The Best Ways To Keep Stress From Taking Over Your Life, According To Eastern Medicine

by Julia Guerra

I’m naturally a nervous person, so believe me when I say I’ve tried every trick in the book to calm down when stress gets the better of me. When doctors put two and two together that my stress was causing a rift in my digestive system, they put me on an antidepressant as a teenager. Medication absolutely works for some people, but it was obvious off the bat that popping pills was not the way to go for me. Something like Chinese medicine for stress relief, for instance, may have been a better fit, given the focus on natural remedies. If you, like me, tend to prefer holistic over prescription solutions when it comes to staying calm, cool, and collected in times of stress, then you might want to consider the alternative, as well.

The concept behind traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is, essentially, that your body already has the tools it needs to heal itself from the inside out. To better understand this, think about what your body's like when you're sick: Your muscles feel achy, your head is congested, and you feel crummy both on the inside and on the outside, right? Well, according to Chinese medicine, it works both ways: Stress and anxiety can affect your physical health, and in order to guarantee that that doesn't happen, there are little, everyday behaviors you can adopt, as well as case-by-case solutions to keep in mind, so that stress doesn't affect you quite as much.

Of course, if your stress gets to a point of being totally overwhelming and disruptive to your daily life, it's in your best interest to speak to a health care professional and follow their recommendations for what might work best for you. But if you're interested in more holistic solutions, give these eastern-medicine remedies a try to see if they're better suited for you.

Make Small Adjustments To Your Eating Habits

I am a living, breathing example of how anxiety can affect your gut health and spiral into a big ol' physical, as well as psychological mess. When I'm stressed, my stomach starts to bother me with cramps, constipation, diarrhea, the whole nine, but according to the Global Healing Center, it goes both ways — meaning, if you're someone who's suffering from poor gut health, it's likely that stress and anxiety will ensue (and vice versa).

Now, eating more of the good stuff (fruits, veggies, etc.) and less of the bad stuff (think processed foods, junk food, and the like) isn't exactly an automatic quick-fix, but according to holistic health care site, Urban Wellness, traditional Chinese medicine says getting into the habit of eating more whole, earthy nutrients will definitely benefit the state of your gut in the long run.

Things like mushrooms — which are known to have adaptogenic elements, meaning they can help reduce stress — dark leafy greens for their vitamin B, and whole grains should be added to your meals to "help rebalance [the nervous system]."

Break Some Eggs (Literally)

This might sound silly at first, but the official website for traditional Chinese medicine says breaking an egg — or two, or a dozen — is an epic way to let out some stress (and maybe set yourself up for a really delicious breakfast in the process?).

According to the official TCM website, this all comes back to your liver, as "Anger is the main emotion associated with the Liver." When you're feeling particularly stressed out or irritable, the worst thing you can do is hold all of that in. Therefore, it's in your best interest to find ways to let the stress of even the most minor annoyances out of your system.

An easy way to do this, per traditional Chinese medicine, is to take a carton of eggs and literally smash 'em, one by one. Just make sure to do so in either a bathtub or a bucket, so the clean-up process doesn't cause you even more stress.

Give Meditation A Fair Shot

Trust me, I realize how played-out it is for me to drop a mention of meditation in a roundup of holistic solutions for anxiety, but there's a simple reason why concepts like these become cliché: they're true. In fact, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Psychiatry Research, meditation not only keeps your anxiety levels in check, but it can also change the way your brain works — impressive, don't you think? For eight weeks, Sarah Lazar, a lead researcher on the study, and neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, studied participants who'd never meditated before in their lives, and the results showed there was a significant improvement in their ability to remember things, learn new skills, put things into perspective, and control feelings of stress and anxiety, The Washington Post reports.

It can be daunting at first to sit down and bask in the quiet (or loudness) of your own thoughts, but given the purported benefits of meditation, it's worth a fair shot. And if the idea of sitting makes you restless, there are other forms of meditation out there for you to try, such as journaling or listening to a guided practice.

Walk Around Barefoot

Going sock-less at the office might sound a little gross, but traditional Chinese medicine says barefoot is the way to be. The idea behind this concept — which is called "earthing," according to OMTimes — is that ditching shoes and socks can literally "ground you" and help you release negative energy. In a 2013 article for the wellness publication, Carolyn Tucker, LAPC explained that, on top of recommending her patients get out into the sun every day, she suggests going barefoot, as well:

The addition of being barefoot during this process seems to really augment the benefits for anxiety. I direct them to visualize the anxious feelings being absorbed by the earth and dissipating from their bodies. I have had clients report a dramatic reduction in anxiety just from this simple intervention.

I wouldn't suggest ditching your entire collection of Adidas sneakers, but try going barefoot for a day, or even just a few hours, and see how you feel.

Get Your Body Moving With Qigong

Qigong is a full-body experience that combines meditation with tai chi movements. According to the wellness website Energy Arts, this exercise is meant to be gentle, and it requires you to repeat a sequence of movements over and over again, "building awareness of how the body moves through space."

In traditional Chinese Medicine, the belief is that most of your physical ailments are a result of mental stress and instability, and when you nurse the latter, you're better able to heal the former. Qigong is physical in practice, but the focus is on mental clarity, in order to produce that calming domino effect.

Release Muscle Tension With Acupuncture

When you're stressed, do you tend to feel a kink in your neck, or sore in your back? According to MindBodyGreen, anxiety doesn't just make you feel tense; it makes you physically tense, too, so it makes sense why acupuncture is a popular traditional Chinese remedy for stress.

Here's a quick breakdown of the thought process behind using acupuncture for stress relief: When your "meridian channels" (or pathways of energy) are open, MindBodyGreen explains, your muscles are more easily able to relax. Personally, I'm uneasy about needles, but if you're not, having someone insert a few along the areas where you feel the most pain might just help your anxiety subside, too.