Stress

Just calm down, already! Here's how

Feb. 28, 2012 at 9:38 AM ET

It's only Tuesday, and yet the manic pace of this two-day-old week is already about to make you collapse. If you're seeking de-stressing strategies, you're in luck -- yoga instructor Wendy Rubin and TODAY's diet and nutrition expert Joy Bauer revealed the best poses to do and food to eat to keep yourself calm. 

As Rubin puts it, stress isn't something that happens to you -- it's the absence of calm in your life. These poses are designed to relieve muscle tension, quiet the mind and calm the body. They can each be done at home using pillows and blankets you have lying around the house.

Stress-busting yoga poses from Wendy Rubin:

1. Bridge pose

Lie down with your back on the floor. Bend your knees and walk your heels in so your knees are directly above your ankles. Press the inner edges of the feet and arms actively into the floor as you lift your pelvis up towards the ceiling. Now place the block directly under your sacrum. Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute as you take deep cleansing breaths.

Benefits: Relieves tension in the lower back. Excellent pose for treating headaches, insomnia and fatigue.

2. Child's pose

Kneel on the floor behind a large pillow. Open your knees so you can slide the bolster between your legs. Gently rest your torso down on the bolster while you hug the pillow with both hands. Gaze to one side. Stay in pose for 1 to 5 minutes.

Benefits: Relieves back and neck tension. Recommended for dizziness and fatigue.

3. Alternate nostril breath

Sit in a comfortable position on the floor. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril. Now close your left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through your right nostril. Keep the right nostril open, inhale, then close it with your thumb, and exhale through the left. This is one cycle. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

Benefits: Perfect relaxation tool! Lowers the heart rate and calms an over-stimulated nervous system.

But incorporating these calming yoga poses doesn't excuse unhealthy eating. What we eat has an enormous effect on our stress levels -- luckily, adding these delicious items into your daily diet can help soothe stress and elevate your mood naturally, Bauer explains.

De-stressing foods from Joy Bauer: 

1. Steel-cut oats. 

 A warm and cozy bowl of oatmeal makes the perfect comfort food breakfast on a chilly winter's day. But the soothing effects are more than psychological. Oats are a healthy, whole-grain source of carbohydrates, which stimulate production of serotonin, a feel-good hormone that helps you relax. All varieties of oats are great, but I particularly love the steel-cut type because they're minimally processed and cause a slow, steady rise in blood sugar, which also helps regulate mood.

You'll love my technique for Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oats-you start them the night before and they're ready and waiting for you the next morning! (Combine 1 cup dry steel-cut oats and 4 cups water in a slow cooker and cook for 8-9 hours on low setting.)

2. Grapefruit. 

Swapping your apple or banana for a juicy, sweet grapefruit may help you chill out. This everyday citrus fruit is a top source of vitamin C, a nutrient that may help people better cope with bad nerves.

German researchers reported that students who took vitamin C supplements for two weeks showed fewer signs of stress-including lower blood pressure-in response to a nerve-wracking task (public speaking combined with a math test!) than those who didn't take the vitamin. But I don't advise adding a supplement-instead, you can soothe away worries naturally by eating more vitamin C-rich produce.

3. Wild salmon and chickpea salad. 

This salmon combines two foods that can help ease anxiety and elevate mood naturally. Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3s-and studies have found that fortifying your diet with omega-3s from fish oil decreases levels of adrenaline and other hormones associated with anxiety during stressful experiences like test-taking.

A one-cup serving of chickpeas provides more than 70% of the daily recommended intake for folate, a B vitamin that helps regulate mood. Low blood levels of folate have been repeatedly linked to higher risk for depressive symptoms.

Wild Salmon & Chickpea Salad Recipe

1 can (6 ounces) wild salmon, well-drained (remove skin)

1 can (19 ounces) chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

In a medium bowl, mash the salmon. Mix in the chickpeas, onion, and red pepper. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil and vinegar. Pour the dressing over the salmon mixture and stir thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days.

4. Chamomile tea

Nursing a mug of naturally caffeine-free chamomile tea is the perfect way to wipe away the worries of the day. This calming brew appears to act as a mild sedative and may help relieve muscle tension and ease anxiety and irritability. Take advantage of this tried-and-true herbal remedy by making chamomile tea part of your evening ritual.

5. Dark chocolate hot cocoa.

To really get your zen on, sip on a mug of my Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa at the end of a long, tense day. It combines two ingredients with stress-relieving properties-dark chocolate and skim milk-in one deliciously rich drink. Peptides found in milk may help ease anxiety and boost mood by lowering blood pressure and increasing serotonin activity in the brain. And one study found that consuming 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate per day reduced levels of certain stress hormones in individuals with high anxiety levels.

Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa Recipe

3 cups skim milk

2 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pinch kosher salt

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate bar)

Whipped cream & dark chocolate shavings (for garnish)

Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until the milk is hot and starting to steam. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Whisk in the sugar, vanilla, salt and chocolate chips, and continue to whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Pour the hot cocoa into three mugs. Top each mug with a squirt of whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings if desired. (Makes 3 servings.)

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