There's a lot of good advice here on how to deal with anxiety and stress... from Daniel P. Keating Adapted from Born Anxious: The Lifelong Impact of Early Life Adversity and How to Break the Cycle. We're all feeling much more stressed out these days, showing up as increases over the last few decades in how many of us suffer from stress-related diseases and disorders. Even if we're not sick yet, we carry more of the physical markers of stress that lead to future illnesses. We have a full-blown stress epidemic on our hands. To figure out what to do, we need to understand how it works. The basic story is fairly simple. When we are facing a challenge or threat, our stress system releases cortisol, the "fight or flight" stress hormone. This provides a boost of energy and focus to deal with the stressor. So far, so good: we need a well functioning stress response to navigate our everyday lives. The problems come when we have excess cortisol in our body over an extended time. Why is this happening so much more often now? One reason is that there are more stressors, experienced more frequently. A second, hidden reason is biological. As stress increases overall, more of us will develop a poorly regulated stress system as a result of stressful experiences in early life, while we are still in the womb or in the first year of life. If we become "stress dysregulated" (SDR), we react more often, more strongly and for a longer time. Stressful social experiences "get under the skin" through an "epigenetic modification" that changes how our genes work, leaving the DNA in our genes intact. This makes it difficult or impossible for the stress response to shut down, because a key gene in the feedback loop has been "methylated." This leads to excess cortisol, which has in turn been clearly linked to many diseases and disorders, as well as early mortality. A harsh early life environment sends a signal that "amping up" the stress system is the best defense against danger — in other words, it is a chance for the genes to "listen to the environment" in terms of what that young life is likely to encounter. RELATED: What Science Tells Us About How to Be Happy at Work With SDR, we feel more anxious, uptight, agitated and overwhelmed much of the time. We may over-react by lashing out at others in situations that don't call for it — think of road rage as a good example — or we may withdraw from interacting with others because it feels too threatening. For children and adolescents, this gets in the way of healthy development, because it limits or mars peer interactions that they need to become socially skilled. For adults, it can drive others away, making family and work life difficult. And it leads to a number of stress-related diseases. Learning to “read” one’s own physical reactions is a key way to learning to manage them. But even if this SDR pattern is "biologically embedded" from early life, there are things we can do to change the pattern of our lives, even if it doesn't change the basic physiology. Start before birth. A first goal should be to minimize early life stress, by providing more support for expectant and new parents, to avoid the early onset of stress dysregulation from stress methylation. Supernuture fussy babies. For infants showing the pattern of high fussiness, difficulty in soothing, high sensitivity, and trouble sleeping - beyond the occasional episodes that most babies show — finding ways to provide "supernurturing" can turn the pattern around. Persisting in soothing for longer times, even though it is stressful, helps the infant toward better regulation of stress and emotions. This usually requires more than one caregiver to provide respite to the primary caregiver, and can come from partners, extended family, or others. Pair stressed teens with a trusted adult. For children and teens, finding a strong social connection with a trusted adult — a family member, coach, teacher, mentor, or as they grow older, a romantic partner — can provide a positive path to reduce the effects of SDR. Strong social connections are almost always found in resilient individuals, who have bounced back from early adversity to succeed in many aspects of life. Recognize your stress patterns. For adults, there are a number of steps one can take — for oneself, or by encouraging family and friends with SDR. The first step is awareness that the pattern of agitation and over-reaction is not typical or inevitable. Learning to "read" one's own physical reactions is a key way to learning to manage them. Adopt healthy habits. Beyond awareness, changes in behavior and in how we see our stress reactions have biological effects that counter stress. Physical exercise burns cortisol and helps us to regulate our emotions and moods. Social connections remain important, and release chemicals — oxytocin and serotonin - that counteract cortisol. Becoming mindful helps us keep stressors in perspective, and also reduces cortisol. Avoid "comforting yourself" with food and drinks. Avoiding easy but risky choices that provide quick relief but longer-term damage is equally important. "Comfort food," alcohol, and other drugs are a pathway to obesity, metabolic disorders, and addiction that are major causes of early mortality. RELATED: The Busy Trap: How Keeping Busy Became a Status Symbol None of these changes are easy — especially for those with stress dysregulation — but they are attainable and highly effective. And we can benefit from them even if we don't have stress dysregulation — it's stressful out there for nearly all of us. Daniel Keating, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, is the author of Born Anxious: The Lifelong Impact of Early Life Adversity and How to Break the Cycle, out now from St. Martin's Press. If you're anything like us, chances are you spend way more time inside — tapping away at a computer and hunched over your phone — than you do basking in the greenery. But with Earth Day upon us and temperatures warming up as summer nears, consider becoming a little more one with nature. After all, it does have some pretty neat health benefits. Why Going Outside Is Good for Your Mind, Body and Soul "Being outdoors is generally associated with activity, and being physically active keeps joints loose and helps with chronic pain and stiffness," says Jay Lee, M.D., a physician with Kaiser Permanente in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Plus, when you exercise outside (whether you go for a hike, run or opt to do something else), you have to disconnect from your phone — and that allows you to focus on yourself and what you're doing, says Francis Neric, senior director of certification for the American College of Sports Medicine. You're also less likely to pick up a virus in the summer, since you're not breathing in the same recycled air as everyone else quite as much. "Cold and flu happen in the winter because people are huddled indoors, where you're more likely to be exposed to those viruses," says Lee. Aside from boosting your activity level, hanging out at a park, garden or amongst many trees is great for your mental wellbeing, too. "Nature can be beneficial for mental health," says Irina Wen, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and clinical director of the Steven A. Military Family Clinic at NYU Langone Medical Center. "It reduces cognitive fatigue and stress and can be helpful with depression and anxiety." The Benefits of 'Bathing' in the Woods Research has shown that 'forest bathing,' the practice of spending time in a forested area in an effort to reap wellness rewards, is pretty darn good for you. That may explain why this Japanese trend is catching on stateside. A 2010 study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, for example, found that participants who walked in a forest had lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone) afterwards than those who strolled through a city environment. Hope Parks, the wellness manager at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, runs the resort's three-year-old Deep Healing Woods program. It was inspired by traditional forest bathing, or Shirin-Yoku. Visitors can sign up for a hike, run or yoga or meditation session (all activities are done solo and last 90 minutes). Mother and two kids hiking on a stony path through a forest. Getty Images "We focus on allowing nature to awaken the senses," she says. When you take a walk or hike through the woods there — sans any technological distractions, since service is spotty — you're likely to take in even the smallest of details around you, says Parks. "And if you close your eyes, you can hear creeks more deeply," she adds. The Blackberry Farm property sits on 4,200 acres of land in the Great Smoky Mountains, making it the perfect location to find some Zen. "90 minutes later, I notice people's shoulders have lowered away from their ears," says Parks. "Relaxation has happened." Julia Goren, education director for the Adirondack Mountain Club, tried her hand at forest bathing back in December with colleagues. "It was tremendously peaceful, calming and centering," she says. "We took a silent walk, listening to the sounds of the wind through the fir needles, the popping of trees and the occasional croaking of a raven." Goren says that the focus on quietness helped her feel part of the larger natural community — and she felt more relaxed and had an easier time focusing once the walk was over. How to Prep for Your Own Nature Adventure You don't need access to a forest to get in on the fun — any green space will do. Just make sure to take a few precautions before venturing out on your own. 1. Be aware of your surroundings. Going it alone? Staying safe is key. "Know your environment," says Neric, "and let someone know where you're going." 2. Protect your skin. "You want to get the exposure for the vitamin D, but that comes with an increased risk of skin cancer, so apply sunscreen to exposed areas and wear a hat," says Lee. You may also want to spritz on bug spray and wear long sleeves depending on your location, says Neric. 3. Wear comfy kicks. While physical activity has many health benefits, one of the negatives is that it can increase musculoskeletal pain if you don't use the right gear, says Lee. "If you're walking or running, make sure you're wearing comfortable shoes," he says. 4. Stay hydrated. Don't leave home with out the water bottle! Lee says it's often hard to gauge if you're guzzling enough H2O, so check your pee. "Your urine should come out clear," he says. "If it's dark yellow, you need to drink more water."