I am sure you won’t be surprised to know that chronic stress has numerous negative impacts on health, especially our hormones.
Stress can be caused by a range of factors such as relationship upset, work pressure, running late, missing the bus or even physical stress due to surgery and trauma.
Feeling stressed at some point in your life, is pretty much unavoidable. The key is not to focus on eliminating all stress, but to get to a point where you better respond to stress and are therefore more stress resilient.
When we feel stressed, our cortisol, adrenaline, dopamine, norepinephrine epinephrine output increases, which is designed to help us to access energy sources to “escape the threat.”
This can have a negative impact on our hormones and bodily functions. While a short burst of stress will only have a temporary effect, chronic stress can have a more lasting impact.
Specifically, chronic stress may:
- Decrease thyroid hormone production leading to thyroid conditions.
- Decrease sex hormone production including progesterone, leading to disruption of menstrual cycles and even anovulation, impacting fertility and libido. This can also worsen symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.
- Encourage central fat deposition and may impact appetite leading to overeating.
- Lead to digestive upset such as bloating, diarrhoea/constipation due to changes in motility and increased inflammation in the gut.
- Suppress the immune system making us more vulnerable to illness.
- Increase risk for hypertension, heart attack and stroke.
- Increase risk for mood disorders and insomnia.
How to better handle stress
A good first step, can be to include a wide variety of nutrients and foods needed to help your body respond to stress in your diet, including:
- Vitamin C – needed by the adrenal glands to make cortisol. Food sources include citrus, kiwi fruit, berries, cauliflower, capsicum, broccoli, spinach and parsley.
- Magnesium – helps the nervous system respond to stress and stress depletes magnesium. Food sources include millet, buckwheat, brown rice, dark leafy veggies, cashews, almonds and dried figs.
- Omega-3 fats – critical for the proper functioning of the chemical messengers in our brain, controlling mood and emotions. Food sources include oily fish, hemp seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds.
- B6 – required for the production of adrenal gland hormones. Food sources include wholegrains, fish, spinach, blackstrap molasses and wheatgerm.
- B5 – helps with production of cortisol and assists the body to convert the foods we eat into energy. Food sources include eggs, liver, whole wheat, rye and wheatgerm.
- Lean protein – provides amino acids which are used by the body to make neurotransmitters, affecting mood and also helps to stabilise blood sugar. Food sources include fish, tofu, chicken, meat, turkey, legumes, nuts/seeds, dairy.
- Fibre – helps slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream which helps to better balance blood sugar and cortisol. Food sources include wholegrains, root veggies, flaxseeds, legumes and fruit.
It’s not just what we eat that counts, but also how we eat. It’s important to:
- Eat mindfully – if we rush our meals and eat in a stressed state we are sending the wrong message to our body and don’t absorb as much nutrition from food.
- Eat at sensible intervals – when blood sugar drops and we don’t feed our body, our stress hormone cortisol is called upon to help raise blood sugar – this essentially places our body in a state of stress.
Healthy lifestyle practices, should also form part of your weekly regime including:
- Movement – which involves deep breathing for example t’ai chi, yoga and pilates. A concentration on breath not only quietens the mind but also helps to activate the rest and digest arm of our nervous system.
- Regular socialising – connecting with others is a good way to not only unload but can also help you to get a new perspective on your stress and see that you are not alone.
- Mindfulness – mindfulness practices are an effective way to activate the rest and digest arm of the nervous system. It’s important to choose a practice which you enjoy, otherwise, it’s unlikely you will keep it up. Some ideas include deep breathing, yoga, meditation and/or walks in nature.
- Have a morning or night routine – if you are a morning person, try establishing a relaxing morning routine which will set a calm tone for the day. On the flip, if you are a night person, try a night routine which will help you to relax, unwind and prepare for a restful sleep.