Six Ways to Slash Stress for Health and Immunity
There’s a funny story circulating that goes something like this:
Doctor: Due to a virus circulating in society, you have two options: A or B. Option A means staying at home with your spouse and kids all day for the next two months—
Patient: OK, I'll take Option B.
Unfortunately, for most of us these days, there is no Option B. Parents are working at home with the kids underfoot, and, at the same time, health, jobs, and finances are at risk. It's an understatement to call these stressful times.
When you’re feeling stressed, your body releases more of the hormone cortisol to provide you with a burst of energy. This is helpful when you’re facing a sudden threat, like a car coming at you, as cortisol revs up the body's fight-or-flight responses to the threat, and you are able to respond more quickly.
The trouble comes when you’re feeling stressed over a long period of time, causing cortisol levels to stay heightened. A few things happen when this long exposure to cortisol takes place. First, it can make you less sensitive to the surge in cortisol, which means that you don’t experience the benefits of a cortisol boost when you need it. Second, it leads to physical stress when the fight-or-flight response stays active continually. Your blood pressure may rise, your breathing may be heavier, your pulse quicken, and other physiological markers go out of balance. All these short-term changes may be great when you need to fight a tiger, but not so good for the body when it becomes stuck in a long exposure mode. When you’re stressed out on a long-term basis, it takes an emotional toll and suppresses your immune system.
Ayurveda offers valuable insights to keep your stress levels low, create better health, and in turn maintain strong immunity. Here are six ways to reduce stress the Ayurvedic way.
1. Make Exercise a Habit.
Physical activity of all kinds has the ability to lower the stress response. Aerobic exercise cuts cortisol and adrenaline, the body’s stress hormones. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, known for their mood-elevating effects. The runner’s high and feelings of calm, relaxation, and optimism after exercise are direct results of these neurological changes. According to the Mayo Clinic, even the mild stretching exercises of yoga can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and normalize heart rate. Yoga, which is one of the sub branches of Ayurveda, actually stimulates the marma points in the body (similar to acupuncture points but less invasive), and thus brings balance to the system. This explains one of the reasons why yoga can be so fulfilling mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Ayurveda recommends exercising on a daily basis to keep your mind-body system in balance. Try walking first thing in the morning, just as the sun is coming up. Gentle yoga postures, stretching, weights, cycling, hiking, and running are all helpful, as long as your doctor feels it's good for you. Try exercising at the same time every day, so it becomes a habit.
2. Sleep Like Your Health Depends on It.
Getting adequate sleep not only helps us handle stress, it is also essential for immunity. Studies show that people who get enough sleep (7-8 hours) and a good quality of deep sleep are less likely to get sick, and if they do, they recover faster. According to Dr. Erik Olson at the Mayo Clinic, during sleep your body releases proteins called cytokines that are essential for fighting infection. When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system’s arsenal of cytokines declines, leaving you more vulnerable to attack.
Many traditional systems of health care, such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, emphasize the regenerative effects of sleep on the body and describe the different quality of sleep during different times of the night. In Ayurveda, the first key is to go to bed during the slow, heavy, Kapha time of night, which lasts from 6 pm to 10 pm. In other words, if you’re asleep before 10, your sleep will be deeper. This is in contrast to the active Pitta time of night, from 10 pm to 2 am. If you fall asleep after 10 pm, your sleep may take on more of the restless, active, Pitta quality, and you may even find yourself getting up for a snack at a time when your digestive system needs to rest and cleanse itself of impurities.
Your wake-up time is the other key in the Ayurvedic sleep clock. —It’s healthier to wake up at sunrise, generally around 6:00 a.m., during the light, bright, Vata time of morning, which lasts from 2 am to 6 pm. If you sleep late, after the sun has risen well into the next Kapha cycle, you may feel dull and have trouble falling asleep at night.
3. Eat Foods that Nourish Your Brain and Body.
Nourishing foods build resistance to stress. Many people reach for junk foods and snacks when feeling stressed. Yet eating a lot of sugar and empty carbs can end up making you feel even more stressed.
With more time on your hands, it’s the perfect moment to focus on healthy meals. Favor fresh vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and lean protein. Choose warm, cooked foods with mild spices and healthy oils such as ghee and olive oil. Eating a variety of vegetables and fruits supplies the brain with needed nutrients to fight stress.
Stick to a schedule of three meals a day, and aim to eat at the same time every day. Ayurveda emphasizes that a regulated routine helps digestion. Eat only after the previous meal has been digested and only if you feel hungry. If you find that you are not hungry for your next meal, try eating less at the previous meal.
It’s also important to eat according to the seasons, as changes in climate affect digestion. For instance, digestion can be slower in the damp, cool, spring season, so favor lighter fare such as cooked greens, warm soups, and spices such as ginger, cumin, and black pepper. Avoid heavy, cold foods like ice cream or dense desserts like cheesecake. Learn more about your Ayurvedic body type and foods that are balancing for you here.
4. Supplement to Relieve Stress.
Worry Free is a powerful, synergistic, and effective formula that calms the mind and emotions, supports deeper sleep, helps relieve feelings of anxiousness, and provides natural relief from everyday tension and stress. It contains the adaptogens ashwagandha and jatamansi, as well as other powerful herbs.
One of our customers, Megan S., says “Worry Free is my favorite herbal supplement. It works quickly to help give peace of mind, has no side effects (at least for me), and is non-addictive. I have taken it both on a daily basis as well as as-needed. I highly recommend this product.”
Worry Free Tea is a delicious herb, mint, and spice blend formulated to help stabilize the emotions, calm the mind, and soothe frayed nerves.
Stress Free Emotions provides natural resistance to emotional stress and fatigue, reducing anger and frustration. At the same time it promotes emotional balance, positive feelings, and a sense of fulfillment. It contains 97 percent organic ingredients, including arjuna, amla, and ashwagandha. This formula is a go- to product for Type A personalities.
“Having such busy lives accumulates so much stress and frustration,” says Miguel S., another customer. “This product keeps me positive and full of energy.”
5. Connect with Friends or Family Daily.
As parents are adjusting to working at home, homeschooling kids, and preparing more meals than ever before, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed. Yet many families are finding that spending more time together can be an unexpected bonus.
“It’s more like life was in my childhood,” says Cathy, a mother of two. “We’re not rushing off to our after-school activities, so we have time to play board games or take a long walk together in the evening.”
According to Erin Leonard, Ph.D., a practicing psychotherapist and the author of three books on relationships and parenting, finding ways to laugh together is especially important. “Laughter significantly decreases depression, anxiety, physical pain, medical problems, and it helps kids sleep deeply and more restfully,” she says. “Parents should laugh with their kids every day.” Have the kids create their own fun art, find entertaining videos on Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, etc., and share them with the family. The family that laughs together can weather any storm.
And of course, it’s also stressful to shelter in place alone. If you can’t be with your family or friends, connecting digitally on Zoom, Facetime, or other online platforms can be a lifesaver. Loneliness can lower immunity and accelerate aging, so it’s important to be proactive about connecting. Many people are taking courses and exercise classes online, while teenagers are meeting online daily for games and hanging out together. Others are re-connecting with friends and family they haven’t seen in years. That’s good for keeping stress away.
6. Take Time for Your Inner Life.
Meditation dissolves stress. If you’re now working from home, skipping the commute could leave you with extra time. Whether it is the Transcendental Meditation technique or your prefered meditation, it’s a perfect opportunity to dive deep within and get regular with your meditation practice morning and evening.
“Before Transcendental Meditation, I felt a lot of anxiety about the future,” says Ivana Kurtz, a schoolteacher and mom from Minneapolis. “I was restless and didn’t sleep well. Since starting TM, I’m much calmer and don’t concern myself as much with what is going to happen tomorrow. There’s an ease that wasn’t there before, and I sleep much better.”
Research backs up Ivana’s experience. In one meta-analysis of 146 independent studies conducted at Stanford and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology*, the TM technique was found to be twice as effective as other techniques for curbing stress and anxiety. Other studies show that meditation helps normalize sleep and even lowers blood pressure.
Read more about the The Maharishi Ayurveda and Transcendental Meditation Connection.
© Copyright 2019 Maharishi Ayurvedic Products International, Inc. (MAPI). All Rights Reserved. MAPI does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. See additional information.