Updated: Sep 13, 2020
Stress is a killer! So if there are some simple tools shown to reduce cortisol levels and alleviate stress and anxious feelings you'd want to know about it, right? Well, check out these 6 stress busting tools:
1. Emotional freedom technique (EFT)
EFT is also known as "Tapping" due to the technique requiring tapping to 8 acupressure (or meridian) points on the face and upper body, while verbalizing a series of statements.
It can look a little silly, at least at first, but its efficacy is backed by science and extends across a wide range of sample populations. Benefits have been noted in college students (1), veterans, (2, 3) pain patients, (4, 5) overweight individuals, (6, 7) hospital patients, (8, 9) athletes, (10, 11) health care workers, (12) gifted students, (13) chemotherapy patients, (14) and phobia sufferers. (15, 16)
"When measured against the standards of the American Psychological Association’s Division 12 Task Force on Empirically Validated Treatments, EFT is found to be an “evidence-based” practice for anxiety, depression, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)."(17,18)
Access to this technique is easily found through a google search or jumping on You Tube, making it one of the best FREE emotional support resources available.
I'd have to recommend the videos by Brad Yates. He has over 135,000 followers on you tube and a large selection of videos covering a range of emotional concerns and subconscious beliefs. He even has an app! From anxiety to low self worth to changing your money mindset, there is a video for you.
Like most things, repetition is required to truly see results. I've heard some amazing stories from those who make it part of their daily routine. Just 10 minutes of tapping per day could make all the difference to your emotional well-being. What have you got to lose?
2. Cold water gargle to improve vagal parasympathetic tone
Have you ever noticed what happens when you're stressed and anxious? The muscles in your chest tighten and your breathing becomes faster, but also harder. Your heart speeds up, trying to pump oxygen around the body and ready your muscles for action.
This is called the "fight or flight" response and is the role of the sympathetic nervous system.
This response was designed to protect your body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly. However your body can't distinguish the difference between running from a tiger or an emotional upset due to an argument or worry about unpaid bills. Unfortunately most of us spend our lives running from that tiger!
The opposite of the "fight or flight" nervous system is the "rest and digest" parasympathetic nervous system. An important part of that calming system is the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve comes from the brain to supply parasympathetic nerve fibres to a large number of organs in the body, including the heart, lungs and parts of the digestive tract. It slows your heart rate, calms your breathing and enables you to adequately digest your food.
A balance of sympathetic and parasympathetic tone is needed for healthy body responses. An indicator of poor vagal parasympathetic tone is decreased heart rate variability (HRV). Decreased HRV is associated with a wide range of ill health conditions including a higher risk of early death! (19)
Because the vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat, gargling can help improve vagal tone.
Simply grab a glass of cold water and gargle for the duration of 3 breaths. Repeat 3 times a day. As a reminder, pop a sticky note by your tooth brush and one on the fridge door. Once you get better at remembering you should try to gargle every time you have a cold drink!
3. Lavender essential oil
When under stress your adrenal glands pump out a stress hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol is actually a highly beneficial hormone, involved in blood pressure and metabolism regulation, and with anti-inflammatory effects. However excessive levels over an extended period can deplete the immune system, drive blood sugar issues and weight gain, cause high blood pressure and changes in mood.
There are a number of ways to receive the benefits from this popular essential oil. Firstly, however, make sure the oil you choose is 100% pure. Most essential oils are adulterated, so choosing a good quality oil is important, to avoid nasty toxins and to get the therapeutic benefits. (Click here for my recommendation).
You can use lavender essential oil topically or aromatically.
Place a drop or two in the palm of your hand with around a 1/2 tablespoon of a carrier oil (like coconut or jojoba oil). Mix it up a little, then rub into your temples, behind the ears, and on the wrists. Inhale the calming aroma from cupped hands, and rub any remaining oil onto the soles of your feet.
To disperse the aroma around your room use a quality diffuser. Plus you can add it to a bath with some Epsom salts or flick a couple of drops into the shower with you. It's also a fabulous oil to use before bed for a restful nights sleep.
4. The 4-7-8 Breathing technique
To use the 4-7-8 technique, focus on the following breathing pattern:
Empty the lungs of air. Breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds. Hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds. Exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a "whoosh" sound, for 8 seconds. Repeat the cycle up to 4 times.
It's based on an ancient yogi technique called Pranayama, and is reported to even help you drift off into a peaceful sleep within minutes.
The method is described as a "natural tranquilizer for the nervous system" helping to reduce tension in the body. Essentially it is another technique that improves parasympathetic nervous system tone.
The oil is made from the resin of the copaifera tree, and within the body impacts the ecocannabinoid system, a bit like how CBD oil does. Although Copaiba does not contain psychoactive cannabinoids, the main component caryophyllene may offer anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, immune and neuroprotective benefits. (27, 28, 29, 30, 31)
6. Sing or hum loudly!
This is another technique to improve vagal tone and the part of the nervous system responsible for relaxation, rest and calm. Singing is a form of guided breathing, which demands a slower than normal respiration, which may in turn affect heart activity. It also stimulates the vocal cords and muscles at the back of the throat just like gargling does.
Of course, you can also benefit from regular exercise, meditation or yoga. Plus addressing your diet and gut health can have an impact on your mood. The number of studies supporting the link between our gut health and our mental well-being are growing quickly. Even certain probiotics may improve brain function by affecting the vagus nerve.
But if you want some easy tools for anxiety and stress relief then feel free to give these simple techniques a go. Obviously the more frequently you repeat them, the quicker you'll see results.
Dr Georgina Compton
Functional Medicine Practitioner & Chiropractor