Don’t let stress stress you out!!!

Modern living and stress seem to go hand in hand and it may be no surprise to you that the effects of stress can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing. Nevertheless, you may not know that the effects of stress can impact other body systems potentially hindering the achievement of health goals such as losing weight or improving digestive function, so it is important to understand what the stress response is and how it could affect you. 

Fight or Flight – the Ancient Coping Mechanism... This stress response is an evolutionary strategy to cope with immediate dangers, such as an approaching lion! In response to an external threat, the chemical messengers, adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenaline are released from your adrenal glands, which enables you to either stand and fight or flee as fast as you can. In modern times, the feeling of being under constant stress, whether from work, family or financial pressures is interpreted by your body in the same way and can therefore lead you to be in a permanent state of emergency. This is significant as stress may be the underlying reason for a seemingly unrelated bodily imbalance, such as an inability to digest well when you are under pressure.

What is Stress Doing to Your Body? 

A chronic state of stress can have widespread negative effects, such as: 

• Poor digestion – reduced digestive secretions can lead to bloating, abdominal pain and reflux. 

• Irregular blood sugar control – cortisol signals the release of sugars into the bloodstream in anticipation that muscles will need fuel to help you run away. These sugar spikes can lead to weight gain if the sugars are not utilised as muscle fuel and instead converted to fat. Another reason to lay off the caffeine if you are stressed as this exaggerates this response. 

• Hormonal imbalances – lack of libido, menstrual irregularity and fertility issues can all arise when your body switches to making stress hormones in preference to sex hormones. 

  • Brain health - did you know that the brain can reshape certain parts to promote resilience to stress or reinforce negative pathways that worsen the manifestation of stress-related conditions? 
  • We have the Hippocampus part of the brain which is responsible for emotional control, decision making, clear thinking and the Amygdala which is responsible for fear and worry (animal brain- going to get you out of trouble when you need it). 
  • But....Depending on how YOU deal with stress- you can either promote resilience through neurotrophic (adaptive and beneficial plasticity) factors promoting a healthy hippocampus or .....neurotoxic factors (maladaptive causing enlarged amaygdala and thus manifesting stress related conditions. 
Neurotrophic Factors to add to your day or week:

Eat Fresh, remove as many packaged foods as possible and get back to basics with – lean proteins, antioxidant-rich fresh fruits and vegetables and essential fatty acids from oily fish, nuts and seeds, all nourish your neurotransmitters and add  a healthy dose of stress reducing magnesium and B Vitamins. The last thing you want to do is stuff yourself with takeaways, sugar, unhealthy foods that are neurotoxic. 

Exercise or move regularly – a fabulous stress buster, exercise helps burn up excess adrenaline whilst releasing the ‘feel good’ chemical messengers, the ‘endorphins’. And stretch- lengthening out tight muscles.

Get enough and quality sleep (seven to eight hours) – practice good ‘sleep hygiene’ techniques such as no TV or computer time for at least half an hour before bedtime and avoid caffeine in the afternoons. Dim lights an hour before bed to promote melatonin production or sit in a dim light room. Avoid being hot or cold. Make sure you are hydrated. 

Meditate – particularly helpful if you cannot “switch off” your brain at night. There are numerous techniques available to help calm an overactive mind, such as transcendental meditation, mindfulness and creative visualisation.

Happiness and gratitude during your day. Even if its looking out the window and seeing a beautiful tree or txting or phoning a friend or dancing around the house. These are neurotrophic factors.

  • If one is under stress, yet has adequate neurotrophic support, one should be able to cope with the stress load without causing unnecessary overwhelm, sadness or worry. 

Breaking the Cycle.. There are several nutrients and herbs that can help calm an overactive stress response, which may be hindering you from achieving your health goals. For example, magnesium is essential for the nervous system by supporting the appropriate functioning of your brains chemical messengers, the ‘neurotransmitters’. Magnesium also produces energy, helping you resolve the fatigue that may come with being stressed. In addition, the B vitamins (often taken as a complex) work as a team with magnesium to support your nervous system as well as play a role in energy production themselves. 

A class of herbs known as ‘adaptogens’ may be helpful to increase your body’s physical and mental capacity to cope with stress. Traditional adaptogenic herbs include withania, rehmannia and rhodiola. If stress makes you uptight you may also need anxiolytic herbs. These help reduce feelings of anxiety and promote more restful sleep so you can handle the challenges your day has for you more easily. Passionflower, zizyphus, and magnolia are all anxiolytic herbs that have been extensively studied for their mild sedative and calming effects. We can recommend formulas that contain combinations of these herbs and nutrients depending upon your needs, so you can break the cycle of chronic stress and get back on the path to wellbeing. 

Stress is an inevitable part of modern lifestyles, but it needn’t get the better of you nor keep you from reaching your health goals. By implementing healthy routine, coping strategies and natural supplements you can not only regain control over the stress in your life but thrive!

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