4. Drop stressful “de-stressors”
One person’s de-stressor is another person’s toxin. Driving to a gym, circling for a parking space, pumping iron and returning to a ticketed car, for example, isn’t my idea of relaxing. Erin Munroe had a similar experience. “I was taking hot yoga at 5 a.m. to help me chill out. It was all type-A people and very competitive. The class made me crazy; I would get mad that someone could do a Tree pose better than me. Now I take hatha yoga with people in sweatpants and I’ve realized I don’t need to exercise 9,000 hours a week.”
5. De-stress your diet
Even if we can’t change the traffic or long work hours that shred our nervous systems, we can change habits that frazzle them. For instance, I love coffee. But adding stimulants to my body is like adding rocket fuel: I orbit all night. So, I limit myself to one cup, switch to black tea after that and sleep like the stress-free baby I’m not. That’s an approach Terry Courtney, M.P.H., L.Ac., dean of the School of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at Bastyr University, advises for her frazzled clients. Caffeine stimulates the same stress hormones—cortisol and adrenaline—you’re trying to reduce. And sugar offers an energy rush, soon followed by fatigue as your blood sugar drops. “You’re left without resources for building energy on your own,” says Courtney. “Caffeine also interrupts sleep, so you wake up tired—wanting more caffeine and sugar.” But Courtney doesn’t recommend going cold turkey, knowing she’d give a coffee lover like me the shakes. “Just look at your patterns and see what’s reasonable,” she says.
6. Supplement your stress
Take a good multivitamin, one that includes a B vitamin complex with folate, says Donna Bryant Winston, R.N., an herbalist and nurse at Donegan Clinic in Bethlehem, Pa. “These vitamins help in the production of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which relieve anxiety.” Vitamin B-rich foods include whole grains, nuts, dried fruits and eggs. Folate helps stabilize our mood and can be found in dark leafy green vegetables and beans. Turkey contains an amino acid called L-tryptophan, which also helps increase serotonin levels and calm us. Saunders also recommends magnesium. “It’s probably the best supplement for calming the nervous system overall,” she says. “It’s very alkalizing—and the more alkaline the system, the more resistant the body is to illness and stress. To alkalize the body, limit highly acidic foods (coffee, alcohol, meat and sugar) and load up on highly alkaline foods (vegetables and fruit).