I remember when I was a student and there were bursts of stress when we had a test. We’d procrastinate learning to the last minute and then try to cram it all in the day before the test. Major stress.
I remember when I was a teenager or in my early twenties and dating was stressful.
Other than that, I don’t think I had much stress.
Now things are different. It seems that stress is omnipresent, in every little corner of our every day lives.
We all need some stress in our lives. Otherwise we would not get up in the morning 🙂
However if our stress levels are not managed well, it can affect our health and well-being.
When stressed or in a stressful situation, it’s our adrenal glands that release hormones – adrenaline and cortisol – responsible for our ancient response mode of ‘fight or flight’. We almost become animals and our muscles tense up, our heart starts to beat faster, we breathe harder, sweat more and our stomachs tighten up. When stress stops, these reactions disappear and things go back to normal.
If this alert and activated state continues however, it affects our body and health.
Usually our digestive system is the first to warn us when the passage of food can cause stomach cramps, diarrhoea, constipation or heartburn. Things often get worse because when stressed, we usually don’t have time for healthy meals either and the body thinks that it needs to continuously store fat so it can tackle the ongoing stress. And the vicious circle starts: blood sugar levels fluctuate and we start having unhealthy food cravings.
Sometimes, when stressed, we feel something like the beginning of a cold. It’s those adrenal glands again. They produce our hormones and thus require a large amount of key vitamins and minerals to keep us going. When under stress however, the glands become depleted and make us feel run down and more prone to infections.
Stress can also cause us to be less in the mood for sex and disrupt our menstrual cycles.
Chronic stress really messes with how we think and feel and can even go as far as causing depression.
Stress is also the cause of anxiety, panic attacks, sleep disturbances etc.
So what can we do about it?
first you need to identify when and where stress levels are high.
change your plans in order to include some more me-time, breaks, exercise, social interaction.
make sure you get enough sleep, switch off electronics 30 minutes before bedtime, relax, empty your head.
feed your body well so that it can deal with stress. See below for a few tips on eating.
Eat your way out of stress:
- Vitamin B: if you are feeling run down, stock up on your vitamin Bs (especially B5) which helps tackle stress levels. Sunflower seeds, avocado, salmon, mushrooms.
- Protein: tackle your cravings by increasing protein which stabilises your blood sugar.
- Vitamin C: adrenal glands are your biggest store for vitamin C. So in case of stress, help them out a bit. Eat colourful fruits, especially citrus, red pepper, kiwi and berries.
- Minerals: they help your adrenal glands work correctly. Magnesium relaxes the body and nervous system. Eat leafy greens, brown rice, quinoa, beans, peanuts and almonds. Calcium, zinc, potassium are other minerals that are important. Eat beans, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, fish and shellfish.
- Green tea is a very good stress-buster as it promotes relaxation and boosts concentration.
- Fish: oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies etc) are rich in omega-3 which can help reduce the effects of stress.
- Probiotics: help your digestive system with probiotics or naturally by eating more yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi or sauerkraut.
- Herbs: add herbs to your food intake (as powder or supplement) to help you unwind and destress. Hops, passionflower, lemon balm, valerian in a tea for example. Improve your resilience with Rhodiola, ginseng, ashwagandha and cordyceps.
- Chocolate: is known to reduce cortisol levels, but only if you opt for a little and the 70% and more dark chocolate or raw cacao.