Mental Health

10 Natural Ways to Beat Stress and Protect Your Heart

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Feeling edgy or rattled? A Dutch study suggests that finding ways to feel more serene will drastically reduce your production of artery-damaging stress hormones, slashing your risk of heart disease 67 percent. Plus, picking the right stress buster will improve your health in so many other ways.

Eat berries if you have diabetes or prediabetes.

Eating one cup of any kind of fresh or frozen berries every day reduces your risk of tension and irritability as much as 33 percent, Yale researchers say. Credit anthocyanins, plant compounds that increase your brain’s production of the calming hormone dopamine. Bonus: Anthocyanins help muscle cells use blood sugar, improving insulin sensitivity and blood-sugar control within two weeks of the first bite, Finnish researchers report.

Try edamame if you’re weary.

Consuming 2/3 cup of edamame (green soybeans) daily helps you feel more relaxed in as little as three weeks, say UCLA researchers. A plant fat in the beans (phosphatidylserine) revs your production of the mood-elevating hormone serotonin.

Bonus: That same healthy fat encourages your liver to convert food into energy, putting more pep in your step within two weeks, if you add them to your daily diet, German studies suggest.

Use rosemary oil if you have difficulty focusing.

Massaging diluted rosemary oil into your skin can shut down anxiety in as little as three minutes, reports the journal Psychiatry Research. Rosemary’s aroma soothes the central nervous system, reducing stress hormone production, explains study coauthor Toshiko Atsumi, D.D.S. To do: Blend six drops of rosemary oil into 1 oz. of unscented lotion and apply liberally. Bonus: The refreshing, pine-like aroma of rosemary oil stimulates your brain to churn out acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that helps you think clearly and focus.

Light apple-scented candles if you are feeling edgy.

The comforting aroma of an apple-scented candle quickly reduces stress hormone output, lessening edginess, and irritability for 86 percent of us within two minutes, say experts at Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation.

Bonus: The aroma of apples stimulates the appetite control center of the brain, helping you stop eating sooner — and feel full longer — if you light the candle during meals, European researchers say.

Use vetiver for anxiety.

Vetiver — an essential oil extracted from an Asian grass — eases anxiety as effectively as the prescription drug Valium, researchers say. Vetiver’s sweet, woody scent calms the area of your brain that helps keep your breathing steady, your heart rate slow and your nervousness in check when stressed. To induce calm, light a vetiver-scented candle or mix five drops of vetiver essential oil into 1 oz. of unscented lotion and massage into your neck and shoulders twice daily.

One option: Herbal Solutions Vetiver 100% Pure Essential Oil: $13.99, Amazon.

Eat carbs to lower stress hormones.

Including a serving of carbohydrates in every meal will lift your mood 32 percent, calm your nerves and lower your stress hormone production 11% for up to two hours, reports the journal Metabolism. Carbs stimulate production of your brain’s own antidepressant hormone serotonin, explains study coauthor Stephen Bird, Ph.D. The study-proven dose: 1 cup of popcorn or dry cereal, 1/2 cup pasta, rice, or other cooked grains or 1 slice of bread per meal.

Go on a walk to boost “happy” hormones.

Don’t have the time to learn yoga, tai chi, meditation or other stress-busting strategies? Walk briskly for 10 minutes a day instead. Danish studies show that’s enough to cut your risk of feeling overwhelmed and stressed 35 percent — as much of a benefit as prescription anxiety meds deliver.

Or just spend five minutes doing basic stretches — reaching for the sky, touching your toes, and twirling your ankles — while seated. Brisk walking and stretching rev the release of the so-called “happy” hormones that can keep you upbeat and calm, even on hectic days, a recent study reveals.

Take ginkgo and C.

Taking 120 mg. to 180 mg. of ginkgo biloba daily — the amount proven to slow brain aging — lowers edginess as much as 40 percent. And adding 500 mg. of vitamin C daily can reduce your tension another 30 percent, say University of Alabama researchers. Ginkgo increases brain levels of mood-boosting dopamine, a hormone that helps you think clearly under stress, says Hyla Cass, M.D., author of Supplement Your Prescription.

“And vitamin C helps heal the adrenal glands, so they’re less likely to overproduce stress hormones.”

Sniff garlic to soothe your nerves.

The aroma and flavor of garlic can reduce your stress levels as much as 39%, according to recent studies done at Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation. How? By soothing the anxiety center of your brain, plus signaling your nervous system to reduce its production of the troublemaking stress hormone adrenalin, explains neurologist and study author Alan Hirsch, M.D.

For best results, cook your garlic slowly over medium heat so that the aroma can waft through the entire house, calming everyone who encounters it.

Take a bath.

Are you so busy that you always jump in the shower instead of taking a bath? According to University of Miami researchers, soaking in warm water for as little as 20 minutes activates your parasympathetic nervous system — a series of nerves that can significantly lower your stress hormone production for up to 12 hours.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Reverse Aging.

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