Four Ways to Stop Stressing So Much

I love unconventional indicators.

Longtime readers might remember my "Cabbie Index" or how I can tell a lot from the economy based on my breakfast bagel.

But I also like to follow the money. And earlier this year, the money was flowing into the mental-health industry. According to the analytics firm CB Insights, venture capitalists poured more than $850 million dollars into the industry in the first quarter of this year. That was a jump of 73% from the first quarter in 2020.

It's not surprising...

We've seen spikes in stress levels over the past year, both in our office and personal lives. And a study last year in JAMA Psychiatry backs it up – it found higher-income countries like the U.S. had much higher rates of anxiety. Add to that the ongoing pandemic, and it's no wonder folks are more stressed than ever... and seeking ways to stop stressing.

I've written many times about the role of unchecked stress and developing anxiety. That's why I've recommended a few ways to manage your stress and help combat anxiety disorders.

1. Meditation. Meditation is my favorite way not only to fight stress, but also to reduce inflammation and fight depression. Several studies demonstrate that meditation not only helps with these problems, but also reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The power of meditation comes from the "relaxation response" and how it changes our physiology. During meditation, our brain waves convert to a pattern that is as deep as – and in some ways deeper than – sleep. It's proven to help reduce stress and anxiety... all in just a few minutes each day.

2. Yoga. Yoga is one of the best exercises. It's simple to follow and includes breathing exercises to help lower stress.

According to a study out of Canada, folks who participated in yoga that included mindfulness meditation had significantly higher energy levels and performed better on cognitive tests than those who did meditation alone.

3. Don't isolate yourself. Feeling alone causes undue stress. Worse, loneliness and social isolation increase your risk of early death by as much as 50%. And evidence points to loneliness and isolation contributing to Alzheimer's disease. Get out, even if it's just to a store.

If you're alone this time of year, try joining a special-interest club or volunteering for a local cause. And if you can't do that because of COVID-19, try video chatting with friends and family. One of my researchers told me her family has played games, cooked, and decorated gingerbread houses all over video chat.

And finally, my team has read a lot lately about another anxiety-fighting tip...

4. Eat your way to lower stress.

Now, that might sound counterintuitive. Many folks "stress eat" – in other words, when they feel stressed, they eat foods high in carbs or sugar to trigger feel-good hormones.

But eating foods high in antioxidants can actually help lower anxiety levels.

The stress response that causes generalized anxiety disorder (or "GAD," the most common type of anxiety disorder) involves antioxidants.

A brand-new study from the Journal of Affective Disorders showed that anxiety is associated with higher levels of oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress results from too many "free radicals." These damaging molecules bounce around your system, trying to pull electrons off healthy pieces of your cells. Too many free radicals can lead to massive damage. They alter your proteins, fats, and even DNA. They also can cause inflammation and cancer.

The trouble is, free radicals are byproducts of everyday living. But we can create an excess of free radicals by eating certain foods and exposing ourselves to things like medications, air pollution, and alcohol, or even by exercising too much.

Our bodies make antioxidants to fight these free radicals. They work as scavengers, seeking out and neutralizing the radicals, restoring order to the body. But sometimes we don't make enough.

Now, this study is an association only. However, other studies demonstrate the likely cause. An Indian study a few years ago looked at blood-serum levels in folks with and without GAD. Those with GAD had lower levels of vitamins A, C, and E. What's more, after receiving appropriate supplements of these vitamins, these patients experienced fewer and less severe symptoms of anxiety.

Because free radicals contribute to inflammation, which triggers a stress response, it makes sense that fighting them with antioxidants will help relieve stress.

That means you should eat an antioxidant-rich diet. The best way to get antioxidants and vitamins like A, C, and E is through whole foods. Plenty of fruits and vegetables provide these. In fact, my favorite, blueberries, are high in antioxidants including vitamins A and E. Vitamin A foods include salmon, butter, and hardboiled eggs. Vitamin E comes in leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. And you can get vitamin C from cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli), tomatoes, and tropical fruits like kiwis, papayas, and guavas.

Similarly, avoid inflammation-triggering foods. That means processed foods and the "white killers" (white flour, white sugar, and white rice).

What are some of your favorite ways to combat stress? Let us know at [email protected].

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
December 28, 2021