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Wired and tired: What has stress got to do with it?

Feeling wired and tired is really common. It seems strange that you can feel like you have energy but actually you’re very tired. It’s all about how you are reacting to stress. Your body creates stress hormones in response to stressful situations, these hormones are made from raw materials which is the food you eat. If your tank gets depleted because you’re over-stressed, then you’re more likely to notice symptoms.  

Other common symptoms of stress might include feeling dizzy, struggling to lose weight, lots of colds, digestive issues, hormonal issues, feeling emotional, struggling to sleep and under-performing if you do sport.

Eating well when you’re stressed

When you’re tired you’re more likely to make poor food choices. Your body just wants energy to keep you going. Rational thoughts about healthy eating go out of the window.

You can take some simple actions:

  • Ensure you eat enough protein and include this in each meal.
  • Animal protein options include eggs, fish, chicken, seafood, meat and dairy.
  • Vegetable protein sources include chickpeas, lentils, beans and tofu.
  • Introduce some small protein based snacks to keep you sustained in the morning or afternoon. For example, a few nuts, matchbox amount of cheese or even a boiled egg.
  • Plan ahead. Spend 10 minutes writing down what your meals will be next week. Stick it on the fridge or somewhere easy to see.

If you know you have a particularly stressful time coming up, then plan for it. Make use of healthy ready meals with chopped and frozen vegetables. One of my favourite meals is ready cooked salmon steak with green salad leaves, a drizzle of olive oil and some oatcakes or brown rice.

Acute stress versus chronic stress

Acute stress is a one-off more severe situation. We get stressed, our bodies release stress hormones and we react. Then they will fall back to normal levels. Think of a caveman or woman having the choice to fight or flight from a predator it is about survival. This same physiological reaction happens now when we have acute stress, perhaps we witness an accident or have some bad news.

Here’s the thing though; as well as the acute stress that some people experience, we get lots of little stressors. For example, sitting in a traffic jam, receiving an angry email, dealing with difficult colleagues or project deadlines. These smaller stressors all build up into what we call chronic stress which may have a negative impact on your health. That is where nutrition and lifestyle changes can step in.

Some issues are within our control, perhaps traffic is a problem so we negotiate to work from home once a fortnight. Some are not within our control, perhaps we work in customer service and have to deal with unhappy people. We can’t change that situation but we can do at least two things. The first is to be aware of how this situation makes us feel but not react or dwell upon it. Tools such as mindfulness and yoga might help here. 

Then the second thing you can do is to nourish yourself through food and activities so that you are more resilient to those stressors around you.     

Key nutrients for your stress hormones

  • Magnesium: Found in green leafy vegetables, although clinical experience suggests that many of us do not get enough from our food due to the quality of the soil.
  • Protein: Found in animal products, and vegetarian sources (see examples above).
  • Vitamin C: Found in fruit and vegetables. Good sources include strawberries, citrus fruit and peppers.
  • B vitamins: Found in a range of foods including animal products and grains.

Sometimes a person benefits from supplementation if they are deficient in a certain vitamin or mineral, or suffering from stress. A registered nutritional therapist can tell you what to use and tailor this for your unique needs.

The knock-on effect of stress 

Many people have health symptoms and have been told or know that they are stressed. What isn't always obvious is the chemistry or physiology or how stress affects our health.

Let's consider digestion. If we are stressed then our body uses its resources to get the blood flowing around legs and arms, so we can run away or fight. That means the blood is moved away from the digestive system, so it's not surprising that we're digesting poorly and have gas or bloating, or other longstanding issues.

Then let's consider hormones, and issues such as PMS (premenstrual syndrome) or menopause issues. If we are stressed then our body produces stress hormones at the expense of producing hormones. Another chemical reaction that helps us to understand that we need to take action through relaxation and nutrition.

How to relax

Relaxation involves doing an activity that takes your mind away from other activities and also doesn’t require much if any, physical effort. If the activity stresses you because you are trying to do it, then it isn’t the activity for you. It isn’t about achievement, instead, it is about the doing.

  • colouring in
  • doodle books
  • listening to music
  • meditation
  • mindfulness
  • breathing practices
  • yoga

If you’re too stressed to do one of these activities or you feel that you need more advice, consider seeking professional support. You may benefit from speaking to a counsellor if your stress is affecting your mental health, or a hypnotherapist if you're struggling to relax and unwind due to the causes of stress. You can also speak to a registered nutritional therapist, who can advise you on other strategies involving specific foods and optional supplements. 

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Joanne Hart BSc (Hons), mBANT, CNHC. health & hart. Health and Sport

Joanne Hart of health and hart is a degree level registered nutritionist and registered nutritional therapist (BSc(Hons)), yoga teacher and motivational coach. By tailoring your nutrition, she helps you move towards optimum health and performance for life, work and sport.… Read more

Written by Joanne Hart BSc (Hons), mBANT, CNHC. health & hart. Health and Sport

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