Let’s talk about stress!

Are you feeling stressed?

Do you know how to reduce stress? Or are you struggling to address the symptoms of stress?

Did you know that stress can affect our health in many ways?

we all deal with stress in different ways and unfortunately with our ever increasingly demanding lives, stress seems to be a major epidemic that is leading to many health conditions such as heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes.

You see we are all programmed with a fight or flight response which helps us to adapt to stressful situations.

Take the cave man when his perceived threat was a tiger…his fight or flight response would kick in to increase his heart rate, his pupils dilate, functions such as digestion, metabolism and hormone production stops and hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are produced (at the expense of sex hormones) but once the perceived threat disappears, bodily functions return.

Well now in our current society where stress is constant and life is more demanding, our body is in constant fight mode which in turn causes our body to produce more cortisol (the stress hormone) at the expense of digestion,metabolism and sex hormone production.

Even lack of sleep is another form a stress that the body responds to.

So what does continued stress do to the body?

Chronic stress can have many symptoms including

Anxiety

Depression

Insomnia

Irritability

Weight gain

You see when we are in a state of chronic stress, the stress hormones such as cortisol impact on our body in a detrimental way.

The adrenal glands produce the cortisol and adrenaline which speeds up the heart rate and sends blood to the areas that need it most.

Cortisol causes blood vessels to constrict and divert oxygen to the muscles but actually raises blood pressure which over a long period of time increases your risk of heart disease and strokes.

When we are stressed our liver produces glucose for that boost of energy but our body can’t use this extra surge so stores it in our fat cells causing weight gain particularly round the tummy area, and increases our risk of type 2 diabetes.

As digestion and metabolism is reduced during stress, functions such as food passing through the body reduces and can cause symptoms of constipation and diarrhoea.

Another leading result of stress is infertility. You see the production of cortisol is on the same pathway as our sex hormones so when cortisol is having to be produced, it is at the expense of the hormones needed for reproduction resulting in irregular periods, heavier and more painful periods.

And with men, the drop in testosterone can interfere with sperm production and cause erectile dysfunction.

Stress has the ability to stimulate the immune system but over time, stress hormones weaken the immune system which can make us susceptible to illness.

Stress hormones also affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

So what can we do to reduce stress in our lives?

Food and nutrition can play a big part in supporting our body during stressful periods.

Leafy green vegetables, oily fish such as salmon and sardines, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate, blueberries, oranges are all foods that can help support our body against stress.

Magnesium is a great mineral found in leafy greens, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds etc and can actually help to reduce cortisol levels.

Supporting blood sugar levels is vital, as cortisol plays a role in glucose production, so supporting blood sugar levels with whole nutrient dense foods is important and can help to reduce over eating.

Avoiding processed and sugar laden junk food can also help to support blood sugar levels while eating whole foods will provide the minerals and nutrients that our body needs.

Low carbohydrate diets can also cause stress on the body so opting for whole grains, quinoa, buckwheat and oats can help to support energy levels, stress levels and balance out cortisol levels.

Eating nutrient dense protein can help the body adapt to stress from sources such as oysters that are rich in zinc can promote healthy neurotransmitter function. Legumes, beans and pulses are all rich sources of protein.

Some meats such as turkey contain tryptophan which is the pre cursor for serotonin that can help to make you feel calm and relaxed but that can also be found in foods such as salmon, spinach, bananas, nuts, eggs, and tofu.

Relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga have been shown to reduce symptoms of stress, reduce anxiety and improve overall health and well-being.

Try to improve sleep habits with insomnia being a major risk for stress related illnesses as well as welght gain.

Look at avoiding caffeine before bed, reduce screen time an hour before bed, and try and support blood sugar levels as a drop in blood sugar levels during the night can in fact cause awakening and restless sleep.

Stress management is vital especially during long term periods of stress. Try and incorporate mindfulness strategies and slow breathing which has been shown to reduce stress levels and calm the brain-adrenal axis.

Spending time outdoors can really help to boost health and well-being. Connecting with your surroundings and taking time out has been shown to reduce levels of anxiety and depression.

Low levels of Vitamin D can contribute to anxiety type symptoms, and unfortunately if you live in a country that has low levels such as England during the winter months, vitamin D can be hard to come by, so supplementing would be advisable. During the summer months, 20 minutes of sun exposure a day can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and promote a healthy body and mind.

And at the end of the end….learning to say no to demands that are too much is important for your health and your emotional health.

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