How to Handle Stress and Lower Anxiety

Stress can hurt your immune system, disrupt sleep, and change your overall health. Learn how to handle stress.
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How can you not feel stressed and panicked? The news loves to keep us in a constant state of slight fear. So many people concentrate on the small percentage of things going wrong in this world and fail to recognize all that is still amazing!  I am not saying to put your head in the sand and act like evil doesn’t exist but there should be a healthy balance where it doesn’t control us.

Don’t let your stress and anxiety get out of control. Let’s take a look at the complications that stress and anxiety can cause. We’ll also discuss the best ways to lower stress.

Despite the bad publicity it gets, stress is essential. It’s what kept our ancestors alert and alive. When our bodies get stressed, they enter a fight-or-flight mode. Certain hormones such as adrenaline spike, increasing our awareness of our surrounding to make the best choices for survival.

This is a pretty handy skill when you’re running from wild animals. But in the modern day, the stress response is happening all the time without a real threat to run from, and this can cause harm to your health.

Increases Catabolic Hormones: Stress increases levels of a hormone called cortisol. A natural part of optimal health in small doses, cortisol can become catabolic when it’s produced in excess. This means that it will break down muscle tissue and disrupt proper insulin production. Learning how to lower cortisol levels begins with how you respond to stress. More on that below. [1]

Weakens Immunity: While short-term stress doesn’t hurt your immunity, chronic or long-term stress can cause a number of health complications. Strain on hormone production, digestion, and cardiovascular health are a few examples. All of these systems play an essential role in your immune response. [2][3]

Learn more about how to increase your immunity.

Sleep Disruption: Stress hormones like adrenaline make you alert and focused. They are not ideal for sleep. If you’re suffering from chronic stress, you might find it difficult to get to sleep or stay sleep through the night. Long term, this could lead to insomnia and all of the side effects related to it. [4]

How do you deal with stress? There are proper ways to cope with stress and then there are destructive ways that seem like a good idea but only make things worse. Let’s take a look at the healthiest ways to lower stress, according to science.

The easiest way to lower stress levels is by cutting back or eliminating stimulants such as caffeine and depressants such as alcohol. Caffeine, in particular, will lengthen and worsen the stress response by elevating blood pressure and ramping up stress hormone production. [5]

What you eat is the key to altering your physical fitness and appearance, but it also influences what happens behind the scenes. Unhealthy diets, such as those with high levels of sugar, processed foods, and trans-fat, can weaken your immune response. Choose natural and whole food options with a big focus on vegetables and fruits while avoiding sugar and limiting your intake of processed foods. [6]

Studies show individuals who exercise report lower levels of stress and anxiety in their daily life. What’s more, exercise also improves sleep quality and duration, or the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. This can help if your stress keeps you awake at a night.

The Center for Disease Control recommends either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise, or a combination of both. [7][8]

The mindful breathing that takes place during meditation and yoga has been shown time and time again to reduce levels of stress.  [9]

There are several herbal-based ingredients that have been shown to decrease stress including the following:

Kava: Shown to act as a natural anti-anxiety remedy. You can drink it as a tea or in supplement form. [10]

Ashwagandha: An adaptogen that improves your body’s response to stress while minimizing antioxidative damage. [11]

Lemon Balm: A member of the mint family, lemon balm is used in aromatherapy and as a supplement to promote calmness.[12]

Whether you’re watching television or scrolling your feed on Facebook, talk of the coronavirus is everywhere! It’s so easy to fall into the trap of only focusing on the negative events happening right now. With that said, it’s essential that you develop and practice the skill of looking at the bigger picture.

Take a few deep breaths, step back, and remember that this is one event in a long timeline. You have dealt with worse things. Those events passed and this will too.

It can seem difficult to laugh at a time like this, but positivity and laughter have never been more important for your health. Here are a few ways to embrace positive interactions:

  • Surround yourself with positive people (even if it’s only over the phone or FaceTime)
  • Turn off the news (stay informed as much as you need to) and turn on a funny movie or comedy special
  • Take a long break from social media
  • Repeat affirmations to start your day – For example: “Today is going to be great.”
  • Take time to laugh, especially with your friends and family

  1. Boudarene M, Legros JJ, Timsit-Berthier M. Study of the stress response: role of anxiety, cortisol and DHEAs. Encephale. 2002 Mar-Apr;28(2):139-46.
  2. Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004;130(4):601–630. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601.
  3. Konturek PC, Brzozowski T, Konturek SJ. Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011 Dec;62(6):591-9.
  4. Kim EJ, Dimsdale JE. The effect of psychosocial stress on sleep: a review of polysomnographic evidence. Behav Sleep Med. 2007;5(4):256–278. doi:10.1080/15402000701557383.
  5. Lane JD, Pieper CF, Phillips-Bute BG, Bryant JE, Kuhn CM. Caffeine affects cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activation at work and home. Psychosom Med. 2002 Jul-Aug;64(4):595-603.
  6. Childs CE, Calder PC, Miles EA. Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1933. Published 2019 Aug 16. doi:10.3390/nu11081933.
  7. De Moor MH, Beem AL, Stubbe JH, Boomsma DI, De Geus EJ. Regular exercise, anxiety, depression and personality: a population-based study. Prev Med. 2006 Apr;42(4):273-9. Epub 2006 Jan 24.
  8. Kline CE. The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: Implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvement. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2014;8(6):375–379. doi:10.1177/1559827614544437.
  9. “Meditation: In Depth.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2 Jan. 2019,
  10. Feltenstein MW, Lambdin LC, Ganzera M, Ranjith H, Dharmaratne W, Nanayakkara NP, Khan IA, Sufka KJ. Anxiolytic properties of Piper methysticum extract samples and fractions in the chick social-separation-stress procedure. Phytother Res. 2003 Mar;17(3):210-6.
  11. Pratte MA, Nanavati KB, Young V, Morley CP. An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Dec;20(12):901-8. doi: 10.1089/acm.2014.0177.
  12. Weeks BS. Formulations of dietary supplements and herbal extracts for relaxation and anxiolytic action: Relarian. Med Sci Monit. 2009 Nov;15(11):RA256-62.

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