Stress isn't just an annoyance. It's dangerous. It handicaps our immune system, wrecks our blood sugar metabolism, and shrinks our brains.
Unfortunately, many of us compound the ill effects of stress with how we cope with stress. We overeat. We spend money we don't have on vacations or lavish treats. We turn to drugs and alcohol.
And instead of stress relief, we get even bigger problems and more stress down the road.
That's why I turned to 5 of my natural health colleagues and put this roundtable article together. I knew we could all use some smart, simple, natural, and safe stress relief techniques.
Ready to decompress? Here are some great recommendations . . .
Simple Stress Relief Technique #1: Spend time with an animal friend
From holistic veterinarian Dr. William Farber, DVM
When we interact with animals, it transforms our chemistry and emotional state. I've seen this firsthand with children who have a history of trauma. After spending time with our animal friends at The Gentle Barn, they learn to trust and relax. I've seen their tense faces melt into smiles.
Studies have shown that simply by petting a dog or snuggling with a cat, you can dramatically lower your blood pressure. In one workplace study, people who brought their pets to work with them experienced an 11% drop in stress levels as the day progressed. This is in stark contrast to the 70% increase in stress levels in people who didn't have their pets with them.
So if you're feeling tense, spend some time with an animal friend. The simple exchange of affection: a scratch behind the ear for an unconditional look of love is hard to beat.
Simple Stress Relief Tip #2: Exercise
From sports performance nutrition expert, Dr. David Nelson, Ph D
Usually, when we're under the gun, our workout is the first thing to go. We feel we don't have the time or energy to do it.
But that's the worst thing to do . . .
People who exercise tend to have fewer problems with depression, anxiety, and stress. It seems that when you exercise, you increase the concentration of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter seems to help the brain coordinate your stress response better. It also buffers the effects of other neurotransmitters associated with stress. 
If finding an hour to work out just adds to your stress, relax. Even taking a 15-minute brisk walk or lifting weights can make a difference.
Simple Stress Relief Tip #3: Take a warm bath
From hormone health expert, Dr. Shera Raisen, MD
Before I learned how to manage stress and my health better, I experienced serious sleep problems. Shifting my nutrition and trying to manage my schedule better made a huge difference.
But as an expert in hormones, there is one technique I particularly love . . . taking a warm bath in the evening. Japanese researchers have shown that simply by sitting in the tub for 40 minutes, you can lower your body's stress hormones dramatically. 
Better yet, making this a before-bedtime ritual helps you get a good night's sleep another essential for keeping your stress hormones in check.
Simple Stress Relief Technique #4: Play with your kids
From anti-aging expert, Dr. Mark Drucker, MD
As a doctor and anti-aging expert, I could give you a list of medicines and supplements that will change your stress response.
But when it comes down to it, nothing works as well for your body and mind as playing with your kids.
When I'm feeling anxious about a difficult challenge at the office, I'm tempted to crank up the research time and stay late. However, if I spend some time playing with my kids, I handle the whole crunch time better. Just by playing together, I gain perspective. Kids have a great way of helping you find the wonder and humor in life. And spending time with them reminds me of what's important.
Now this realization isn't just me. Researchers at Kansas State University made this same discovery when studying stress and single mothers. The researchers were surprised to find that - independently of how stressful the mothers' lives were - the more moms made an effort to play and engage with their children, the less they displayed physiological signs of stress.
Simple Stress Relief Technique #5: Ditch the caffeine and try Eleuthero
From nutrition expert and chiropractor, Dr. Matthias Maas, DC
When you're tired and feeling overwhelmed, you probably reach for a cup of coffee, right?
Caffeine may give you a temporary boost. But in the long run, it only makes things worse.
It deceives your body into thinking you're not tired, just when you're body's screaming for rest. This just stresses your body more. Instead of caffeine, I'm a huge fan of Eleuthero, a plant that grows wild on the northern Asian plains. Like caffeine, Eleuthero can increase your mental alertness and help you feel energized. But unlike caffeine, it doesn't do this by ramping up your body's stress response. In contrast, it seems to actually strengthen your body's ability to adapt to stress and protect your body from the damage stress causes. 
Finally, it's safe and non-habit forming. When stressful times hit, Eleuthero - not caffeine - is what I reach for and recommend to all my patients.
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 Vormbrock JK et al. Cardiovascular effects of human-pet dog interactions. J Behav Med. 1988 Oct;11(5):509-17.
 Swan, R. More companies, citing benefits, allow pets at work. Indianapolis Star. February 2013.
 Dishman R et al. Exercise Fuels The Brain's Stress Buffers. American Psychological Association website.
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 Tidball, J. The power of playtime: Study finds that single mothers can reduce stress by playing, engaging with children. Kansas State University press release. June 19, 2012.
 Farnsworth, N. R., Kinghorn, A. D., Soejarto, D. and Waller, D. P. (1985) Siberian ginseng (Eleuthrococcus senticosus): Current status as an adaptogen. Econ Med Plant Res. 156-215.
 Panossian, A. et al. Adaptogens exert a stress-protective effect by modulation of expression of molecular chaperones. Phytomedicine. 2009 Jun;16(6-7):617-22. Epub 2009 Feb 1.