Proven, Physical Strategies for Stress Relief

A stressor, among other definitions, is a violation of any law that governs our beings. So, in this article, we will consider physical laws that we often overlook. If we want less stress and superior coping ability, we need to find ways to incorporate these laws into our lives. When we do, the dividends for us (and those that we relate to) will be huge! However, when we don’t, we could end up physically and mentally bankrupt.

Cultivate Regularity

Cultivate regularity for meal timing and your sleep and waking schedules. Chronic disruption of one of the most basic circadian (daily) rhythms — the day/night cycle — leads to weight gain, impulsivity, slower thinking, and other physiological and behavioral changes.1 Chronic light exposure in the middle of the night promotes anxiety-like behavior and makes emotions more difficult to control.2

Melatonin, thyroid stimulating hormone, and the stress hormone cortisol run largely on a circadian (daily) rhythm. Typically in women, the menstrual cycle interacts with the circadian processes to help control the expression of hormonal rhythms and sleep organization at different menstrual phases.

Fatigue occurs three to four hours earlier on an irregular schedule. Disruption of normal rhythms has also been linked to sleep problems, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder. Eating balanced meals on a schedule helps prevent the irritability of hunger and the mental dullness that comes from overeating.

Sleep to Recharge

Sleep and mood are closely connected; poor or inadequate sleep can cause irritability and stress. Chronic insomnia is associated with a substantial increase in the risk of developing a mood disorder. For example, it can increase the risk for depression by five times.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed their normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood.3,4 Sufficient sleep is necessary for self-control. Sleep helps us to avoid impulsive behavior by enabling the front brain to connect better to the pleasure-reward system.5

Do not Spin, but Move!

Exercise increases “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain. For example, thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise can improve mood and well-being for up to 12 hours in individuals with major depression. Exercise outdoors in the sunshine not only supplies vitamin D but increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter essential for a positive outlook. Our muscles become tense when we experience stress. Performing daily stretch exercises improves muscle flexibility and blood flow. Stretch for ten minutes after exercise or take a warm shower.

Exercise helps us to respond to stress better. Consider this study: The neurons of active mice respond differently to stress when compared to the neurons of sedentary mice. The active mice did not immediately leap into an excited state in response to the stressor. Physical activity reorganizes the brain so that the brain’s response to stress is reduce. Consequently, anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal brain function.

At the same time, exercise encourages self control. In the above study, the active mice, when exposed to stress, experienced a boost of activity in inhibitory neurons that are known to keep excitable neurons in check. The neurons in these mice also released more of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. This neurotransmitter helps us and animals to stay focused and calm under stress. The sedentary mouse did not experienced this effect 6 GABA promotes self-control and helps us to focus by tamping down neural excitement.

Caffeine is Not your Friend

Caffeine initially stimulates, then depresses. Studies show that caffeine reduces the threshold for irritability and anger. Additionally, caffeine magnifies the effect of stress on the body. The continual use of caffeine lowers the serotonin level in the brain and reduces G.A.B.A., a brain chemical that helps us to keep calm and focused under stress.7 If you consume caffeinated drinks, reduce your intake gradually until you are completely off of caffeine.

Eat for Strength

Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help boost your physical and emotional health. Go easy on the sugar, and never eat it on an empty stomach. The rapid rise and fall of blood sugar decrease the ability of the brain to focus. Sugar is also bad news for individuals who suffer from chronic pain.

Plant foods are loaded with fiber that helps keep your blood sugar from crashing. A fiber-rich diet helps to populate the gut with friendly bacteria that make compounds which improve the mood and combat inflammation.8

In one study, individuals who consumed ‘unhealthy’ foods (e.g. sweets, cookies, snacks, fast food) experienced more perceived stress (females only) and depressive symptoms (both males and females). In contrast, individuals consuming ‘healthy’ foods (e.g. fresh fruits, salads, cooked vegetables) experienced less perceived stress and less symptoms of depression.9

Consider the results of this large study of 20,200 participants. The daily intake of 5 servings of fruit and vegetables was linked to lower psychological distress.10

A deficiency in any of the B vitamins (but especially vitamin B-12) and omega-3 fats impairs the chemistry of the brain. Flaxseed, chia, soybeans, and spinach are good sources of omega-3 fats.

Enjoy a Neutral Tub Bath

This hydrotherapy treatment relaxes the body while sedating the nervous system. Be sure the room is warm. The water temperature should be maintained between 94-97 degrees F. The bath should last between 15 minutes to an hour. Place an air pillow under the head for comfort, if needed, and cover any exposed area with a light towel.

Sip Stress-Relieving Herbs

  • Garlic helps to reduce psychosomatic complaints, reduces levels of some stress hormones, and bolsters the immune system (contraindicated with low blood pressure and bleeding problems). Another benefit: Garlic also helps to reduce some of the deleterious effects of stress on the immune system.11,12
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and passion flower reduce/ relieve acute anxiety. Seville orange (sour orange) also helps.13 Passion flower promotes sleep.
  • Milk thistle, ashwagandha (Indian ginseng), Rhodiola rosea (golden root), lemon balm, and sour oranges help to reduce chronic anxiety.14,15

Do not mix herbs with medicine and do not take medicinal amounts of herbs if you have a medical condition, unless you consult a pharmacist first!

Listen to Natural Sounds

Hearing the rustling of trees, the singing of birds, or a babbling brook reduces stress, promotes relaxation and a sense of well-being, and helps to get the mind off of stress.16

© 2018 – 2020, Wildwood Sanitarium. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.


  1. Society for Neuroscience. “Disruption Of Circadian Rhythms Affects Both Brain And Body, Mouse Study Finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 October 2009.
  2. Ikeno T. Chronic Light Exposure in the Middle of the Night Disturbs the Circadian System and Emotional Regulation. Journal of Biorythms 2016. April 13.
  3. Dinges, D. et al., Cumulative Sleepiness, Mood Disturbance, and Psychomotor Vigilance Decrements During a Week of Sleep Restricted to 4 – 5 Hours Per Night, Sleep. 1997.
  4.…/mood, Dec. 15, 2008
  5. Pedersen, Traci, Missed Sleep Jolts Mood, Impairs Decision-Making, Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood and Well-Being in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder, March 26, 2011
  6. Princeton University. “Exercise reorganizes the brain to be more resilient to stress.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 July 2013.
  7. Gupta, B.S. and Gupta, Uma, Caffeine, and Behavior: Current Views and Research Trends, CRC Press, 1999.
  9. El Ansari. Food and mental health: relationship between food and perceived stress and depressive symptoms among university students in the United Kingdom. Cent Eur J Public Health. 2014 Jun; 22(2):90-7.
  10. Richard A. Associations between fruit and vegetable consumption and psychological distress: results from a population-based study. BMC Psychiatry. 2015 Oct 1; 15:213.
  11. Lau, Benjamin, MD. Garlic for Health. Lotus Press. 1989.
  12. Kyo E. Prevention of psychological stress-induced immune suppression by aged garlic extract. Phytomedicine. 1999 Nov;6(5):325-30.
  13. Sarris J. Plant-based medicines for anxiety disorders, part 2: a review of clinical studies with supporting preclinical evidence. CNS Drugs. 2013 Apr; 27(4):301-19.
  14. Elham Alramadhan. Dietary and botanical anxiolytics. Med Sci Monit. 2012; 18(4): RA40–RA48.
  15. Sarris J. Plant-based medicines for anxiety disorders, part 2: a review of clinical studies with supporting preclinical evidence. CNS Drugs. 2013 Apr; 27(4):301-19.
  16. Cassandra D. Gould. Mind-wandering and alterations to default mode network connectivity when listening to naturalistic versus artificial sounds. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 45273 DOI: 10.1038/srep45273

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