Taking active steps to beat stress and calm your nervous system is essential for fat loss, not to mention optimal health. However, even if you are doing everything right to modulate cortisol, there may still be moments of crisis, exams, deadlines, meetings or presentations that send your heart racing out of your chest and your stress levels through the roof. Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to take the edge off in any situation.
Breathe: Sounds simple right? We do it all the time. However during time of stress most of us take rapid, shallow breaths from our upper torso. Abdominal breathing is a much healthier, more relaxing way to breathe. Just four deep belly breaths will also trick your body into a relaxation response and get you out of that flight-or-fight mode so common with stress. Best of all, you can be right at your desk. Simply inhale for four seconds (while expanding your stomach like you are filling up a balloon) and then exhale for four seconds. Pause for two seconds before the next inhale and repeat then repeat the process as many times as you need (for a minimum of four).
Go for a massage: We know that the cortisol and adrenalin we produce when we’re under stress are destructive to our body tissues, immune system and adrenal glands when they are present in high amounts for long periods of time. A study from the International Journal of Neuroscience (October 2005) found that massage increases endorphin release, which is excellent for treating pain, depression and anxiety. It helps ease activity in the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and increases our parasympathetic response (rest and relax). So beyond simply feeling good while you are on the table, massage has definite physiological benefits. If you work in a busy downtown core you may just be able to find someplace that offers short, seated 15 – 20 minute massages that you can get on your lunch hour.
Milk protein: Regardless of whether the stress you experience is physical, emotional, psychological or environmental, milk protein hydrolysate (also known as Lactium) is documented to prevent the associated rise in cortisol by calming your brain’s stress pathway. This product can be used to address all types of sleep disruption and to reduce the harmful effects of sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety or depression. My patients consistently report that it simply “takes the edge off.” Metagenics makes a tasty lozenge version called NuSera, while Biotics Research makes a capsule called De-stress. Take one up to three times in a day during periods of anxiety or occasional stress (75mg – 300mg per day).
Zenbev: Specially formulated from powdered pumpkin seeds, Zenbev can be taken during the day or in the evening to provide a powerful source of tryptophan, a precursor for serotonin and melatonin. Not too long ago they came out with RestBites, which are handy chews you can keep in your purse or bag and use as needed. Consume as directed on the label.
Rescue Remedy: Not unlike its namesake, this natural formula is developed to take your anxiety level down a few notches. It contains five flower essences: Rock rose to alleviate terror and panic, impatiens to mollify irritation and impatience, clematis to combat inattentiveness, star of Bethlehem to ease shock, and cherry plum to calm irrational thoughts. A 2007 study conducted by researchers at the University of Miami School of Nursing in conjunction with The Sirkin Creative Living Center (SCLC) has found that Rescue Remedy is an effective over-the-counter stress reliever with a comparable effect to traditional pharmaceutical drugs yet without any of the known adverse side effects. Take 4 – 20 drops or 1 -2 lozenges of Rescue Remedy under your tongue and repeat as needed, but not more often than every hour.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is naturally highest in our adrenal glands, and research suggests that just 20 minutes of stress can deplete our vitamin C stores! While it doesn’t necessarily have a calming effect like the aforementioned recommendations, it will help your body handle times of stress better. Ensure your vitamin C contains bioflavonoids, which enhance the activity of vitamin C in the body. Take 2,000 to 6,000 mg per day for stress protection and immune support.
B vitamins: Stressed or fatigued individuals should take extra B vitamins, especially vitamin B5, which helps the body adapt to stress and supports adrenal gland function. B vitamins are water soluble and are easily depleted with perspiration and stress. Take 200 to 500 mg of vitamin B5 and/or 50 to 100 mg of B6 every day. These are often available in combination. I advise my patients to keep a bottle at the office and use during anxiety-ridden, high deadline days.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and her newest release, The Supercharged Hormone Diet, now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.