We are stressed more than ever. Balancing work, social and home lives is making 54% of Brits increasingly anxious and stressed*. Chronic stress causes sleeping troubles, poor diet choices, low mood and health problems. We can’t eliminate it from our lives, but we can definitely control the way it affects us.
Why does stress affect us more than ever?
Millions of years ago our bodies were designed to react quickly to danger. Just like wild animals, we were on constant alert so we could run or fight, if threatened. When your brain thinks your life is in danger, it stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol.
This fight or flight response is incredibly clever and thoroughly efficient. It provides instant energy for 5-10 minutes, allowing you to react swiftly to dangerous situations.
These days, many of us live under chronic stress. However, our bodies can’t distinguish between late trains, missed appointments, spiralling debt, infuriating work colleagues and truly life-threatening stress. That is why our body still gears up to ‘flight or fight’ and reacts exactly the same way it has been programmed to.
The main problem with our modern lifestyles is that stress (our ‘perceived threat’) is almost continuous and comes without the natural release, that either fighting or fleeing might provide. Unless you are physically active (as your body is expecting you to be) all that extra energy has nowhere to go and it can cause adrenal exhaustion. You might experience a range of symptoms including moods swings, anxiety, irritability, nervousness, aggressive outbursts, fatigue, palpitations, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, crying spells, insomnia, headaches, muscle cramps, digestive problems and food cravings.
You may not be able to control the stress, but you can control how it affects you physically by following this simple de-stress programme below from some the UK’s leading nutritionists. Don’t wait until the 1st of the year to start a resolution – plan on kicking off your new low-stress habits on National Stress Awareness Day this 4th November.
Keep your sugar levels steady
“Maintaining steady blood sugar levels is key to stabilising mood. Ensure you have a small meal every 2-3 hours that contains protein (eat breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a snack mid morning and one mid afternoon). For example, a hard-boiled egg, 10-12 almonds, a small can of tuna and brown rice. This will stop those roller-coaster highs and cravings for sweet foods. Because your blood sugar isn’t allowed to drop, your body will no longer have to ask you for a quick fix. As the blood sugar steadies, so will the mood swings – reduced adrenaline levels will automatically make you feel happier and calmer inside.” says Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading nutritionist, and author of The Nutritional Health Handbook for Women (www.marilynglenville.com).
Ditch your coffee
“Caffeine is a stimulant, which increases adrenaline levels in our body – the same hormone you are looking to reduce, when stressed. So drinking coffee is like adding fuel to the fire. It accelerates our body’s response to stress and prepares it to action, even though, you might only be sitting at your desk,” explains Shona. “If you are still struggling with energy slumps at work, go for a powerful, natural stimulant, such as CoQ10, which helps to increase mental alertness. Try Nature’s Plus Potent C Energy Powder (65p per sachet, www.nutricenre.com),” adds Michela Vagnini, nutritionist at www.naturesplus.co.uk.
Having a laugh is one of the best remedies for stress – it triggers healthy changes in our body. “Many studies show that laughter boosts our energy, decreases stress hormones, improves immunity and diminishes pain. But what’s very important for anyone who is stressed is that laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the natural feel-good chemicals, that make us happier and relaxed,” says Dr Glenville.
Not all bacteria are bad
“More and more evidence is coming to light about the link between our gut health and mood. The walls of the digestive tract are home to millions of nerve cells, and these produce neurotransmitters, including serotonin – more than the brain itself does. It’s thought that a lack of the right bacteria in the gut – or too many of the wrong ones – can actually upset the balance and production of these neurotransmitters and therefore have a negative effect on our mood. For this reason, taking a probiotic supplement that is supported by clinical research could help support our mental health, as well as gut health. Try ProVen’s Adult Probiotic Plus Total Immune & Energy Support,” says Cassandra Barns, nutritionist at www.nutricentre.com.
Have you ever experienced a state of euphoria after a long run or a workout session? Again, it’s all about endorphins. “A workout places stress on your body, which activates your sympathetic nervous system by increasing levels of certain hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. These hormones increase heart rate and blood pressure, stimulate energy breakdown and inhibit immune function. To protect our body, our brain releases endorphins to fight that stress, giving us that good feeling,” explains Cassandra Barns, nutritionist at www.nutricentre.com.