STRESS: HOW TO DISARM THE SILENT KILLER
Stress is part of modern life these days and everyone experiences it in one way or another. At its core ‘stress’ is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from demanding circumstances.
We can often handle short-term stress very well. In fact, stress is a beneficial sidekick to accomplishing important tasks. However when stress becomes ongoing it can start to take its toll on the body and become a foundation to disease and a silent killer.
Some common causes of daily stress may include:
Major life events: births, deaths, marriages, divorce, moving house
Personal relationships: bullying, conflict
Work or Study: deadlines, weight of responsibility, disputes
Health: pain, chronic illness, mental health issues
Dietary & Lifestyle issues: poor diet, poor sleep, shift work, lack of connection to nature, and loneliness.
When the body is chronically stressed our sympathetic nervous system or ‘fight-or-flight’ system is on all the time. When this goes on for too long it ramps up disease-causing inflammation and leads to wear and tear on your body. This can cause your blood pressure to rise, your heart to work harder, cortisol levels to rise (causing weight gain), feelings of agitation, depression and anxiety, digestive issues and sleeping disorders, just to mention a few.
If your stress is prolonged over many months or years, you can eventually burn out with ‘adrenal fatigue’ and your cortisol levels may become depleted leading to low blood pressure, dizziness, fatigue and exhaustion. Overall, a person with chronic stress can feel scattered, anxious and depressed and less able to function day-to-day. Unhealthy behaviours such as consuming excessive caffeine and junk foods, skipping meals and self-medicating with alcohol and drugs can appear.
The good news is, if you start taking steps towards recognising and managing your stress response today you can prevent more serious issues down the road.
How to Manage Stress
A starting point is to recognise that you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed and make daily plans to work out a coping strategy. Here are some great ways to build up your resilience to stress:
* B vitamins are a great way to feed and nourish the nervous system – include a good quality B Vitamin supplement as well as foods like eggs, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, poultry, brewer’s yeast and green leafy vegetables in your diet.
* Magnesium is the king of minerals and helps to turn down the over-stimulation of the fight or flight response. It aids by relaxing the muscles, relieving headaches and helps you sleep. Food sources include salmon, beans/legumes, leafy green veggies, broccoli, avocados and nuts. Speak to one of our practitioners to find out which magnesium supplement is right for you.
* Adaptogenic herbs are a unique set of healing plants that help to balance, restore and protect the body making it easier to handle stress by regulating hormones and physiological functions. These include ginseng, ashwagandha, maca, rhodiola, holy basil and cocoa.
* Essential oils such as lavender, myrrh, frankincense and bergamot can be used to relax the body and mind, reduce inflammation, improve immunity, balance hormones and help with sleep and digestion.
* Breathing exercises are beneficial – It can be as simple as stopping every hour to take 10 full breaths and relax your muscles – you might need to set an alarm on your phone or pop a ‘post it’ note on your computer to help you remember.
* During times of intense stress (such as when you are having a panic attack) try placing a cool cloth on your forehead and holding your breath for as long as you can, then resume normal breathing. This sets off your diving reflex — the natural set of reflexes that are activated when your face is cooled and you hold your breath, like when you submerge yourself in water. This is the opposite of the stress response: Your heart rate slows down, instantly quieting your anxiety.
* Time management – it is also important to manage your day (try not to pack too much into one day and start getting comfortable saying no).
* A healthy diet that is ‘nutrient-dense’ including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, protein and essential fats will nourish the brain and body and help you to be more resilient during stressful times.
* Movement. Exercise works on building a healthy body and mind –consider getting outside into the fresh air for a daily 30 minute walk. Or connecting with the earth by spending time in nature. Great examples are gardening, walking barefoot on the grass or beach, hiking, nature walks. Remember how good you felt when you last did those things? These activities give you the chance to find a healing space to breathe fresh air, feel the sun on your face and disconnect from technology.
It is important to know that long-term ongoing stress plays a negative part in our lives and can damage our physical and mental well-being leading to chronic disease.
We can be proactive in finding positive stress relievers to help maintain a strong quality of life. And remember that you don’t have to do this alone. Reach out to the people around you for support – this may be friends and family, your local GP and the help of a professional such as a Naturopath or Nutritionist to help you with a plan moving forward.
Written by Fleur Price Naturopath & Nutritionist
Fleur practices at Indooroopilly Health Squared and you can make an appointment by calling 33788696