Ditch the Xanax

7 Sustainable Stress Remedies

Got a headache? There’s a pill for that. Not sure what to be when you grow up? There’s a pill for that. Is your boss always judging your outfit? There’s a pill for that. Welcome to prozac nation, kids! Join us for the low-low price of Blue-Cross, Blue-Shield and all of your human coping skills. Sounds like a fair trade, am I right?

If you’re one of the estimated bazillion Americans (official stats, y’all) who battle anxiety, you may be willing to do whatever it takes to find relief. I don’t blame you. It’s survival mode! For most Americans, the first line of defense is prescription medication. It’s fast, it’s powerful, and it’s often the only solution we’ve ever known to be available.

Unfortunately, these potent chemicals are detrimental to our body and disrupt our emotional stability. Not to mention, this ‘band-aid’ depletes confidence in our ability to handle problems on our own. What if I told you there were plenty of harmless, even dually beneficial alternatives to those psyche-shifting, chemical-laden, anti-anxiety pharma snacks we tend to pop like tic tacs? Well, it doesn’t matter, I’m going to tell you anyway.

These wholesome remedies will have you feeling easy breezy before you can say “sleeve of oreos”.

1. Endorphins on the Rocks
It’s the most obvious solution, but exercise helps ease anxiety in more ways than one. You can physically expend the excess energy that’s building up in your body as a result of anxiousness. Try sprinting a mile and tell me if you have any energy left to worry about something other than snacks and naps! A good place to land.

Also, exercise releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine in the brain. These neurotransmitters are like little keys that can inhibit the production of high-stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). Don’t forget the feel-good psychological benefits like a sense of accomplishment, empowerment, and pride for working hard!

2. Diaphragm Off-Switch
Your nervous system has two modes: Fight or Flight, and Rest and Digest. When we panic, or sense danger, we trigger our physical Fight or Flight response. Your heart races. Breath is quick and shallow. You hyper-focus on the situation, distancing yourself from reality. Blood pools into major muscle groups and organs used to run. Now you’re lightheaded.

Sound familiar? Kind of like a panic attack? It is. For a quick antidote, practice intentional breathing. Pull the air deep into your belly, low and slow. Keep your chest still and imagine the breath filling your hips. Let your tummy relax out as your diaphragm expands.

The opposite of panic symptoms! Your body knows you can’t run for your life in this state, so you must be safe. Deep breathing is a muscle memory that tells your body you are no longer in danger. Your adrenaline will stop pumping and you can settle back into Rest and Digest mode.

3. Take 3 Giggles by mouth, Twice Daily
You might not be in the mood for laughter in the middle of an anxiety flood. Or you may have trouble finding humor in the scenario, so keep a few backups on hand!

Bookmark a few links to your favorite comedian, bloopers of your favorite sitcom, or video clips of friends and family that always make you giggle, and keep easy access. You’ll remember that things aren’t always so serious, and that it feels so much better to be at ease!

We get stuck in the momentum of negativity. Have a little chuckle and, “Oh yeah! Joy feels so much better. I’ll stay here”. Plus, it’s hard to laugh and be angry at the same time. You may break your tension and relieve some pressure from the situation.

4. Fuel Me Up, Scotty!
The foods we consume have a huge impact on us. They affect our body, of course, but our moods as well! Many super-foods have effective mood-boosting qualities. Foods like cashews, dark chocolate, and Maca can inspire dopamine production and regulate existing hormones.

Plus, a malnourished body means your immune system is working overtime. This means your body is already in a state of stress, leaving you tired and irritable. Now you are much more susceptible to erratic behavior, mood swings, panic attacks, and more.

Cut out the chemicals! Most of the foods we consume contain harsh chemicals that disrupt our own fragile ecosystem. This creates imbalances in delicate hormonal partners, like dopamine and cortisol. Hello, mood swings! Erratic moods can take us a step further into the hormone hurricane, leading us to self-soothe with choices that are unfavorable to our health (read: tequila, donuts, a skimping on sleep). Begin cycle.

5. Plan of (No Panic) Attack
People who experience anxiety are often responding to the lack of perceived control. We lose our sense of control when we lack options and choices. Try a “week of awareness” and take note of any events or situations that triggered anxiety.

Examine your triggers and figure out what kind of preparation was missing, that left you high and dry. Or high and sweaty, in this case. Now you can create an action plan to schedule those preparations in your week. Ah, even more control. Yummy, right?

6. Gain Perspective
Here comes that word again: Cortisol! It’s produced in our bodies when we are in a high stress situations. It helps us survive by optimizing the performance of our life-saving functions by pulling resources from everywhere else. By robbing Peter to pay Paul, some organs have suped-up function that give us the best chance to outrun Tigger. Think “pedal-to-the-metal” burnout. This means the other, non-emergency organs are depleted (case and point, the Uterus). As you can guess, this emergency state should be a very brief and rare occurrence, only when we need to escape from a wild animal or a terrible boss.

It’s not rare in our culture, though. We are in a consistent state of high stress all day long, that our body is not designed to handle. No wonder we are in overdrive! Our body doesn’t know the difference between a big presentation at work, or outrunning a cheetah. It only knows that we are in a threatening environment, because that’s what we see so that’s the message we send. When our body hears, “oh shit!” it’s the same response no matter what.

Adjusting our perspective can help alleviate some of this panic. Ground yourself by looking at the big-picture. Think about your most important goals and values. What matters most in your life? Now, how does this networking event compare? Is your co-worker’s opinion of you worth all the energy and peace your are sacrificing for it?

Also, try placing the stressor in a large-scale context. For example, “it’s only one day out of the year, it won’t be so bad” or “I’ve done so well on my last 6 assignments. Even if this one isn’t perfect, it won’t make or break my career”.

Recall obstacles or struggles you’ve overcome in the past and the tactics or solutions you used. Are any of those tactics applicable now? Remember, you’ve overcome every difficult obstacle in your life thus far. This will be no different.

7. Anti-Rejuvenation Nation
Sleep is crucial in keeping the immune system cranking, alongside nutrition. But it’s also important to rejuvenate yourself in active ways, too. Set aside time for activities you enjoy, no matter how small. Give yourself a break from the intensity of your daily grind.

We can get comfortable with the momentum of a hustle-and-bustle lifestyle. Soon, it becomes the “norm” and we lose the ability to recognize the intensity. When we dub this lifestyle as acceptable, we become insensitive to the need for change. Our stress levels stay elevated for weeks at a time until we boil over into a full-blown panic attack.

Set aside specific time, guilt free, in your schedule to slow down, enjoy your time, and re-calibrate. Plan the activities ahead of time to avoid the guilty feeling of “hanging around” or “pooping out”. You’ll be less likely to skip out.

Plus, you won’t catch yourself in last minute panic and the “I have no choice but to keep working” thought stream. If you plan for these breaks, you can manage the rest of the week to allow for the rest.

We need a relative zero (a low-end range for comparison) for intensity levels. Then we can recognize the contrast when we get too wound up!
Shift your focus to meaningful areas of your life, and get a change of scenery. This will give perspective. Spend time with family and friends. Create art. Play outdoors. Reconnect with old hobbies. You may find that your Friday deadline doesn’t carry the same importance anymore.

Problems seem bigger when they are the only thing we can see, so don’t get trapped in your environment. Ever heard the phrase “it’s a small world, after all”? They lied.

The Sparknotes

Give it a shot! Some remedies might work, some won’t. You will still benefit from the action. Conscious steps toward well-being can start us down the path toward peace, no matter what they are. Take ownership of your body and your circumstances. This can help ease anxiety by increasing sense of control.

Another perk, no side effects! Plus, many of these practices will have a positive effect in neighboring facets of our life. You may notice improved productivity, relationships, physical appearance, ambition, motivation, and more. You have nothing to lose except stress. Ready? Set… live!

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Allison M

Allison M

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Holistic Wellness Expert: Certified Coach in Habit Change, Functional Nutrition, Cognitive Behavior, Achievement Psychology, and Therapeutic Exercise.