuts have been included in the list of natural sources of vitamins and minerals that help relieve stress and increase concentration. Remember, though, moderation is key.
  7. Minimize Information Overload -- Dr. Kevin Polk, renowned goal and time management expert, reveals that "Too much information overloads you and is stressful". He emphasizes that one of the primary causes of distress is the feeling of lack of control over one's work and life processes. He suggests, "... make a few decisions to limit the information coming at you. That way you will know you are in control." And effectively reduce anxiety and depression.
  8. Employ Meditation and Yoga -- Dr. Andrew Weil, author of the bestseller "Spontaneous Healing", recommends relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga. Seek the help of local experts.
  9. Avoid Stimulants -- Sugar and caffeine induce the release of stress hormones -- sodas and coffee pump up adrenaline to keep one awake and alert. Excessive amounts of sugar and caffeine, however, can impair stress tolerance. Furthermore, as already mentioned, a constant state of stimulation can lead to nervous tension, anxiety, and depression.
  10. Take Medicinal Plants and Teas -- St. John's Wort has been prescribed for more than a decade by European doctors to relieve depression. Ginseng is an ancient remedy used to relieve nervous instability and promote calmness and relaxation. Kava kava is like a sedative that contains muscle relaxants and anti-anxiety compounds. Also, the soothing effects of herbal teas have been tapped for ages -- taken alone or in combination, linden flowers, thyme, lemon-balm, sage, St. John's Wort, valerian root, hawthorn blossoms, lavender flowers, and hibiscus blossoms, are all known to relax and relieve nervous tension.

According to The Complete Guide to Natural Healing, "Stress can affect all systems of the body and wear down coping mechanisms. Although vulnerability to stressors varies widely from person to person, in many cases, stress is so overwhelming that it defeats attempts to function normally."

So, before the natural reactions to perceived life-threatening situations escalates to stress-induced illnesses, take the time to relax, unwind, sleep well, and dream.

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