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It's National Stress Awareness Month. Here's how to keep stress at bay

Certain circumstances may make stress feel inevitable. But Efrat LaMandre, known on TikTok as "Dr. E," shares ways we can help manage it.
It's National Stress Awareness Month. Here's how to keep stress at bay
Posted at 12:40 PM, Apr 09, 2024

April is National Stress Awareness Month.

Across generations, people suffer with stress from work, money, relationships and other factors. Experts with the American Psychological Association even say the U.S. is still grappling with the after-effects on well-being from the pandemic, despite a sense of being "back to normal."

In a survey, a quarter of U.S. adults rated their average stress level between 8 and 10, where 1 means little to no stress and 10 represents a great deal of stress, according to research by APA released in November 2023.

And while stress is mental, it also manifests physically, according to nurse practitioner Efrat LaMandre. LaMandre is known for offering health information and advice to her audience of over 650,000 followers on TikTok at @theknewmethod

"I know we know kind of what stress feels like, but it actually creates a chemical change inside of our body, and that chemical change can impact us from things like high blood pressure or heart issues to weakening our immune system, and everything in between," LaMandre said in an interview with Scripps News. "And if that is not enough, it could also make you look older before your time, so one way or the other, we have to get your stress managed." 

While stress itself is not an illness, it can also bring underlying health issues to the forefront. 

Certain circumstances may make stress feel inevitable, but there are a number of ways to keep it at bay.

Ways to manage stress

First things first, LaMandre said one must prioritize sleep. 

"Never underestimate the power of a good night's sleep," she said. "And I know this is hard for some people, but what happens when you sleep is that you get a replenished supply of cortisol, most of the time, and it also gives you resiliency — new resiliency — for the next day," said LaMandre. 

Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugar in the bloodstream and suppresses certain functions in the body that would be nonessential or harmful in fight-or-flight situations, according to the Mayo Clinic. Cortisol levels increase with stress. 

In terms of sleep, LaMandre recommended getting seven to nine hours per night. 

She also said staying active is important for stress management. 

That doesn't necessarily mean having to complete a rigorous workout — it means movement. Moving your body 30 minutes per day can make all the difference. 

"When you move you release endorphins. Endorphins are your feel-good hormones, and they bring down the cortisol level," said LaMandre. 

She also said practicing mindfulness is a great way to manage stress. But that doesn't mean having to full-on meditate — it's more about staying present. This could mean taking a moment to be aware of your food, your conversation, your surroundings. 

"It's a small, mini-holiday for your brain that lets your brain kind of reset, lets the cortisol kind of calm down," said LaMandre. 

And perhaps just as important as what one does with their body is what they put inside it. 

For one, limiting stimulants can help keep stress in check. While it may seem impossible to give up that morning cup of coffee, stopping caffeine after 12 p.m. is a good rule of thumb that'll also help ensure adequate sleep later on. 

Especially during times of stress or anxiety, stimulants can add fuel to the fire. 

"If we're in a state of anxiety, it's a good time to limit it because it could trigger your central nervous system and make things worse," said LaMandre. 

In times of stress, diet in general can fall by the wayside. Dumping more chemicals into the body with processed foods and unoptimized nutrition puts more pressure on the central nervous system. 

But making smarter food choices pays off. 

"If you can grab something that is full of vitamins and minerals, that sends a different message to your body; it sends the message of healing, it sends a message of calming, and at the very least it doesn't send the message of increased anxiety, so nutrition plays a really big role," LaMandre said. 

Another way to keep stress at bay is connecting with friends and family. 

Having social time activates parts of the brain that lower stress levels and also "promote feelings of relaxation and trust," according to LaMandre.

The power of a deep breath

While people can plan ahead for better sleep, movement activities and healthy meals, sometimes they just need help in an overwhelming moment.

When stress gets to be too much at a point in time, never underestimate the power of a deep breath, or several.

"If you take a deep breath, you immediately feel a calmness — and that is not your imagination," LaMandre said. "There's a lot of science behind that deep breath — it has to do with the vagus nerve and certain chemicals are released — that in that moment, just brings down cortisol, releases some calming chemicals."

WebMD says the most effective way to take a deep breath for stress relief is inhaling through the nose, filling the stomach up with air, and exhaling back out through the nose.

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