4 Natural Methods to Quickly Relieve Stress & Anxiety: Reviewed, Evaluated and Graded
There’s nothing like facing a day at the office, or a day looking after kids, in a state of overwhelm.
Feeling emotional, constantly on edge, forgetting everything. Being so tired that it’s not possible to properly function.
Stressed. Depressed. A complete mess. 😩.
Women are two times more vulnerable than men to experience anxiety and are more susceptible to stress in many areas of life, according to a medical journal by Paul R. Albert, PhD. Running on overdrive, managing finances, relationships, family, a household, the pressures of work.
Females are also more prone to experience negative emotions such as self-criticism, rumination, over-analyzing. For many women, this constant state of stress caused by internal and external factors can have a serious impact on health and wellbeing.
Recent research shows that when we are stressed, we secrete a hormone called Corticotropin. An increase in corticotropin-releasing hormone leads to higher levels of the stress hormone Cortisol. Too much of this is suspected of causing clinical depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.
To make matters worse, females are highly sensitive to this hormone, and this constant cycle of stress can result in anxious thoughts, restless nights, a relentless state of overwhelm, and an impending sense of doom.
If you’re reading this, you can probably identify with these feelings.
Left untreated, anxiety, depression and insomnia can become exhausting, debilitating, and stop us living productive and fulfilling lives.
By now you may have already tried a few solutions…
Or perhaps you are just starting to look for relief 😊.
Either way, you’re seeking to escape the constant anxious buzz and racing thoughts…
Something to clear away the fogginess and to help you get a good night’s sleep.
And if you are like many women who suffer from anxiety, depression or insomnia (or all three), you are looking for a solution that is natural.
There are various non-pharmaceutical treatments for managing anxiety, depression and insomnia, but which ones actually help?
Let’s look at 3 of the most commonly used methods and one that is often overlooked, and grade each one. Our grade allocation has been assigned according to the following three factors, all combined into one grade:
- How easy the treatment is to implement
- How effective we found it
- How quickly we felt results
At a glance
Method #1: Thought reframing…
but is it enough?
Thought Reframing is a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) method that can help some people cope with stressful events. This technique may help you learn to recognize your irrational thought patterns and reframe them to see the bright side in a situation.
Here’s an example of Thought Reframing in practice:
You get a nice and valuable gift for your birthday from a close friend.
You immediately feel triggered and start thinking about your financial struggles and, by comparison, your friend's ability to buy such an expensive gift. You feel resentful, angry and bitter that they could afford to purchase it and you could not. You wonder if giving this expensive gift is their way of showing off their wealth.
You question whether instead they feel sorry for you, and this is a gift to help a “poor person” out. But then you remind yourself to reframe the situation and consider your friend’s positive intention instead. You no longer frame this gift as “showing off”. Rather than feeling like a charity case, you instead view the gift as a generous token of affection from someone who cares. You are happy and thankful to have such a thoughtful and generous friend.
For some people, Thought Reframing works. However it can take some trial and error to make it work, and you may have to make a conscious effort to continually practice it for the rest of your life.
For others, thought reframing may not be enough to effectively calm anxiety in moments of stress, relieve feelings of depression or calm the mind to allow a peaceful sleep.
Our grade: B
We found Thought Reframing convenient to apply in moments of stress, and did seem to help reduce anxiety, which is a win, however sometimes it wasn’t easy to feel convinced of the “new thought”. In addition, it required a constant effort to keep negative thoughts out of mind.
Method #2: Acupressure / Swedish Spike Mat…
but does it work?
Does relaxing on a spike mat relieve anxiety, depression or insomnia?
An Accupressure Mat, sometimes known as a Swedish Spike Mat, or Acupuncture Spike Mat, is a rubber mat that is embedded with hard plastic spikes. By lying on the mat, it is said that the pressure points in our back are stimulated, resulting in a reduction of stress, and enabling deep relaxation.
Self-care treatments with Acupuncture Spike Mats have increased in popularity in recent years, being advertised as a method for relief of symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia and to promote general wellbeing. Although extensive scientific studies regarding the effects are still lacking, a recent study investigated if daily relaxation on a spike mat for three weeks could induce beneficial effects (Kjellgren, 2011).
Participants in the study were treated with 15 minutes daily rest during three weeks on the spike mat. While the participants appreciated the treatment, and verbally reported that they experienced positive effects, the statistical analyses indicated that there were no effects on optimism, anxiety, depression, stress, energy, or sleep quality.
Our grade: F
Here at Secrets of Eve, we found the acupressure mat, or Swedish Spike Mat, an interesting experience. While the pain of lying on the spikes, that felt like a bed of nails, was strangely enjoyable and resulted in feeling more alert, we didn’t experience relief of anxiety or pain, nor did it help with sleep. For that reason, we gave this method a fail grade.
Method #3: Journaling…
but is it convenient?
Journaling is a technique for developing an awareness of moods and thoughts and thought patterns. By identifying negative thoughts and recognising patterns, it’s possible to then change, adapt, or cope with them.
Keep a pocket-size journal with you, use a note taking app on your phone so that you can journal whenever the need arises. When you feel stressed or overwhelmed, take a few minutes to take these steps in your journal:
Journaling involves identifying your thoughts and feelings then rating the likelihood it will happen.
The next step is to challenge the old thought, introduce the new, more realistic thought, then rate the old thought again.
- Step 1: Note the situation that is causing stress and anxiety, and how you are feeling as a result. Now write down your fear about how the situation could unfold. Next, rate the chance that what you fear will actually happen, on a scale of 1 to 100.
- Step 2: Now analyze the situation, rationally. Ask yourself “Am I jumping to conclusions? Am I blowing this out of proportion?” List the logical reasons why your fear could be unfounded.
- Step 3: Write a new, positive thought, that challenges the negative one. One that is realistic and more logical. Note down your new feelings about this new thought.
- Step 4: Revisit the OLD thought and rate the chance that the OLD negative thought will happen, on a scale from 0 to 100.
0: Is zero chance of it happening; 100: Is 100% chance it will happen.
By introducing a new, more positive thought, some people find that they now perceive the old negative thought far less likely to happen, and their anxiety about the situation resolves.
This method certainly can help create a more positive way of thinking, but on the flip side it’s quite time intensive and is less likely to be used in a ”pressure” moment of anxiety or depression. Due to the more intensive process, for some people, this may add more pressure rather than relieving it.
Which is why this treatment attracted a lower score from us:
Our grade: C
Although it may provide long term relief when practiced regularly, we found the implementation of it quite involved and not as convenient to apply in stressful “heat of the moment” situations when compared with our next treatment option, Method #4.
Method #4: The often overlooked yet effective way to relieve anxiety, depression, and insomnia without devices or complex processes
When feeling anxious, stressed, depressed or struggling with insomnia, one treatment option that is often overlooked is breathing. Although Western medical practitioners are beginning to prescribe controlled deep breathing as a non-pharmaceutical treatment, in holistic wellness and healthcare, breathing control therapy has been used as a treatment for a long time.
Many people simply don’t understand just how effective breathing can be as a management tool. But there are numerous studies that indicate that deep controlled breathing is an effective tool for treating depression (Tsang et al., 2006), PTSD (Descilo et al., 2010), insomnia (Manjunath and Telles, 2005), and other related mental disorders (Brown and Gerbarg, 2005a).This is why we describe Deep Breathing exercises as a secret health and wellness “weapon”.
When you breathe, your lungs take in oxygen. The oxygen in the blood is then carried around the body in the bloodstream, reaching every cell. Breathing deeply engages the diaphragm, a strong sheet of muscle below the chest. Lots of oxygen enters the lungs and is transported via your bloodstream to your cells.
When anxious, it’s common to take rapid, shallow breaths. But shallow breathing decreases the diaphragm's range of motion, resulting in many small blood vessels never getting a full share of oxygenated air. Do you see where this is going? That’s right… when stuck in a cycle of shortness of breath, oxygen doesn’t reach every cell…. And you feel light headed, panicked, overwhelmed, anxious and stressed.
Deep breathing provides a healthy intake of oxygen and release of carbon dioxide, and as a result this slows the heartbeat and can lower or stabilize blood pressure. And most importantly, deep breathing exercises, when practiced properly, can relieve anxiety, improve symptoms of depression, and help fight insomnia. Even in severely traumatic circumstances, breathing exercises have been shown to provide relief from post traumatic stress, and depression.
A 1-week breathing practice in a non-randomized study of survivors of the 2004 South-East Asia tsunami suggested that participants decreased the mean of self reported:
- post traumatic stress disorder
- symptoms of depression
- psychological disorders and strains
The results of numerous other studies suggest that breathing exercises may:
- Reduce anxiety, depression, insomnia and stress
- Contributes to emotional balance and social adaptation
- Be effective non-pharmacological intervention for emotion enhancement
- Relieve the emotional exhaustion and depersonalization induced by job burnout
- Provide relief for post-traumatic stress disorder
- Reduce the effects of motion disorders, phobias, and other stress-related emotional disorders
- Decrease blood pressure
And while regularly practicing breathing exercises, long term, may provide considerable relief, a study has shown that even a single breathing practice significantly reduces blood pressure, increases heart rate variability, and oxygenation enhances pulmonary function and improves cardiorespiratory fitness and respiratory muscle strength!
There are many different breathing exercises offering different relaxation techniques that appeal to different people and providing a variety of techniques that can be called on in different situations or just to keep it interesting.
For all of these reasons, and due to our own success with this method, breathing exercises have received our highest score:
Our grade: A
Breathing exercises are quick and easy to implement, and simple to learn. They can be effective as a long term treatment for anxiety, depression and insomnia, or may provide immediate results as a one off, in-the moment of stress relief. And it can work immediately for you starting today (or tonight in the case of insomnia).
You can essentially breathe your way out of anxiety, a panic attack, or a low mood. With the right breathing patterns you can calm racing thoughts. You can feel fresh and well slept every day, without spending time tracking thoughts in a journal. You can improve mood and relieve emotional exhaustion without reprogramming your brain or lying on a painful “bed of nails”.