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7 Ways to relieve stress without drugs

Stress and life are like peanut butter and jelly. To a martian, they wouldn’t seem to make sense together, but we keep forcing them into the same sandwich anyway. A third ingredient you may not need to add? Drugs.

We’re not here to knock prescription drugs. Many people have found their anxiety unmanageable and should be praised for making themselves enough of a priority to consult a medical expert about solutions. But, there is also a large segment of the population that has either tried a prescription drug and discovered the side effects aren’t worth the relief, or opts for natural alternatives.

Before you even consider popping a pill, you may want to try one of these seven alternative stress relievers. Most are cheap(ish) or free and will enhance your quality of life without putting your health at risk.

1. Meditation


Image: Moyan Brenn/Flickr

Mindful meditation can be performed anywhere, even while sitting on a train on your way to work. It doesn’t cost a dime, and — after a few months of practice — has been known to reduce stress and even alleviate headaches. You can sign up for meditation classes in practically any city or large town or try it at home: Find a comfortable seating position (but don’t get so comfy that you fall asleep) and focus on your breathing, the sounds around you and the voice in your head. Don’t judge yourself if your mind wanders to your job again. Accept it, keep breathing and embrace the now. The goal is to get to a place where you can distinguish your stressful thoughts from the reality of your present life.

More: 7 Meditation myths you shouldn’t buy into

2. Breathing exercises

Woman doing breathing exercise

We control few things in life, but our ability to breathe is a powerful one. There are a slew of breathing exercises that teach you how to regulate your breathing and quell panic attacks and anxiety, and you can learn about them all by watching a few YouTube videos. But, a simple one that I’ve found incredibly effective, particularly before bed, is called the 4-7-8 breathing exercise: Inhale through your nose while silently counting to four, hold your breath for seven counts, then slowly release your breath through your mouth to a count of eight. Repeat as necessary.

3. Acupuncture


Image: Wonderlane/Flickr

High stress levels affect the body’s vital energy, or what practitioners of Chinese medicine call our “qi.” Rather than rely on Western medicine, many people are looking east for alternative stress treatments, which can include acupuncture. “Over time, when ‘qi’ is blocked, or the supply is inadequate to meet the body’s physiological functions, the organ systems become taxed and our health is inevitably compromised,” said licensed acupuncturist Marilena Rizzo from the Center for Chiropractic and Decompression NYC. “With the use of acupuncture and herbs, Chinese medicine has proven to be effective in helping people cope with stress by supporting and restoring the integrity of the various organ systems affected by it.”

4. Massage therapy


Image: Nick Webb/Flickr

Anyone who has ever had her scalp massaged while getting a haircut knows there are few feelings that are more pleasurable. But, massage doesn’t just feel incredible, it’s therapeutic and can loosen tight muscles caused by stress, eliminate headaches and reduce your psychological stress, as well.

5. Aromatherapy


Image: Naomi King/Flickr

Our Egyptian ancestors swore by essential oils and science was on their side. “Scent can set off reactions in receptor cells of the nose, leading to enzyme activity and electrical impulses to the olfaction bulb — which is actually an extension to the brain,” Rizzo said. “The part of the brain most directly involved in this process is the limbic system, home of our emotions.” If you’re feeling frantic, Rizzo recommends adding lavender, geranium, clary sage, Roman chamomile, sandalwood or ylang ylang to your bath, massage or oil diffuser.

6. Yoga


Image: Taro Taylor/Flickr

Yoga is the perfect solution to cure your stress. If you don’t have time to take a class, download an app like Yoga Studio and practice in the comfort of your home. Poses like Pigeon Pose and Seated Bend open up your muscles and are known to relieve anxiety.

7. Food


Image: FromSandToGlass/Flickr

Certain foods contain nutrients that provide just the perfect amount of energy to ward off stress. These include blueberries, cashews, asparagus, avocado, oatmeal and even — yes! — chocolate.

More: 8 Surprising foods that help you stress less

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