By Olivia Janisch

The way that we approach and move through stress in our lives can be incredibly healing or incredibly draining. Challenges exist to make us grow, not because life is unfair. Life, for those of us in the developed world, should not be a struggle. Creating a routine and a mindset that promotes proactive stress management can drastically improve your quality of life. Not only does it create the space for you to enjoy the beauty of existence, it adds joyful years to your life and makes you a much more balanced and kind human being.

We do not have to be victims of stressful situations. Use the following recommendations to pragmatically manage your stress, and they will do wonders for your mental and emotional health.

1. Eat protein and omega-3 rich foods

Our brains are full of neurotransmitters that, when released, naturally enhance our happiness, relaxation, sleep, memory, and sex drive. Over time, factors such as diet, emotional unrest, and life in general deplete our natural reserves of these neurotransmitters. That’s why it’s essential our diets support the production of them.

Neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA, serotonin and acetylcholine are made of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. In order to have healthy levels of neurotransmitters its important we eat quality sources of protein. This includes high fat salmon and grass fed beef, but also vegetarian sources of protein such as hemp seeds, leafy greens, avocado and quinoa.

Additionally, quality sources of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce anxiety and stress in individuals. Because the brain is made of 80% fat, it’s critical we nourish our bodies with good fat to feed the brain. This means eating walnuts, flax seeds, olive oil, clarified butter, and fish oil. A diet rich in omega-3s and high quality protein will strengthen the brain’s inherent ability to cope well with stressful situations and creates a strong foundation for emotional and mental health.

2. Recognize that negative thoughts are not real

The only thing to be afraid of is the lies of the neurotic mind.

Unless there is a tangible threat such as a tornado howling or viscous animal stalking you, most of the time danger is a product of the mind. Worry, stress and anxiety are all symptoms of the creation of things or situations that don’t exist and probably will never exist. Learn to let go of this mindset. Choose what reality you want to live in. Practice healing, nurturing and valid thoughts that support your mental health and that don’t debilitate you.

3. Breathe

Deep breathing is extremely good for your nervous system and mental wellness. When we’re relaxed, and especially when we’re in REM sleep, we breathe deeply and easily. By breathing deeply when you’re stressed, you actively send a message to the brain to tell it that everything is ok. This reduces production of the stress hormone cortisol, lowers blood pressure, and tells the body to chill. By breathing deep into our stomachs, we consciously signal to our bodies and brains to relax and actively rreverse the body’s natural response to stress.

Yoga is an excellent way to use breath to reduce stress. Yoga is the act of getting into challenging positions and then breathing through it, working to remain calm and staying confident that the pose will end at some point. Because the body has only one response to stress, we actively recalibrate our entire response to any stressful situation when we practice.

4. Nourish your sleep

Insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. With the majority of Americans suffering from sleep issues, it’s no wonder we have such mental instability.

Sleep is the one way our bodies are able to shut down, reboot, and do maintenance in areas we’re depleted. Without sufficient sleep, we can’t function at optimal levels. This leads us to turn to stimulants like caffeine and energy drinks, which results in an even bigger toll on the quality of our sleep.

Try the following tips to get better sleep:

-       Reduce electronics an hour before bed

-       Don’t drink caffeine or stimulants after 3:00

-       Develop an evening routine including breathing, journaling, drinking tea, or just having quiet time 15 minutes before bed

-       Eat omega rich foods

-       Reduce sugar – high blood sugar interferes with sleep

-       Try melatonin, a sleep inducing hormone made naturally in our bodies

-       Go to bed at the same time every night, wake up at the same time

-       Eat magnesium and calcium rich foods and/or take supplements

-       Eat potassium rich foods like bananas and coconut water to relax muscles

By consciously managing stress we’re able to enjoy so much more in life. Next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, work to be aware and seek to move through it balanced and grounded. Eat foods that support your mental health, know that nothing lasts forever, and remember to appreciate everything good in your life.

Photo by SCHICKA

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