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  Expert Tips for Combating Stress
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Expert Tips for Combating Stress

A functional medicine doctor shares four ways to reduce the impacts of stress

Liza Monroy

Once upon a time, the human state of mind commonly known as stress was induced by staring down the mouth of a hungry lion, tiger or bear (oh my!)—and, in general, having to outrun and outsmart our predators. These days, our everyday stressors tend not to be quite so urgent. You are probably not about to be eaten by a wild beast; your stress might be coming from an unrealistic deadline, for instance. But your body still responds to stress in the same way: as though your life is at risk.

As functional medicine doctor Mary Pardee explains it, “Our brain can feel like we are not safe in certain instances, and that's where we may feel anxious or hyper-vigilant.” 

Pardee advises that when we’re in a stressful situation, it’s vital to maintain our routines and rituals. That way, “we're telling our body, ‘Hey, we're OK right now. We've got this. We're in our routine. Nothing is life-threatening right now. And we can get through this,’” she says.

Here are Pardee’s top three tips for managing stress.

1. Prioritize Sleep

Sleep is the most important tool to control stress, says Pardee. 

“If you are sleep deprived, then you're going to be more anxious. Mental health issues can arise, like depression, and you're going to have a decreased ability to handle stressors versus if you're fully rested,” she explains. 

2. Make Exercise a Ritual

Exercise is Pardee’s personal favorite way to relieve stress.

“I work out every single morning at 8 a.m. and it really helps to reset,” she says. “My nervous system also increases things like norepinephrine and dopamine, and makes me feel really good.”

3. Reduce Caffeine

When experiencing stress, the last thing you want to do is further overstimulate your nervous system. Pardee describes consuming caffeine to cope with stress as already going too fast, with your foot on the gas pedal, then slamming down and “putting everything on overdrive.” 

Adding caffeine to the already high demand stress puts on your body doesn’t result in increased productivity. 

“We don't necessarily want to go faster. We want higher quality—which is not the gas pedal,” she says. “In our society, we are overstimulated more so than anything. We need more meditation, sleep and rest to perform at a higher capacity, versus more stimulation.” 

4. Rewire How We Think About Stress

Lastly, the doctor invites us to reorganize our thoughts around the experience of stress.

“This is a big way to rethink stress,” she says. “If we view stress as something negative for us, it's going to have negative health consequences. If you perceive it as something that's going to benefit your body and that could give you the energy to overcome something, then it's more likely not to affect your health negatively. The way we think about stress is just as important as how we cope with it.”

Liza Monroy is a writer based in Santa Cruz, CA. You can find her collected books, articles, and essays on lizamonroy.com and follow her on Instagram.

Header image by Andrea Piacquadio

Read more: Why Your Therapist Cares if You Drink Coffee

Read more: 3 Signs of Caffeine Overconsumption

Read more: Can Breathwork Improve Your Mental Health?

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