Many people do not realise what is causing them to feel stressed. Only the physical signs of stress may be noticed, such as insomnia, depression, fatigue, headache, upset stomach, digestive disturbances and irritability. Many of those who go to physicians with these complaints may be suffering from unrecognised stressors.
Adrenaline is released from your adrenal glands - a pair of glands that lie on top of each kidney. Adrenaline was designed to give the body that extra energy boost to escape from danger. Unfortunately it can make us feel stress, anxiety and nervousness.
Where, you might wonder, does all this extra energy and increased alertness come from? The answer is that it is diverted from the body’s normal repair and maintenance jobs such as cleansing, digesting and rejuvenating. When under high stress your pituitary, adrenals, pancreas and liver are perpetually pumping out hormones to control your blood sugar that you don’t even need, day in day out. Like a car driven too fast, your body soon gets out of balance and parts start to wear out.
As a consequence your energy level drops and you lose concentration, get confused, suffer from bouts of ‘brain fog’, fall asleep after meals, get irritable, freak out, can’t sleep, can’t wake up, sweat too much, get headaches... Does this sound familiar?
In an attempt to regain control, most people turn to legal stimulants. Legal stimulants include coffee, tea, fizzy drinks, cigarettes, chocolate and psychological ‘stimulants’, including demanding jobs, dangerous pastimes, horror movies, emotional traumas etc.
Living on stimulants, it naturally becomes increasingly difficult to relax. Many people counter this by using relaxants such as alcohol, sleeping pills, tranquillisers, cannabis and so on. While the immediate effect of these substances is as a relaxant, the long-term effect is often to generate anxiety.
You don't need stimulants
Stimulants are energy’s greatest enemy. Even though stimulants can create energy in the short term, the long-term effect is always bad. The same is true of stress. Therefore the first step to beating stress and fatigue is to eliminate or cut down on stimulants. This includes coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar and refined foods, cigarettes, cola drinks and alcohol.
Stop your intake of these stimulants for one month and see what happens. The more damage stimulants are doing to you, the greater the withdrawal effect. Then start again and notice what happens when you have your first cup of tea, coffee, or hit of sugar or chocolate. You will experience an ‘initial response’ – a true response to these powerful chemicals. The effects may include a pounding head, hyperactive mind, fast heartbeat, insomnia, followed by extreme drowsiness.
You will adapt to the stimulants but eventually you will hit the exhaustion stage. However recovery is not only possible, it’s usually rapid. Most people feel substantially more energetic and able to cope with stress within 30 days of quitting stimulants, with nutritional support.
Methods to reduce stress
- Blood-sugar balancing diet - Other than cutting down or eliminating the stimulants mentioned above, people should ensure that they follow a blood-sugar balancing diet focusing on protein to complex carbohydrate ratios and low GI value foods. This should be in the maximum ratio of 1:3 (i.e. a palm of protein to three palms of complex carbohydrate). An ideal meal may consist of fish/lean meat with a combination of green vegetables and starchy vegetables. Starchy vegetables are carrots parsnips, pumpkin and swede.
- Essential fats - eat oily fish and unrefined sunflower, pumpkin and hemp seeds. These are all rich in essential fats that reduce inflammation triggered by stress hormones.
- Calming foods - lentils, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, brown rice barley avocado, turkey, cottage cheese, bananas, ginger, almonds, leafy green vegetables are all calming.
- Eat smaller meals regularly – low blood sugar is common in people who are stressed.
- Drink calming teas - lemon balm, chamomile, passion flower, skullcap, lime flower, hops and valerian are good options. I make a blend of equal parts: chamomile, passion flower, lime flower and skullcap. I would also recommend Pukka Tea available from most good health shops, particularly their Love and Relax blend.
- Exercise - it is recommended that you exercise a minimum of three times a week for 30-45 minutes, ideally in the open air. Jogging, walking football, tennis, squash, and cycling are all good forms.
- Relaxation Exercises – there are many relaxation techniques available which will resonate with some people and not with others. It will be necessary to find a practice that suits you best by experimentation. Good choices are Yoga, (preferably Hatha or Bikram), Tai Chi, meditation, (such as transcendental meditation), breathing techniques, (please see below) and listening to classical or spiritual music. The key point to bear in mind is not to become stressed out with your relaxation practice of choice - enjoy your practice but do not obsess about getting it right!
- Tension release (progressive relaxation) - this involves tightening and relaxing the major muscle groups one at a time, being aware of each sensation. Start at your feet and work up to your head. Tense the muscles for a count of ten, concentrating on the tension, then let the muscles go lax and breathe deeply, enjoying the sensation of release.