What’s Wrong with Chronic Stress?
A few years back, as well as last year, stress was managing me, not me managing it, due to many things happening in my life. It caused me anxiety and I did not like that one bit. I decided enough was enough and remove myself from any stressful situations, so that I am in control, nothing else and no one else. This allows me to feel much more at ease in various situations, rather than uncomfortable.
In response to a stressful situation, our body secretes the stress hormone cortisol, which alters our physiological response. Cortisol helps us cope with acute stressful situations by increasing blood levels for energy mobilization, increasing appetite, converting fat to energy, suppressing reproductive system, and stimulating immune organs to cope with bodily injury.
However, if the level of cortisol is chronically elevated, it results in a number of negative and destructive effects, including: visceral fat deposits, memory impairment, insulin resistance, osteoporosis, mood swings, changes in sleeping habits, various digestive issues, neuromuscular complaints as well as immune system impairment – leading to autoimmune disease and increased metabolic disturbances.
Besides making us much less able to enjoy life and be much more unpleasant to deal with, chronic stress can cause a cascading series of physiological responses in our systems that lead to serious health issues in the long run:
- Nutrient deficiencies due to decrease in nutrient absorption and increase in excretion of certain minerals
- Increased chances of cardiovascular disease by increasing LDL, triglycerides, high blood pressure and aggregation of blood platelets
- Reduced good gut flora, which can lower immunity and cause digestive issues
- Reduced metabolism and increased fat storage, leading to weight gain
- Decreased healing ability
- Increased oxidative stress which increases premature aging
Use Nutrition and Herbs to Alleviate Stress
I absolutely love my essential oils. Diffusing them and putting them on my skin are my go-to’s. Lavender, Chamomile, Bulgarian Rose, Cedarwood, Geranium and some of the emotion oils such as Peaceful and Forgive are just a few, to help bring me calming feelings.
Certain foods and stimulants can trigger increased sense of anxiety, making us more prone to stress. Others have the effect of soothing the nervous system, or help increase our body’s ability to adjust to stressful situations.
Here are a few tips to use nutrition and herbs to manage stress:
- Use “nervine” herbs, which are soothing to the nervous system to encourage calm and relaxation. Examples are chamomile, valerian, lemon balm and oats.
- Use “adaptogens”, which condition the nervous system to deal with a broad range of stressors and quickly return to a state of balance once the stressor goes away, without robbing the body of vital nutrients and energy. These include ashwagandha, tulsi (Holy Basil), shisandra Berry, eleuthero/Siberian Ginseng, rhodiola and passionflower. My favorite product with adaptogens is the Ionix Supreme, from Isagenix.
- Amino acids L-Theanine and GABA can help relive stress. Green tea contains theanine, while almonds, whole wheat, halibut, walnuts, lentils, brown rice, potato, spinach, banana and orange are high glutamate or glutamic acid, which forms glutamine in your body and is a precursor to GABA.
- Calcium has a soothing effect on the nervous system. Increase intake of calcium-rich food (e.g. leafy greens, bone broth) – especially during dinner can help you wind down. If you do take a supplement, take it with dinner to help you ease into the evening.
- Reduce the use of stimulants such as caffeine. Explore coffee alternatives such as Yerba Mate, green tea, black tea, or Rooibos (African Red Bush) to avoid the caffeine jitter.
- Reduce the intake of sugar and other processed and refined foods. Those can cause blood sugar fluctuations, increasing the chances of developing mood swings and anxiety, making you more prone to stress.
More Rest Less Stress
I personally make sure I sleep for 7-8 hours each and every night. It’s so important for the body to recover while we sleep.
Lack of sleep can cause an increase in cortisol level, further increasing the negative health impact that chronic stress has on the body.
Here are a few ways to ease insomnia:
- Practicing a bedtime ritual can help you wind down and signal your body that it’s time to relax and get ready for sleep – e.g. turn off the TV, computer or any screens at least an hour before bed; have a warm cup of chamomile tea, or read a book. The blue light from electronic devices can interfere with your ability to relax and fall asleep.
- If you are prone to hypoglycemia, have a snack that is mostly complex carbohydrates shortly before bed.
- Device strategies to help you wind down and stay calm starting an hour or two before bed.
- For some people who tend to remember things or come up with ideas around bedtime, have pen and paper handy by the bedside so that you can do a “brain dump” before bed and not have to worry about not remembering when you wake up.
- Sugar, caffeine and alcohol can all affect our sleep. Try to reduce intake during the day if you can, and avoid them altogether in the evening.
- Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in sleep. Precursor of serotonin is tryptophan, which is the first to be lost in a low calorie diet. It is most common for people who skip meals and are addicted to empty calories. Tryptophan can be found in turkey, milk, potatoes, pumpkin, and various greens.
Physical Stress – Are You Overtraining?
Besides sleep, exercise or movement is also very important when it comes to taking care of our body. Exercise, although necessary to maintain health, is not necessarily the more the better. Increased activity level boost metabolism, which in turn causes the body to generate more free radicals, increasing the level of oxidative stress. For athletes, especially those who engage in activities that require prolonged engagement of the cardiovascular system (endurance athletes), it is recommended that they supplement their diets with antioxidants – such as vitamins C and E, CoEnzyme Q10, Lipoic acid and selenium to help the body combat oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
If we go overboard with our exercise, we can also get over-trained. Over-training can put stress not only on our muscular system, but also on our heart, pituitary, and adrenals. When you are over-trained, you may feel lack of energy, soreness, pain, drop in performance, insomnia, headaches, decrease in immunity, decrease in training capacity, irritability, depression, decease in appetite, and even a compulsive need to exercise.
Here are some ways to recover from overtraining:
- Rest and Recover. Reduce or stop exercise and allow yourself a few days of rest. The longer the period you were over-trained, the longer this rest period needs to be.
- Hydrate – drink plenty of fluid primarily in the form of clean filtered water and non-caffeinated herbal tea. Isagenix Amped Hydrate is my fave! All natural.
- Get a sports massage. This may help relax you mentally and physically.
- Begin Cross Training. This often helps athletes who are overworking certain muscles or suffering from mental fatigue.
Besides the techniques listed below, I love writing in my gratitude journal.
Stress management is a very multi-faceted topic, and should be approached holistically from many angles. Here are some relaxation techniques that are easy to integrate into daily routine:
- Meditation and breathing Dr. Andrew Weil has a few easy breathing techniques on his website which takes just a minute or two and are easy to follow – the 4-7-8 technique is particularly great for relaxation. [link to http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00521/three-breathing-exercises.html]
- Yoga – It helps release hormones that are conducive to relaxation. It is a way to encourage conscious, deep breathing. Hip-opening poses are particularly great for releasing stored stress and emotions.
- Very closely related to yoga is stretching. Taking time to hold a stretch can help you slow down and re-focus your energy. Forward bends, whether seated or standing, are very soothing for the nervous system.
- Exercise regularly – exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise, releases endorphin, which is a feel-good hormone.
- Stop multi-tasking – focusing on one thing at a time helps you become more efficient and focused.
- Get Slow – slow down and smell the roses! Often when you stop running in circles, you find the way out!
- Schedule quiet time everyday – even if it’s just five or ten minutes. Close the door, turn off the computer, silence the phone. Take these few precious minutes to do what feels good to you and recharge your battery. Cultivate the awareness of how you feel when you are about to get into a “burn out” state, and give yourself a break before you begin to get to that state.