Stress: my 6 top tips on how to beat it!
Gone are the days where our stress response primarily helped us get out of danger, now it seems to be putting us in it! Our stress response evolved primarily as a means of survival from our ancestors facing immediate, life-threatening situations. Unfortunately, that kind of response isn’t ideal for the type of chronic, ongoing stress we face today.
When you experience any kind of stress, whether physical (slamming on your brakes), emotional (going through a heartbreak), or mental (overloaded at work and worrying about money), your body processes it the same – through the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands respond by producing a flood of stress hormones, including cortisol, which affects both your digestive system and immune system (80% of which is located in your gut).
So a little bit of stress is good, it can help keep us alive and motivated, performing well at works and in sports for example. But it’s when we experience chronic ongoing stress, without leaving time for our body to recuperate, that we start seeing symptoms and sub-optimal health. From mild worry, irritability, low mood, bloating and difficulty sleeping to more severe symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia, infertility, autoimmune conditions and burnout the effects of stress are often serious, relentless and very, very common.
What to do?
Unfortunately stress cannot always be avoided, but what we can do is ensure our body is nourished enough to deal with it, and over time through dietary and lifestyle changes we can enhance our bodies response to stress. Thereby reducing our risk of developing many chronic diseases, and improving our overall health and well-being.
I want to share with you my six top tips to get started with!
1. Increase your intake of whole foods. The key nutrients required for adrenal hormone production include protein (fish, poultry, meat, eggs, avocado lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, nuts and seeds), omega 3 (oily fish, eggs, flaxseed, walnuts), magnesium (avocado, fish, beans, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, brown rice, sea vegetables), B vitamins (fish, poultry, meat, eggs, whole grains, brewers yeast, almonds, sprouts and green leafy vegetables, brown rice), vitamin C (berries and other fruit, peppers, green leafy vegetables) and vitamin E (almonds, avocado, sunflower seeds, extra virgin olive oil).
2. Eat balanced meals regularly throughout the day. When our blood glucose levels dip, cortisol is released as the bodies response to raised blood glucose levels; cortisol is catabolic and causes the break down of glucose into the blood stream. Eating regular meals of protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates will not only fill our bodies with the nutrients needed for adrenal function but will also balance blood sugar levels and help us feel fuller for longer. The optimal length of time between meals can be quite individual ranging from three to five hours in most. Find what’s right for you; where energy levels remain constant throughout the day and you are eating before you feel super hungry. If you feel the need to snack between meals, do so on protein and complex carbohydrates, e.g. nuts and seeds, humous on oat cakes.
3. Get in your zzz's. Although everybody’s sleep needs are different, the optimal amount for most adults is seven to eight hours. The most restorative sleep is also obtained before midnight. Try to remove all screens (phone, laptop, T.V) at least one hour before bedtime, and create a soothing bedtime routine that signals to your body it’s time to calm down and prepare for sleep.
4. Switch your caffeine hit. Although your body might be screaming for stimulants when stress hits, switching over to less caffeinated drinks, e.g. coffee to tea, can ease demands on your adrenals. It’s been shown that drinking two cups of tea per day lowers cortisol and improves relaxation. Also opt for herbal teas with other health benefits: green tea contains caffeine but is also high in antioxidants which fight against free radical damage caused by sun, pollution, alcohol, drugs and fried foods. Liquorice has been shown to more effectively regulate cortisol and also soothes a sweet craving. Please note, liquorice is therefore contra-indicated in individuals with high blood pressure and should not be consumed late at night.
5. Get active in the great outdoors. Exercise has been shown to increase the size of a part of your brain called the hippocampus, which helps ease stress. Choose an activity that you enjoy, and ideally a low impact sport, e.g. yoga, swimming, team sports. Also, try and exercise outdoors, studies have shown that walking in a city park causes lower brain activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with brooding and worrying thoughts. Exercise also helps with the time taken to get to sleep.
6. Breathe! So simple right? And so, so effective! Slow breathing at six breaths per minute for 15 minutes significantly reduces your sympathetic nervous system activity and blood pressure. Start by finding a comfortable seat, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breath. Noticing the inhale, and the exhale, and releasing into any part of the breath which might feel tight or interrupted. It also helps to count the breath on the inhale and exhale. Slowly start to lengthen the shorter part of the breath if there is one, and then lengthen the count of the overall breath. This can take some time to achieve, so don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t happen first time. Stick with it! Just five minutes every day focusing on your breath can bring an immense feeling of relaxation and calm. If you find it helpful you can sit down on a chair, or lie down on the floor perhaps resting your hands on your belly.
I hope this helps you understand a little more about any health symptoms you might have, and how your current lifestyle might be affecting your overall health and well-being.
In health and happiness,
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