It is probably safe to say that at some point in your life you have been under chronic stress. If you can honestly say you haven’t then be prepared, you most likely will be at some point in your life. Life can be full of blessings but very hard at the same time. Truthfully, most Americans are under chronic stress in one form or another daily. Personally, I don’t believe we can live a life without stress – especially in the world we live in today. That is why I felt it important to share with you some ways that we can help balance out those stressful moments with purposeful de-stressing and relaxing times. If you have autoimmunity it is imperative to balance these two opposites. If you don’t have autoimmunity it is also imperative to learn to decompress or it could lead to autoimmunity. One of the reasons I have Hashimotos is because I didn’t learn how to relax and unwind in a healthy way while under chronic stress years ago.
Reasons Why Stress is Bad For Your Health
I was under chronic stress for four straight years of my life. At that point, I had already been diagnosed with Hashimotos but had no idea how much stress could wreak worse havoc on my health. Had I known what I know now I would have made the below relaxation techniques a daily part of my life (in rotation). Most likely it would have saved me from developing EBV (and Mono) as well as severe leaky gut and (at the time) neurological issues and extreme depression among other things.
Stress actually affects our body down to a cellular level. It can alter female hormones like estrogen which can help to cause thyroid dysfunction. It can weaken the thyroid hormone T4’s ability to convert to the active thyroid hormone T3 and can cause reverse T3 to skyrocket. Mine was through the roof which caused horrible eczema and sores all over the place. Stress also plays a role in increasing the amount of cortisol our adrenal glands produce. With an excess of cortisol there can be many sleepless nights, heart palpitations, a wired feeling all the time and that in tandem with stress negatively plays a role in gut function as well as the production of the sleep hormones like melatonin, serotonin and the feel good hormone – dopamine. I had so much mismanaged stress that I actually got to the point of adrenal fatigue which, let me tell you, you don’t want to have. The exhaustion is unbearable. With excess stress altering proper gut function a person becomes prone to leaky gut which is a condition where the tight junctions in the intestines that are supposed to be a barrier to foreign antigens, actually open up or form microscopic holes which allow foreign bodies through causing a snowball effect of health symptoms. These can be anxiety, depression, skin problems, autoimmunity like MS, Hashimotos, Asthma and much more. It’s best in your life to prioritize stress management to keep off the path of dis-ease.
15 Ways to Holistically Reduce Chronic Stress
The following ideas in this post are tried and true ways to find a comforting place that is soothing in the midst of the craziness of our everyday lives and help improve health at the cellular level.
There are some items in this list that are no cost to low cost, medium cost and high cost.
⊗ No Cost $0
$ Low cost would be between $1-$50.
$$ Medium cost will be from $50-$150.
$$$ High cost will be $151+.
⊗ Listen to Soothing Music
This is a great one to do while lying on your back with eyes closed in a quiet room if possible. When laying on your back you are taking the stress off your adrenal glands too. Take at the least, ten minutes for a good start when beginning this. 20 minutes is ideal. Everyone’s idea of soothing music differs. For you it could be classical or purely instrumental or maybe the sounds of nature. For me personally, I love worship music and hymns. The lyrics get my mind off me and on my Creator. Some of my favorite musicians, songwriters and composers are Fernando Ortega, Keith Green, Chris Rice, Charles Wesley, John Newton, Isaac Watts, Fanny Crosby, Martin Luther, Robert Robinson, Carl Boberg, Thomas Chisholm, Kristyn and Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, and Horatio Spafford. I find when I am still and just listen it’s like a breath of fresh air. The burdens are lifted. My heart is soothed.
Magnesium is essential in our body. If we are deficient in it we can have migraines, heart palpitations, anxiety, depression, muscle cramps, nausea, high blood pressure and much more. This vital mineral can be depleted during chronic stress. Magnesium also helps to induce sound sleep and can help improve bone health, neurological health as well as cognitive function. It’s also important to note that one of the minerals that is depleted by eating sugar is magnesium. Stressed out people often reach for sugar and carbs (which turn to sugar) more. It’s a great idea to reduce sugar and use magnesium because it’s likely you could be deficient in it when under stress. Foods to eat that are high in magnesium are leafy greens, avocados, figs, dark chocolate (in moderation and really dark), pumpkin seeds (or pepitas) and almonds. A secondary way I like to get a proper dose of magnesium is by using a Magnesium oil applied with my favorite unscented body lotion. I usually apply this in the evening but not on an empty stomach. * In as much as I can I shy away from pill supplements. Although it is necessary to take some, if there is any way I can get a vitamin or mineral in another way like sublingually (under the tongue) or transdermal (through the skin) then I will. That’s why I like this oil and don’t take a magnesium in pill form.
$ Epsom Salt Baths with doTERRA Essential Oils
To piggyback on the topic of magnesium above, another way I like to be sure I am getting enough of this mineral is through Epsom salt baths. These are epic! I only buy Epsom salt with no fillers, fragrance, or scents – just pure unadulterated Epsom salt. Fillers, fragrance and scents can hinder your health not improve it. This technique is about the experience. It’s a great way to unwind. Personally, I like to take an Epsom salt bath after a time in my Infrared Sauna (which we’ll be talking about in a bit) or after a draining or stressful day. When I was coming out of my healing crisis I took one every single day! We know from above why magnesium is important and what’s even more fun about this one is you can customize your bath with your favorite doTERRA essential oils. My favorite doTERRA oils for this application are Roman Chamomile, Frankincense, Lavender, Bergamot, Rosemary, Helichrysum, Balance, Serenity and Geranium. I put 2-3 drops of a couple of these oils in a bathtub half filled and I also add about 1/2 tsp. of Fractionated coconut oil and 1/4-1/2 cup of Epsom salt. These oils have profound effects on your limbic system and can greatly help your body to allow the stress of life melt away. Not to mention, magnesium, as it soaks into your skin, will also help to cleanse your body and help rid itself of toxins. This relaxation technique is meant to be done for at least 20 minutes as well. Bring a good book in there with you. Ideally, it’s best not to bring technology like phone or iPads,etc. because those can just amp you up again. It makes it more soothing to light some beeswax candles and have dim lights with some soothing music too. Don’t let the task become daunting though or you won’t do it. Keep it simple and doable and try for these at least 3-4 times a week.
⊗ Sleep and Circadian Rhythm
When you are under chronic stress you’ll certainly want to prioritize your sleep and keep your circadian rhythm the same as much as possible. You’ll need 8 hours at least but preferably 9-10 hours per night. During stressful times that means you will need to shut down earlier than you may want and say no to some night time things. It’s worth it – you don’t want your stress to turn into something debilitating for the rest of your life – and it can! To keep your circadian rhythm (or sleep pattern) regular be sure to go to bed at or very close to the same time each night and try to wake around the same time each morning. When your body clock is regular it helps with proper brain and neurological function during the day. Also, keeping the same pattern is one way to help your body know when to expect to get tired and start producing more sleep hormones like melatonin.
$ Mind the Blue Light
In regards to sleep, it is important to be aware that blue light from screens (TV, smartphone, iPod, iPad, etc.) can greatly disrupt your sleep pattern and circadian rhythm. When you eyes process blue light through the hypothalamus in your brain at night it prevents your body from creating sleep hormones like melatonin, lowering your body temperature and lowering cortisol which all prepare you for sleep. Your brain sees the light and thinks that it’s daytime as opposed to night time when things should be winding down. God created night and day for a reason for the human life. Our bodies, by intelligent design, start producing more cortisol, neurons are stimulated, lower melatonin, increase serotonin, etc, when the sun starts coming up and that blue light is registered by our bodies. Conversely, at night when that blue light should be gone and our body is surrounded by more of a red light (think candles, dim lighting not by fluorescent or led lights) our body starts regulating itself for sound sleep. We need to guard our bodies from blue light at night. One way I like to do this is by wearing these when the sun starts setting. By doing this I’m telling my body it’s time to start calming down, slowing down and to stimulate the sleep cycle. This will take several hours. Another thing I do is use an app on my smartphone called Twilight. I’m able to program this app to change the light on my phone from blue light to orange/red light at a certain time of the day. For me that’s usually 6. The other option is, for those who are on computers, to install free software called F.Lux on your computer. It can program your computer, much like Twilight, to change the screen colors to help you get into that restful state. Of course, the ideal thing is to just stay off the screens in the evening and at night but I know that’s hard to do so I wanted to share these options.
$$ Increase Amounts of Vitamin D, C and B’s
These three vitamins should already a part of your daily regimen but during times of heavy stress you’ll want to increase them and here’s why….
- B’s Stress depletes B vitamins and they are crucial to adrenal function as well as literally every single other bodily process. If you are really stressed, taking a B multivitamin is effective and/or these sublingual B12 tablets. *Be sure your B12 is Methylcobalamin which is the pre-methylated form so your body has to do less work to get it active in your functions. Also, make sure your B vitamin is from a reputable source that tests for heavy metals, and contaminants and does not have toxic filler ingredients (or “other” ingredients.) You can find great levels of B vitamins in grass fed liver, wild-caught sardines and grass fed red meat as well as raw dairy (if you have autoimmunity you should steer clear of that until you know for sure you can have it) and eggs.
- C A shortage of vitamin C can trigger excess cortisol and the highest concentrations of this vitamin are found in our adrenal glands. Vitamin C plays a role in many parts of our body as well as our immunity. Be sure to increase vitamin C during chronically stressful times. I like to take my vitamin C with my desiccated liver and iron, on an empty stomach at night. It is best absorbed this way and helps the iron to absorb better as well. Of course, we need to increase vitamin C rich foods as well. These are cruciferous veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale, as well as red peppers, oranges, strawberries, & grapefruit. Fruit sugars in moderation though!
- D Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin! I can’t express enough how important this vitamin is for your overall health. The presence of cortisol, which is the active stress hormone, will actually decrease vitamin D uptake. Low vitamin D levels have been associated with increased inflammation in the body as well as increased oxidative damage to the cells. Vitamin D attaches to certain receptors in our body and produces a calming effect. It is also great for bone health, skin health among other things. I take a liquid sublingual vitamin D/K2 supplement. K2 is a co-factor for vitamin D and is necessary for the D to absorb best. I take about 2000 IU a day. You can get vitamin from grass fed liver, egg yolks, grass-fed beef and pastured pork. During the winter more vitamin D may need to be supplemented depending on where you live and the lack of natural sunshine D that our body absorbs.
$$ Adaptogenic Herbs
There are some adaptogenic herbs that can be used during ultra-stressful times. Adaptogenic herbs are wonderful because they help your body adapt. They help to balance out your body. The same adaptogenic herbs can go in a bring high cortisol low or make low cortisol high. They adapt the chemicals in your body in the way your body needs. *A word of caution with these…. with autoimmunity (or in anyone for that matter) these need to be used with education. What works for one person may not get the same reaction from another. Plus, dosages and techniques of using them are very important to learn. That being said, there is a book I recommend that is a wonderful go-to resource in explaining simply what the herb does, contraindications, cautions and when and whom not to use it on as well as when to use it. It’s an excellent book that I have read all the way through and I refer to it often. Adaptogenic herbs that I like that can be helpful during stressful times are Holy Basil – which helps to fight fatigue and stress and boost immune function and Rhodiola which is a buffer for stress-related physical and emotional fatigue. I like Mountain Rose Herbs for buying my adaptogenic herbs.
⊗ Nature Time
This is such a simple one but it might take some scheduling or purposed effort to get it done. In our busy society we tend to be insiders. We work most of the day in an office, sitting down under florescent lights and staring at a screen. Maybe you have a more active daily existence but are you out in nature? There’s so many special things God put in nature for us to enjoy. Purposed outside walks in most weather is a refreshment to rejuvenate the soul. Walking calmly in nature taking time to observe your surroundings and listen to the sounds can be completely therapeutic. Purposeful breathing while you walk can also reduce blood pressure. Walking outside has been scientifically proven to lower stress hormones circulating in our bodies. Be mindful that when you are walking you are not hurried or distracted but rather present in that moment. If you can do this daily even for 10 minutes you will greatly help reduce your stress levels all the way down to the cellular levels in your body.
$- $$ Diffuse doTERRA Essential Oils
If you follow Feasting On Joy on social media or read any of our blog posts you’ll know it’s no secret that we love our essential oils. They have been such a positive tool in our lives for improving health and well-being. One way we love to use them is to unwind at the end of the day and help to de-stress throughout the day. We love to apply them topically for relaxation as well as diffuse them in the rooms of our home. The school room is one of my favorite places to diffuse! The constituents of doTERRA oils travel right through our olfactory system into our limbic system and promote feelings of peace and tranquility as well as shed unwanted feelings and anxieties. I love to teach others about this in my Essential Oils and the Brain online class. Let me know if you want to take it. Anyway, I love to diffuse uplifting oils like any of the citrus oils, along with peppermint and a wood oil like Cedarwood or Douglas fir. A great recipe I use that I received on one of our product sharing calls is 1 drop of Sandalwood, 1 Drop Frankincense, 1 drop Lavender and 1 Drop Lime. This is a wonderful recipe to diffuse when feeling overwhelmed. I would love to help you get started using doTERRA oils and support you every step of the way. It’s a service I love to give!
Something I love to do when I can is go and get a massage by a professional. Ideally I could get one of these once a week but I don’t see that happening any time soon so I try to get one in once a quarter. I happened to have found a great masseuse at my chiropractor’s office so it’s a double wammy, get a massage and then get adjusted! The perfect duo. Regardless of where you go make sure you are comfortable with the masseuse and that they listen to you. To de-stress you don’t want a strong massage or one that’s painful, you want a relaxing one. A good masseuse will ask you what you prefer and then stick to that. Also, it’s important to note what they are putting on your skin. If they are putting toxic lotions (which they may think are pure and natural) on your body with fragrance then your massage will not be therapeutic. Fragrance can wreak havoc on your hormones, your brain and many of your organs including your skin. Steer clear from synthetic lotions that have fragrance and chemicals in them. My masseuse uses only organic coconut oil for massage and she will use my doTERRA oils as well if I ask her too. She will also allow me to diffuse doTERRA Essential Oils in the massage room. Usually the ones I choose are lavender, Bergamot, Roman Chamomile, Frankincense and sometimes Geranium and/or Balance or Serenity. I will not go to a massage therapist who is not willing to use pure coconut oil. If you can’t tolerate coconut oil then there are other options like shea butter mixed with jojoba oil, etc.
$- $$ Spend Time Doing a Calming Hobby
What do you do for a hobby? Is is reading a good book with a hot cup of tea? Taking photos? Drawing? Coloring? There are so many options of things to do that can extract you out of the current circumstances of your life and help put your mind on something you find enjoyable. I have several things I do that I call hobbies and I find when I schedule in and purpose to put time into these fun things I feel replenished and revived. For me, I enjoy scrapbooking, taking photos, drawing, coloring, writing, reading and cooking. If you can schedule in even one hour per week to put into a hobby, I know you will be uplifted and ready to tackle life as it is.
We talked about the importance of magnesium above and here is another way to get that precious mineral into your body and have an amazing experience at the same time. I had not heard of this until recently but there are places you can go that have Floatation Tank Therapy. It’s basically an environment where sight, sound and touch are removed and there is no stimulation for your body. A huge capsule like tank is filled with water that has hundreds of pounds of Epsom salt in it. The floater (you) would rinse off in the shower, then get in the tank and lay flat on your back in the water. Usually the tanks are around ten inches deep. When floating and the salt water actually keeps you buoyant. You don’t touch the bottom when you are floating and the water is skin temperature. While participating in a float session you have no responsibility and no stimuli. You get to float for an hour and often times fall asleep. Yes, it’s safe to do that. This therapy is great for reducing cortisol levels which will help improve thyroid, immune system, and adrenal health. It’s also great for helping with insomnia and jet lag or getting used to a new time zone. If you want to find a float center near you just google it and I bet one or more will pop up.
This is more of a visual activity that helps you see the state that your brain is in. Generally, you’ll have electrodes placed on your scalp (no hair is removed) and it will measure your brain waves. While your brain waves are being processed there will be a screen that you will see with a visual of what your brain is doing. It could be something like a green dot that gets bigger and bigger the more relaxed state you get in. As you see that visual your body begins to realize what a relaxed state is and over time you may be able to get there quicker. This is a wonderful natural therapy for those with ADD/ADHD, Epilepsy and other brain conditions as well as Autism, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and anger. It can be a bit expensive but during chronic stress or with any of these conditions it will be worth it. This is a fun way to train your brain to unwind and know what it feels like and how to get there.
$$ Heart Math
This technique and tool can really help usher you into a more calm and peaceful state and reduce the effects stress has on your body. It’s fairly simple in how it works. You have a device like a thumb clip or a ear clip that is also attached to your phone or device. The small clips coincide with a heart math app or software that will read your heart rate. It will show visually on your screen what your heart rate is doing. Your heart rate will increase when thinking about something stressful and decrease when your thoughts are focused on something that is peaceful to you. You will be able to see when your rate is high and when it is low from the visual on the screen. This is a way of training your brain and body in its response as well as acknowledge what makes your heart rate change. When you realize what certain thoughts do to your heart rate which in turn changes stress hormone levels, over time, your response will change as you monitor what brings stress and what reduces stress in your life.
$$$ Infrared Sauna
This option is the most costly one I am going to talk about but even outside of chronic stress this investment has tremendous value for improving health. The infrared sauna is a no moisture sauna (great because there can be no mold) that uses infrared rays to penetrate your body and raise your core body temperature. In doing this your body is being aided in cleansing itself, getting rid of toxins, improving liver and kidney function and killing germs that can’t survive high temperatures. In a way it’s sort of like what a fever does. However, it’s not painful like a fever! I like to sit in my hypoallergenic basswood infrared sauna ideally 3-4 times a week. I started at only 10 minutes at 100 degrees and slowly, over many months, worked up to 25 minutes at 130 degrees. I always bring my glass water bottle filled with filtered water and a few drops of doTERRA Lemon or Grapefruit oils in with me and a good book or magazine.Sometimes I even do my Bible study in there. The quiet atmosphere is amazing! It’s like my hideout. I leave my technology out of this one because for me it makes it more relaxing to let go of the screens. After spending time in there I drink 8 ounces of organic coconut water, dry brush my entire body (for lymphatic flow and circulation stimulation) and then take a lukewarm shower (and sometimes an Epsom salt bath.) This routine varies a bit depending on how busy my schedule is but basically that’s how it looks for me when I use the sauna. it has been a wonderful tool in helping me get my health back as well as de-stress.
I understand if you aren’t able to do every single one of these techniques. I would encourage you however to pick a few that you can do and do them. Take baby steps. No one can de-stress overnight but as you place more and more relaxation tools in your life and make them fit you will find health improvement and stave off health problems down the road due to the chronically stressful season you may be in. Remember, this season will pass. In the meantime purpose to focus on stress reducing activities.