Health Matters – Stress-Busters

Stressed out yet? As the season continues toward December, and holiday prep, exams and papers, work projects, and the kids? activities all seem to clamour for our attention, our bodies start responding negatively. As we head into the busier season, It’s important to recall some of these basic stress-busters so that we can keep our cool:


As simplistic as it may sound, the action of breathing really can impact the body’s stress levels. Full, deep breaths stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the branch of your nervous system That’s involved in rest, relaxation, and other good things. If You’re confronted with a stressful situation or know one’s about to arise, take control of your breathing. Ditch that shallow ?Help, I’m stressed!? panting, and take a pause to breathe deeply for two minutes. This isn’t a very long time span in a 24-hour day, yet It’s been shown to be sufficient to ?reset? your body into the less-stress, parasympathetic mode.

Get Enough Sleep

It’s hard to beat undisturbed night’s sleep! Sleep is very healing: it promotes cell repair, and a restful sleep state is synonymous with higher parasympathetic activity. When possible, aim for at least eight hours of sleep a night, preferably from 11 pm or 11:30 pm onward. Trouble nodding off? Check out the recent Voice article on how to improve your sleep quality.

Eat Well

If your body is armed with good nutrients, it can handle a lot more! Good nutrition may sound trite, but it is paramount to dealing with daily stressors since it gives individual cells and body systems the nutritional building blocks needed for repair. Additionally, a balanced diet helps keep immunity and brain function adequate (crucial for exam time!). Sometimes it can be daunting to follow the Canada Food Guide’s requirements of five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables per day, so start out small: aim for at least one vegetable and one fruit serving per meal. Of course, don’t forget to have a serving of good-quality protein at each meal, too!

And beware of sugar highs; although refined sugars (including what’s in regular pop and energy drinks) do give us that ?lift? when we’re tired, It’s best to reduce (or better yet, altogether eliminate) these in the diet. In the long run, they put an extra load on our already overtaxed bodies, and they’re associated with increased risk of certain chronic diseases.


We’ve all heard good things about exercise, and for the most part, It’s true. To combat stress levels and moodiness, get out there and get moving! Exercise lowers stress levels, promotes healthier sleep, and raises endorphin levels (those ?feel-good? hormones). If gyms aren’t your thing, you can hit the road jogging or running, or even rapidly walking for a minimum of 30 minutes daily. The trick is consistency: exercise regularly to receive the maximum benefit.

Change Your Attitude

Awareness is key in identifying stressors or triggers. Often we don’t feel mentally stressed, so we don’t notice that our bodies are in a ?ready for action? state . You may be in a micro-stress state and not even know it! Check your body right now: are your shoulders hunched? Is your neck taut? Periodically doing such self-stress tests at different moments throughout the day can help you determine your stressors and discover your resting-state stress levels.

In addition, your attitude toward life events, chores, and experiences can influence the amount of stress hormones your body produces. There’s an abundance of research showing that negative feelings hasten disease and bodily disharmony. Can you count the positive things that will happen today? It’s a good habit to start out the morning with.


If You’re under constant, unending stress and feel like You’re on the verge of burnout, it may be time to supplement in addition to implementing some of the lifestyle changes above. Botanical (herbal) medicine can sometimes reduce stress and its effects. Certain plants, like rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) have been shown to reduce cortisol levels significantly, as well as help with insomnia and other conditions that are exacerbated by stress. don’t forget to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements, though especially if you are already taking pharmaceutical drugs or other botanical medicine.

Katie D?Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.