Lowering your stress and anxiety levels is essential to good health because it:
- Fosters a sense of contentment and well-being;
- Makes for clearer thinking and better decision-making;
- Enables deeper and more peaceful sleep (which, in turn, further reduces stress levels); and
- Along with better sleep, lower stress and anxiety levels improves memory, brain function and help to ward off symptoms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
Many people suffering from stress and anxiety are taking medications prescribed by a physician. Many of these medications are prescription medicines that relieve the symptoms but, after awhile the amount prescribed isn’t enough to have the same anxiety relieving effect for the patient as it did when the patient began taking the medication. So the dose has to be increased to achieve the same relief from anxiety. The medical and pharmaceutical professionals call this “tolerance”. As you may have guessed, if the amount of the drug is increased, the patient’s body and/or brain begins to demand or crave the drug to be free of anxiety, resulting in dependence.
To avoid the potential for dependence and the need for ever-increasing doses of the prescription anti-anxiety drugs, many people – and their doctors as well as university research teams – are looking to natural substances to relieve stress and anxiety. Some of these natural substances are available in either the basic, raw plant form or in capsule, tablet, powder or liquid form as a supplement. Some refer to the use these natural substances as part of “alternative medicine”, “natural” or “naturopathic medicine”. As the traditional practitioners, particularly doctors with M.D. or D.O. degrees, begin to accept and and adopt the use of supplements formulated from natural ingredients, the terms “complementary medicine” and “integrative medicine’, which mean combining the use of natural supplements with the traditional practices have taken on meaning.
The doctors who recognize the value of incorporating natural supplements into their practice intreating stress and anxiety are not only enhancing their ability to improve the well-being of their patients, but they are helping to take the wind out of the sails of those who accuse the medical profession of being in league with “Big Pharma” by treating anxiety and depressions (and many other ills) with only prescription drugs.
Another plus for natural supplements is they have fewer side effects and those are, most cases, milder. Also, most are not as addictive as other medications, which means you can stop taking them at any time without withdrawal issues. You can find our article on How to Relieve Stress and Anxiety here.
Yoga, Tai Chi or Qi Gong, and Exercise
- Yoga has been found to diminish stress and reduce anxiety levels if done regularly. Yoga practitioners have shown considerable improvement in mood. Thirty-one patients diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, who had no experienced any benefit from their standard pharmacological regimen, practiced a form of yoga called SKY (Sudarshan Kriya Yoga) for 8 weeks. The Conclusion, as reported in the peer-reviewed journal, stated, in part, “In particular, changes in worry and body symptoms showed significant improvements . . .’1 Some forms of yoga can be readily adopted by people who are limited due to incapacity or other physical limitations. Nearly all forms of yoga including meditation, another proven way to reduce stress and anxiety. Meditation and its benefits for achieving and maintaining good health are the subject of another article, found here.
- Those who find support in participating with a group of others and enjoy the sociability and affirmation of such participation can usually find yoga classes with trained instructors reasonably close to home. Check the Yellow Pages or Google Maps to search for programs in your locality. The SKY program is considered excellent, is used by public and private schools, corporations, and the 3 day weekend training sessions are offered in various cities. Click this link to learn more: http://skymeditation.org/
- Online yoga classes can be found using search engines. One that offers 30 days free access and has favorable reviews is com: https://yogainternational.com/ Also, there may be good free yoga teaching videos on youtube.com.
- If your best way to learn is “by the book”, there are a number of yoga self-instruction books. The one that stands out on Amazon is Yoga Self-Taught by Andre Van Lysebeth. It has the most reviews and nearly a 5-star rating (4.8). Reviewer comments indicate that it is readable and no previous knowledge of yoga is required.
- Tai Chi or Qigong (pronounced “chee-gong”) are East Asian practices similar to aerobics, in that they use fluid, non-impacting movements. Visitors to China and Korea report seeing large groups of adults of all ages out in the public parks practicing Tai Chi. There are forms of Qigong that can be practiced sitting down. An instructor comes to the senior living apartment complex where I work to lead weekly Qigong sessions. The residents attend faithfully because they say it is relaxing and improves their overall sense of well-being.
- You may not find as many options for learning and practicing Tai Chi or Qigong, as for yoga, in your community, but it is worth checking your Yellow Pages and Google Maps.
- I learned Qigong as demonstrated by Lee Holden from a DVD I bought online. There is a set of morning exercises that get me going and a set of evening exercises which get me yawning at bedtime. You may be able to find a basic set of standing exercises for under $10 on Amazon. If you Google the keywords “Qigong”, “seated”, and “sitting”, you will see several links for videos on YouTube that demonstrate how to take of advantage of the health benefits of Qigoing while sitting in a chair or wheelchair. Online Tai Chi and Qigong courses are offered as well.
- As for books, at opposite ends of the IQ scale you can find “The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart, and Sharp Mind “ and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi & QiGong Illustrated”.
- Exercise is the #2 recommendation for a healthy mind and brain by Daniel Amen, M.D., a prominent, much-published and interviewed psychiatrist and brain specialist.2 (#1 on his list is “Start each day with intention, gratitude, and appreciation”. We’ll have more to say about that later in this article.) In addition to reducing stress and anxiety, Dr. Amen cites the additional benefits to health from regular exercise:
|Improved thinking & focus||Slower aging||Better weight & body fat control|
|Improved sleep||Better lung capacity||Lower risk for diabetes, heart conditions & some cancers|
|Improved immune system||Better mood||Detoxification by sweating|
|Better cardiovascular function & blood pressure levels||Less inflammation||Higher levels of DHEA ( the “fountain of youth” hormone)|
The Mayo Clinic recommends “Do what you love. Virtually any form of exercise or movement can increase your fitness level while decreasing your stress. The most important thing is to pick an activity that you enjoy. Examples include walking, stair climbing, jogging, bicycling, yoga, tai chi, gardening, weightlifting and swimming.3
Dancing is another healthful way to exercise. If you are motivated by having company while exercising, consider joining an aerobics, swimming or other exercise class offered locally, including the YMCA, YWCA, gym or a senior center. Or perhaps you have a neighbor that you’d like to encourage to walk, run, bike, swim, dance, or go to the gym with you.
Meditation and Prayer
In a world that is used to hearing about MEDICATION as a quick solution to nearly every health problem, a word that has only 1 letter of difference, MEDITATION, has come to be recognized by the medical profession as a valuable practice that can be successfully incorporated into every person’s daily routine to enhance his or her health. This is especially true for dealing with stress and anxiety. Meditation is not as quick as popping a pill, and it does take some initial effort and considerable practice, patience and perseverance to realize its benefits, but the improvements in health and peace of mind make meditation definitely worth the effort.
Dr. Amen doesn’t mention prayer or God in his writing of the 7 daily habits that help strengthen the mind and body. However, his recommended #1 daily habit is to focus one’s intention on gratitude and appreciation (along with health and productivity) immediately upon awakening.4 As one who adheres to the Christian worldview that the universe was created by a loving God who intends the best for each of us humans, both prayer and God came immediately to mind. Those who hold this worldview (or any other that recognizes a divine creator) have one to whom to express gratitude and appreciation. There are studies published in peer-reviewed journals that document the effectiveness of meditation and prayer that we’ll report in another article devoted to meditation and prayer.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of talk pyschotherapy that the Mayo Clinic recognizes “can be an effective tool to help anyone learn how to better manage stressful life situations”.5 Many studies indicate that CBT is effective in dealing with stress and anxiety, either alone or along with other treatments. If you have difficulty in getting an appointment with a local therapist, at least one study has indicated that Internet-based Cognitive Therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face sessions with a therapist.6
1 A multicomponent yoga-based, breath intervention program as an adjunctive treatment in patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder with or without comorbidities, 2012, published online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3276935/
2 The Brain Warrior’s Way, Daniel G. Amen, M.D. and Tana Amen, BSN, RN, p. 182
4 The Brain Warrior’s Way, Daniel G. Amen, M.D. and Tana Amen, BSN, RN, p. 180
5 Cognitive behavioral therapy, http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/home/ovc-20186868
6 Internet‐based cognitive behavioural therapy with therapist support for anxiety in adults: a review of the evidence, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072814/