The first thing to recognise is that stress is common. We live in an age where technology is both wondrous and yet completely destructive in many ways. We are all expected to be “on” 24/7; responding to emails, tweeting, resolving arguments with a quick Google search. Life moves at 100mph. It takes its toll. We get stressed!
So what are we to do?
It’s important to know that there are different types of stress. The above description is what we usually associate with “stress”, and can be referred to as emotional stress. Some of the main stressors are listed below.
Types of Stress
- Emotional Stress – work / relationships / finances.
- Nutritional Stress – poor diet, lack of nutrients, high toxicity.
- Hunger – true hunger is a stressor.
- Thirst / Dehydration – lack of water impairs bodily function.
- Temperature – being too hot or too cold.
- Injury – pain or injury of any kind.
All of the above will be stressful to the body. It’s important to manage these other forms of stress (temperature, hunger, thirst) because the emotional stressors are less easy to simply turn off. However, help is at hand – and we’ll come to that later.
Why is stress so detrimental to health?
Not all stress is bad. Indeed some stress is good, even necessary. Cortisol is our stress hormone, and the release of cortisol and adrenaline is what prompts your body to react in an emergency. Hence reports of people lifting cars to help somebody trapped underneath, when normally they’d struggle to do much with a pair of 5kg dumbbells!
The problem with the stress that most people suffer from is that is prolonged, and this has repercussions for health and even weight management, due to the hormonal disturbance caused. Too much cortisol will lead to weight gain, particularly around the tummy, as this area has the highest concentration of cortisol receptors. When cortisol is released into the bloodstream but not used for a “fight or flight” situation, all that excess cortisol leads to increased hunger and reduced sensitivity to insulin (which could ultimately induce Type II Diabetes).
“Fight of Flight”
To explain the above better, let’s take a look at an example of how things ought to function in an ideal world.
1) Body identifies stress (e.g. saber-toothed tiger approaching).
2) Body responds to stress (i.e. releases cortisol).
3) Fight or flight (e.g. do battle with saber-toothed feline, or run like crazy)!
4) Cortisol levels drop (no more need to respond to stress) = hormones rebalanced.
In reality, however, the situation pans out more like this:
1) Body identifies stress (e.g. urgent deadline at work).
2) Body responds to stress (i.e. releases cortisol).
3) NO fight or flight (as much as you might wish to do battle with your boss, or run away, the fact is you carry on working in a bid to meet that deadline).
4) Body continues to respond to stress = hormonal imbalance (i.e. too much cortisol) = likely illness and weight gain.
Most people will recognise the above, and therefore also recognise the below signals:
Signs and Symptoms of Stress
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irritability, low mood
- Change in appetite
- Increased anxiety / anger / tearfulness
- Sickness (catching colds more frequently)
- Lethargy and lack of motivation
If you recognise any of the above then it’s time to take action by following the steps below.
Top tips to reduce stress
- Improve sleep! (See article on improving sleep)
In brief your cortisol is at a natural low between the hours of 10pm-2am so getting to bed early can really help you to de-stress. Magnesium and zinc supplements before bed can help, as well as avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine. Aim to have a “wind down” routine (such as having a bath, or listening to relaxing music) before bed
- Identify your triggers.
Look at the lost of stressors above. Which ones apply to you? Take note of when you tend to feel most stressed and how you typically respond. Identifying these triggers is a crucial part of the de-stressing process.
Simple breathing exercises or meditation can be really helpful. Meditation can conjure up images of sitting cross legged and chanting, but don’t over-think it! Just taking five minutes to sit somewhere quietly can help. Other practises such as Tai Chi or gentle yoga can be beneficial.
Exercising releases endorphins which make you feel good. However, really tough workouts can add more stress to your body so don’t feel the need to beast yourself. Only push yourself if you really feel up to it. Otherwise go for a nice long walk instead. In fact, a daily walk (even if it’s only a short one) should be a priority. Don’t underestimate the value of simply walking:
– Exposure to daylight which tops up Vitamin D levels
– Gentle exercise
– Lowers blood pressure
– Fresh air
– Time to clear your head and “meditate” (told you it didn’t have to involve sitting cross-legged)!
- Tulsi tea
This Ayurvedic tea helps to naturally lower cortisol levels so I recommend drinking this in the afternoon / evening, anytime from 2pm.
- Seek help!
Most importantly – don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your friends and family. If you’re overwhelmed with things to do, they might be able to help do things for you. At the very least they can encourage you to get out for a walk, get to bed early and bring you warming cups of Tulsi tea!