Most people have likely heard of cortisol, the hormone, produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress which activates the fight or flight response.
A little bit of stress is healthy and helps us get things done. However, because stress is now a part of everyday life, more and more people are suffering from chronic stress and feeling the effects of it, including:
- Poor sleep and insomnia
- High blood pressure
- Hair loss
- Frequent infections
- Diminished cognitive function/memory
- Weight gain around the waist
- Sugar cravings
- Low libido
- Loss of muscle mass
- Heart palpitations
Hormones are like an orchestra, when one is out of balance it can have a knock on effect on the rest. This means, when we are under chronic stress and cortisol is dysregulated it can cause the body to go into survival mode and hibernation. This can impact other hormones such as thyroid hormone production (hello fatigue) and cause low progesterone (goodbye ovulation). This can mean, stress needs to be addressed as a root cause of other hormonal imbalance and insufficiencies.
Unfortunately, we cannot simply remove stress from our lives. Instead, we need to find ways to help our body better handle and adapt to stress. In other words, be more resilient.
This doesn’t just mean mentally but also physically. If our body is undernourished or deficient in vitamins and minerals, it wont be best placed to cope with stress.
If you are stress prone and often burning the candle at both ends, read on below to find some ways to help you distress:
Remove stimulants from your diet – this is a no brainer, caffeine, and even excess sugar, can place an extra demand on your nervous system and during times of stress just add fuel to the fire. Remove or limit them from your diet and replace with more calming alternatives such as herbal teas (caffeine free). Alcohol falls into the same camp, so its best to limit or avoid alcohol for the time being.
Eat adequate calories – starvation is a stress on the body, which means it’s important to not diet during times of stress. Not only is dieting a physical stress but it can also be a mental stress because restriction is no fun for anyone and can cause feelings of deprivation and even loneliness if avoiding social situations.
Focus on nutrient density – when stressed, your body can churn through vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and B-vitamins. This means its important to choose nutrient dense foods which will replenish supplies. An easy way to achieve this is opting for wholefoods and ½ plate plants at each meal.
Choose restorative exercise – high intensity exercise can be an added stress on the body, so choosing more low impact and restorative exercise such as yoga, t’ai chi, pilates and walking in green space is a beneficial approach to take when stressed.
Learn to stay no (without guilt!) – doing things we don’t want to be doing out of fear of hurting others is not good for anybody and is a source of stress. Learn to stay no to the things that you can’t take on or that won’t add value to your life. Being open and honest with those around you will make saying no that little bit easier. So if you struggle to stay no, perhaps start there and learn to be ok with vulnerability.
Adopt some form of meditative practice – whilst meditation is an important part of my anti-stress routine, not everybody responds well to meditation. Thankfully there are so many other practices to help relax the body and mind and it’s about finding works for you, because if you don’t get results or enjoy it, you aren’t likely to stick with it. Some alternative practices may include:
- Deep diaphragmatic breathing – set aside a few minutes each day or multiple times per day to do this
- Alternate nostril breathing
- Getting out in the sunshine and laying on the grass
- Laughter therapy – yes a true belly laugh is the best medicine!
In addition to the diet tips above, some specific vitamins and minerals to help your body react to stress are:
- Vitamin C – needed by the adrenal gland for the production of cortisol and neurotransmitters.
- Vitamins B5 and B6 – both aid adrenal function.
- Zinc – a co-factor in the synthesis of neurotransmitters
- Magnesium – can help to reduce the release of hormones, which lead to the over activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which plays a role in our stress response.