Anxiety-producing, heart-thumping stress. Depending on the amount, it can exhilarate or devastate. While a little stress can be healthy, continual stress can wreak havoc. It produces inflammation in the body, increasing risks for many types of chronic disease, and it triggers release of the hormone cortisol, which can add unwanted inches to the waistline. In addition, because stress negatively affects libido, it can put a strain on relationships. Happily, there are ways to beat stress. However, before you pop a Xanax or spend thousands in counseling, consider a few easy, natural options.

Try aromatherapy.

Essential oils offer a number of healing benefits due to the 50 million smell receptors inside the nasal cavity adjoining the brain's limbic system. Because this area of the brain controls emotion, memory and libido, it makes sense that certain fragrances might help beat stress. Anxiety-reducing oils include lavender, chamomile, frankincense and vanilla.

Beat StressSpend time with Fido or Fluffy.

Research at the State University of New York at Buffalo has shown that spending time with a pet can provide more relief from stress than time spent with humans. Another study found that hypertensive New York stockbrokers who got a dog or a cat experienced lower heart rates and blood pressure than those without pets.

Engage in high-intensity exercise.

Research from the University of Missouri at Columbia found that 33 minutes of high-intensity exercise reduces stress levels better than the same amount of moderate exercise and boosts energy levels to boot. In addition, the calming benefits last up to 90 minutes after the workout is complete.

Get plenty of shut-eye.

At one time or another, eight out of 10 adults have experienced sleep issues. Because fatigue can create less patience and more agitation for day-to-day tasks, it can also increase stress. To beat stress, experts recommend blocking out seven to nine hours each night for uninterrupted sleep. People that have difficulty falling asleep may want to try this tip from Dr. Bill Roedel, a professor of psychology at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington. Instead of stressing over lost sleep, make a personal vow to stay awake for 30 minutes. Sometimes, this removes the anxiety of not sleeping and generates relaxation for slumber.

Have more sex.

The distraction and fatigue that comes with stress can kill libido and leaves little motivation for anything, including sex. However, in an odd catch-22, more sex actually reduces stress with the release of oxytocin and endorphins, hormones that make us feel good.

Apologize.

Simply put, arguments can send stress levels through the roof. According to Charles Emery, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University, admitting that you have made a mistake can help clear the air and beat stress. In addition to showing good character, apologizing for your role in an argument may inspire your counterpart to do the same.

Forgive.

While an "I'm sorry" can help reduce stress, so can a "That's okay." According to research, forgiveness is divine and good for the health. A number of studies have shown that compassionate people experience less stress and better relationships. They also face fewer general health issues and reduced chances of developing serious illness.

Practice mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness involves purposefully paying attention to whatever occurs in the present moment. A little time spent in mindfulness meditation can reduce stress and restore calm. In fact, research from West Virginia University found that subjects who practiced mindfulness meditation over a three-month period experienced a 44 percent reduction in psychological stress.

Giggle, snicker, chuckle, hoot, or guffaw.

Laughter is the antithesis of stress. Just as chronic stress can harm the body, humor can heal it. In addition to increasing your ability to fight disease, laughter boosts intake of oxygen and lowers levels of three stress hormones: cortisol, dopac and epinephrine. A good chuckle also releases feel-good endorphins in the brain. To beat stress and boost the humor in your life, watch funny movies, go to a comedy club, or spend time with small children. While a few of these de-stressing techniques take practice, most require only a little commitment. Participants will find that a calm mind and relaxed body are well worth the effort.

Stay tuned for Part Two of Natural Ways to Beat Stress featuring foods that foster relaxation and a stress-busting recipe.

By guest contributor Jillian Fritsen

Related Articles:

Causes of Low Libido in Women
Four Causes of Unexplained Weight Gain
The Herbal Medicine Cabinet