I hear it all the time from Hormonology readers: Their hormones stress them out.
This is often a side effect of how sensitive you are to rising or falling estrogen. For example, some women are sensitive to rising estrogen, which can make you feel more tense in your Week 2 (the week leading up to and including ovulation). That’s because on these days this hormone reaches high levels, which can overexcite the brain, resulting in a more intense and long-lasting stress response.
Other women are more sensitive to descending estrogen, which can trigger more anxiety in your premenstrual Week 4. That’s because on these days this hormone bottoms out, which reduces levels of brain chemicals that stabilize mood (such as serotonin) and increases levels of brain chemicals that can trigger a greater stress response (such as noradrenaline).
The good news is that no matter which days in your cycle you feel stress start to spike, there are easy, all-natural, study-proven tactics for ushering in soothing calm. Here are 5 stress-busting techniques to try:
1. Sniff lemongrass: Dab a sachet with three to six drops of lemongrass essential oil and stick it in your purse or pocket. Then, the moment you feel stress come on—say, when stuck in traffic—take it out and take a whiff. In a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, volunteers who inhaled this sweet scent after being given a test specifically designed to induce intense stress felt calmer immediately and became totally relaxed within five minutes.
How it works: When inhaled, compounds in lemongrass (including citral, limonene and myrcene) tamp down overexcitement in the limbic system—a brain region that manages emotions and tension. You can find lemongrass essential oil at health food stores and Amazon.com.
2. Pop probiotics: When you get stressed, does your brain start to churn over negative thoughts in an endless loop that you can’t stop? Sounds too easy to work, but taking a daily probiotic that contains two or more strains of acidophilus and bifidum bacteria (such as the one I take every day, which is American Health Acidophilus And Bifidum, available at Amazon.com) reduces the nonstop mental churning within four weeks.
How it works: Adding “good” bacteria to your gut is believed to help boost the production of certain mood-regulating compounds in your brain (such as serotonin) that decrease unwanted repetitive thoughts, according to a study in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. And, because each bacterial strain works differently, combining several strains is more effective than taking just one.
3. Take a mid-morning break: Even if you don’t feel tired, take a 10-minute break from work, studying or chores between 10 am and 11 am. Recent research from Baylor University found that folks who take a short time-out in the mid-morning experience less stress, fatigue and burnout than those who wait till lunch to take their first break of the day.
How it works: When you wait until mid-day to take your first rest, your mental energy has already dropped too low to become fully replenished, the researchers say. Taking a brief rest early on—when brain energy is still relatively high—tops off your mental gas tank, providing more intense and longer-lasting alertness, focus and motivation, making it easier to deal with whatever your day throws at you. Can’t walk away from your desk? Not a problem. The same study found that simply switching to a task you enjoy provides the same stress relief.
4. Go for brisk walks: Are you bothered by the physical sensations of stress, such as a racing heart, sweaty palms and general antsiness? Start exercising! According to a study in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, walking, biking and doing other aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes two or more times per week helps prevent the uncomfortable side effects of stress.
How it works: Aerobic exercise trains your body’s autonomic nervous system (responsible for the fight-or-flight response) to better cope with psychological stress so it doesn’t overreact, causing unwanted physical sensations.
5. Sip rosemary tea: When you know you’ll be encountering a stressful situation, drink a cup of rosemary tea ahead of time either by steeping one teaspoon of dried or fresh rosemary or one prepared rosemary leaf teabag (such as this one) in one cup of boiled water for five minutes.
How it works: Research in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences shows that rosemary contains the anti-anxiety compounds cirsimaritin, rosmanol and salvigenin that help keep your mood elevated and stress under control in tense situations.
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