We all come under pressure in our daily lives, it’s fairly unavoidable.
To a certain extent, we need a little pressure in order to get things done and indeed many people thrive under these conditions.
Coping with injuries, threats and daily stressors is a built in mechanism enablling you to function normally.
It allows you to grow and develop as well as alerting you to any potential dangers.
But when the pressure becomes too great it can tip you over the edge into stress, which if prolonged, unexpected or unmanageable can throw your hormones out of balance.
Over time prolonged stress may lead to uncomfortable symptoms and impact your overall health.
Your brain responds to stressors by releasing a chemical messenger that stimulates your adrenal glands (situated just above your kidneys) to increase the production of the key stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
The result of this is an increase in sweating, heart rate and muscle tension, raised blood pressure, increased blood flow to the muscles and brain, and raised blood sugar.
These mechanisms prepare you for a crisis - increasing your metabolic rate and providing you with the energy and power you need to help you to deal with any perceived danger, whatever that may be.
Our ancestors would have been running away from predators whereas today we are more likely to be running to catch a train to get to work on time!
While all this is happening your body is also diverting blood supply and energy away from other systems that are deemed less immediately important, such as your digestion and reproductive organs - hence when you are chronically stressed it can affect your weight, your periods and your fertility.
Long-term stress can also suppress your immune system and affect thyroid function.
During times of increased stress and greater demand, your body’s nutrients are used more rapidly to meet the increased biochemical needs of metabolism, so you need to top up levels of many of these nutrients.
If your digestion is constantly under-functioning it can also lead to malnutrition further depriving your body of the nutrients it needs to produce adequate amounts of important hormones.
The impact of prolonged stress on your hormone balance can be overwhelming and quite harmful so it is important to try to manage it as naturally as possible.
There are three key areas you need to focus on to develop an effective stress management programme.
First you need is to find a way to deal with the situation that is triggering stress.
The worst thing you can do is to try and cope with stress by relying on drugs, cigarettes, caffeine, alcohol or junk food.
These may give some relief initially but will just serve to add additional stress to the body.
- Calm the mind and body
Keeping calm when you are under pressure gives your body time to adapt to a perceived stressor and prevents an over-reaction.
There are many relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga, but one of the simplest is learning to breathe deeply.
The essence of a relaxing breathing technique is to move from upper chest breathing to breathing through the abdomen.
This acts as a natural tranquiliser for the nervous system. You can utilise this technique anytime or anywhere you’re feeling anxious or stressed - even when you are sitting in a traffic jam or about to go into an interview!
- The 4:7:8 breathing technique
Place your tongue just behind your upper front teeth and keep it there. You will be inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
Pursing your lips will make it easier to exhale around your tongue.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 7.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of 8.
- Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
- Tai Chi, Yoga & Meditation
Tai Chi, yoga and meditation promote relaxation and help the body and mind cope with our perception of what is stressful, as well as improving our response to stress.
It’s worth finding time to incorporate one of them into your daily life.
You needn’t enrol in an expensive class as there are many free videos available on the internet providing the opportunity to practise at home at a time of day that suits you.
Although it is often better to learn some of the basic techniques with an experienced trainer initially to be sure you are carrying out the moves correctly and don’t injure yourself.
A retreat with Amchara is the perfect place to dip your toes into the amazing benefits of yoga and meditation if you’ve never tried it before.
Our qualified, experienced practitioners can guide you through either process ensuring you have a positive uplifting experience.
- Improve your time planning
Trying to do too much is the biggest culprit for tipping many people over the edge.
Make use of your diary.
Take time, once a week, to sit down and think about the tasks you have ahead and the best way to fit them into your week.
If you’re trying to combine work and feeding a family - bulk cook ahead and pop some ready made meals into the freezer so you don’t have to cook every night after work.
Don’t be afraid to ask family and friends for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Forward planning and delegating jobs can really help to take the pressure off and enable you to feel more in control.
Always make time for yourself, even if it's just to have a warm relaxing bath at the end of the day to relieve tired aching muscles and soothe away the daily stressors.
Adding alkalising mineral salts will help to relax the muscles as well as draw out toxins.
- Regular exercise
There is nothing better for using up excess stress hormones than a good workout.
Thousands of studies have shown that regular exercise can help to reduce chronic stress and bring blood sugar and hormone cycles into balance.
As little as 30 minutes a day can make all the difference, or aim for three ten minute sessions throughout the day if that suits you better.
You can enhance your ability to withstand stress with the help of specific nutrients and herbs.
Of particular use are nutrients that support the healthy functioning of the adrenal glands, which are vitally important to your health and wellbeing.
The adrenal glands help your body to respond to stress and maintain the body’s energy levels.
Too much on-going stress can cause an imbalance in the adrenal hormones and may result in adrenal fatigue - where the adrenal glands are unable to meet the demands placed upon them.
Adrenal fatigue is common amongst those with chronic stress and can be diagnosed with the help of a functional test, which is available through Amchara.
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables e.g. broccoli, cabbage, kale, spinach, peppers, watercress, strawberries, kiwi fruit, oranges and tomatoes - they are a good source of vitamin C, calcium and magnesium which help support energy metabolism and adrenal function.
- Eat good quality protein with every meal e.g. fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, lentils and beans. These foods provide the amino acids tyrosine and taurine. Tyrosine is necessary for the production of adrenal hormones and taurine is important for maintaining a calm and relaxed state of mind.
- Food rich in B vitamins include fish, mushrooms, whole grains, green vegetables and eggs. B vitamins are vital for optimal adrenal function.
- Increase the consumption of oily fish e.g. herrings, mackerel, kippers, tuna, and sardines. Fish oil, nuts, seeds and flax (or flaxseed) oil are rich sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids, low levels of which have been associated with an insufficient stress response.
- Include flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds in your diet, which provide essential fatty acids as well as minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
- Reduce tea, coffee and alcohol - stimulants like these raise blood sugar levels increasing stress on the body.
- Balance blood sugar levels - avoid sugar and sugary foods including refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice. Include healthy fats and good quality protein at each meal to slow down the release of sugar into the blood.
- Rhodiola - helps increase the body's resistance to stress.
- Ashwagandha - helps increase the body’s resistance to stress.
- Ginseng - helps the body adapt to stress.
- Omega-3 Fish Oils - studies on fish oil have shown that it can improve the body’s response to stress.
- Tyrosine - may help to improve mental function during stressful times.
- Vitamin C - helps to support adrenal function. The adrenal glands store large amounts of vitmain C which is quickly depleted during times of stess.
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) - is the most important “anti-stress” B vitamin. About 70% of this vital nutrient is stored in the adrenal glands where it plays an important role in the production of hormones that help counteract stress and enhance metabolism.
- Magnesium - once the adrenals become overworked and stressed, the body’s ability to retain magnesium lessens. Those that are chronically stressed often have depleted magnesium levels. If taken about an hour before bed, magnesium helps calm the nervous system, relaxes the muscles and promotes restful sleep.
- Phosphatidyl serine - may help to balance cortisol levels.
There is nothing more restorative than a good night's sleep.
Poor sleep can often leave you feeling lethargic, irritable, depressed and definitely less able to cope with stress.
Top tips for a good night’s sleep:
- If you can manage to get your blood sugar under control this can make a huge difference. Nigh-time fluctuations in blood sugar levels often interrupt the normal sleep pattern leading to insomnia.
- Avoid caffeine in tea, coffee, chocolate & energy drinks – it will keep you awake!
- Eliminate alcohol as it causes a release of adrenaline and interferes with the production of a brain chemical called serotonin which initiates sleep.
- Use your bedroom for sleeping only - that means no electronic devices or TV.
- Relax a little before bedtime - take a hot bath, do some meditation or yoga or breathing exercises. Some people find listening to relaxation recordings helps them get off to sleep.
This doesn’t need to be the end of the article. With your help let’s continue the conversation.
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Written by: Jacqueline Newson BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy