Stress will shorten your life, make you fat, stunt your training results, and make you a poor performer in every area of your life. You MUST minimize your stress if you want to achieve your potential! Use these ten strategies to manage the difficulty caused by living in the modern world.
Tip #1: Strength Train
Strength training is the perfect way to counter the physiologic chronic stress response caused by life because it elevates the body’s natural anti-stress system. It also improves energy use, builds muscle, and makes you feel good.
The cool thing about strength training for stress management is that it lets you get rid of your aggressions, work through problems in your head, but it ALSO enhances the body’s antioxidant system. This is critical to managing psychological and physical stress because it is this system, which centers around the activity of a molecule called glutathione, that will get rid of the factors produced inside the body when you are stressing out that cause damage to cells. Glutathione protects you from the ill effects of everything from inflammatory factors caused by lack of sleep to those produced by excess cortisol or insulin.
For example, one recent study compared a hypertrophy-type with a strength-type training protocol in men for six weeks and found that resting levels of glutathione were much higher in participants at the end of the study than at baseline. Markers of inflammation were lower at the end of the study. Both protocols were equally effectively at elevating glutathione and decreasing the physiological evidence of chronic stress in participants.
Tip #2: Do Yoga
Yoga practice will help minimize sensations of stress and has been proven to elevate glutathione and total antioxidant levels in a number of studies. For example, one study split a group of young men in the Navy into a group that performed yoga a few times a week for six months and a group that did aerobic training. At the end of the study, the group that did yoga had higher glutathione levels, indicating less inflammation and biological stress, and higher total antioxidant levels. The group that did aerobic training had their total antioxidant levels drop significantly from the start of the study, highlighting the fact that steady-state exercise causes stress that will compromise the immune system and health.
Tip #3: Meditate
Just like yoga, mediation provides a safe but structured time to get rid of stress. Interestingly, studies show a regular practice is MORE effective than yoga at lowering the markers of inflammation that damage cells and cause aging.
For example, IL-6, a marker of stress in the body that is elevated in response to sleep deprivation, in situations of high anxiety, and in individuals with financial problems at the poverty line, has been found to be much lower in people who regularly practice meditation than those who practice yoga. Researchers suggest that meditation is so very effective for stress reduction because the yogic breathing that accompanies it helps to clear stress hormones, and elevate the body’s antioxidant system that is driven by glutathione.
Meditation provides a planned time for mental stress reduction, but it also allows people who practice it to develop active skills for reducing stress when they encounter it head on in daily life. Evidence suggests best results with yoga and meditation for stress reduction will come from a planned practice at least a few days a week.
Tip #4: Practice a Martial Art
Martial arts practice has been shown to decrease markers of stress in the body by improving the antioxidant system and raising glutathione. A series of studies have shown that practices including judo, tai chi, tae kwon do, jiu jitsu, soo bahk do, and aikido all decrease stress.
For example, one study took judokas and sedentary men and had them perform a maximal exercise test. The judokas had much high antioxidant status and much less “bad” or oxidative stress following the test than the sedentary men. Researchers don’t know what uniquely sets martial arts, especially a very strenuous one like judo, apart in enabling better stress management and lower physiological stress, but they do note the benefits to be robust. Similar findings have been produced from testing practitioners of all the martial arts mentioned above.
Tip #5: Get A Lot of Omega-3s
Omega-3 fish oils are proven to decrease inflammation in the body and studies suggest they can help you fight the sensations of chronic stress. A series of recent studies have shown omega-3s will elevate glutathione, and they are particularly good at protecting the body when exposed to debilitating physical stress.
For example, one study found that giving omega-3s to rats at birth after they had been exposed to chronic alcohol as fetuses resulted in restored glutathione levels AND brain function. A control group that didn’t receive omega-3s had much lower antioxidant status and brain damage was evident. A second study shows omega-3s can eradicate oxidative stress and raise glutathione after a heart attack.
In addition, there’s robust evidence that the omega-3 DHA is highly effective at decreasing inflammation in the brain, which can lead to better cognitive function and less feelings of psychological stress and depression. Omega-3 supplementation has also been found to decrease the acute stress response from intense strength training, leading to less inflammation post-workout and a faster recovery.
To get stress reduction benefits, take a large dose. Rat studies have shown the best benefits from doses as high as 500 mg/kg of body weight a day. Human studies have always used lower doses, but data indicate as much as nine grams a day to be therapeutic.
Tip #6: Eat Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Antioxidant-rich foods such as berries and leafy green vegetables will increase your glutathione to minimize the effects chronic stress, but not because the antioxidants in these foods actually fight the stress themselves. Rather, antioxidant-rich foods provide nutrients that the body uses to produce enzymes that enable glutathione to be biologically effective for stress reduction. When you have more of these enzymes in your body, an anti-inflammatory or anti-stress cascade is enabled that allows for the removal of stress and better health.
Antioxidant-rich foods include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower), dark green vegetables (kale, collards), berries (strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries), flavanol plants (green tea, cocoa, grape seeds, olives), spices and herbs (turmeric, ginger, boswellia), garlic, onions, grapes, and kiwis.
To actually achieve stress reduction from antioxidant-rich foods you need to eat them every day at every meal. You’ll find that for stress-reduction benefits from any of these tips, you have to make them lifestyle habits that shape your experience.
Tip #7: Drink Green Tea
Green tea is well known for being high in antioxidants and lowering stress. To experience the wonders of green tea for stress reduction, a fairly large amount is needed and you need to get it daily. There are a number of studies that show green tea will increase your total antioxidant level and raise glutathione, especially in people who have very high levels of stress and lots of inflammation. Animal studies show even greater stress reduction benefits from large doses of green tea.
For example a study that gave mice a large green tea dose of 100 mg/kg/bw daily for 15 days prevented a buildup of stress and the corresponding behavioral and cognitive deterioration from extreme swim training. A control group experienced significant anxiety, chronic fatigue, and had high oxidative stress in response to the exercise. Smaller green tea doses countered stress in a dose response manner, but the large dose effectively produced baseline levels of health.
Data suggest that six to seven cups of green tea can provide a general dose of antioxidants, but to alleviate serious stress, consider getting a highly concentrated green tea capsule or liquid.
Tip #8: Perform Self-Guided Imagery
Performing self-guided imagery or positive visualizations is an effective treatment for stress disorders, especially those that manifest in regards to sleep with nightmares and insomnia. A large-scale analysis showed that guided imagery and meditation “seem to be good and effective methods for stress reduction,” and that they are most effective if they favor a mind-body approach. This means you should pay attention to how the certain parts of the body feel during the visualization.
Guided imagery can take on many forms from recalling stress-free experiences, to imagining beautiful places, to performing passive or active muscle relaxation. It makes sense that doing a visualization session with deep breathing would be calming and reduce stress since it allows you to stop anxious thoughts. However, it is different from meditation, which tends to have you focus on the present moment in the here and now.
Tip #9: Do Self-Foot Reflexology
Self-foot reflexology is a form of body work in which you apply pressure to different parts of your feet in a similar way as massage. It is designed to target the reflex areas of the foot to improve energy flow in the body, and it has been shown to significantly reduce perceived stress and fatigue.
In one study, university students were taught to perform reflexology on their feet and then they practiced it in a group setting for one hour three times a week for six weeks. Results showed that the practice reduced stress and fatigue and raised skin temperature, which is thought to indicate lower stress levels. Other studies have shown similar subtle calming benefits from reflexology, and although it hasn’t been shown lower cortisol, it’s reasonable to include a regular self-foot massage or reflexology practice to lower stress, especially if you take the time to do deep breathing and visualization as well.
Tip #10: Laugh A Lot
This one’s no surprise, but it IS highly effective at reducing stress and improving glutathione and the immune system. Studies show genuine laughter can increase natural killer cells, which make you more resistant to disease and stress in the same way high antioxidant levels do.
For example, one study compared natural killer cell levels in women who saw a humorous video with those who saw a tourism video. As a group, the women who saw the funny video had a much greater increase in killer cells than those who saw the tourism video and there was a dose response effect to their laughter—more was better!