The word stress normally evokes a negative response. Yet not all stress is bad for you.
When under stress, bodies react with either a “fight or flight” response. Understanding what happens to our bodies on a physiological level when we experience stress, gives us insight into why it so important to manage stress correctly.
When we experience stress, or what the body’s nervous system might perceive as a threat – it reacts with either a “fight or flight” response. Meaning our bodies get ready to either face (fight) the situation or run away. (flight) The part of our nervous system that reacts in this way, is known as the sympathetic nervous system.
Unfortunately, the wild animal in the woods today can be something as seemingly harmless as the wrong foods (sugar, caffeine etc.).
The nervous system reacts by raising our heart rate, releasing adrenalin and cortisol, increasing our respiratory rate and diverts blood and oxygen away from the digestive tract to our large muscles readying it to either fight or run away from the threat.
Extra glucose is also released into our blood to provide immediate energy.
Our adrenal glands release epinephrine and norepinephrine into the system to increase the heart’s output and increase blood sugar.
The diameter of our pupils increase to allow more light to enter and improve our vision if we had to run away.
The sympathetic nervous system works in balance with the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our rest and repair. The parasympathetic nervous system balances
the response of the sympathetic nervous system out by slowing down the heart and respiration rate and bringing blood back to the digestive system. It acts as a marshal to signal the body to repair and rest after the “fight and flight” response.
However, if we are constantly in a “fight or flight” response, these two nervous systems are out of balance, resulting in the pituitary gland constantly sending a signal to the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. Short term our bodies can deal with the release of these hormones, but over a long term it results in adrenal fatigue and even adrenal failure.
Identifying different kinds of stress is paramount in managing it correctly. Simplified, stress can either be positive or negative.
Negative stress does not provide any benefit and only harms one mentally and physically in the long run.
Signs that you could be negatively stressed:
● Sugar or carbohydrate cravings
● Digestive system issues
● Poor sleep
● Constant fatigue
● Struggle to lose weight
● Feel easily overwhelmed
● Can’t stay on top of your work/duties/chores
● Need caffeine / energy drinks to keep you going
● Emotional highs and lows
● Depression & Hopelessness
Levels and types Of Stress There are 3 levels of stress
Acute stress is a single, taxing experience. This could be the anxiety felt when giving a public speech, a sports injury in a game, jet lag from a long flight or getting a bout of food poisoning.
Episodic Acute Stress
When we choose to act, feel or experience life in a way that continues to drain us. Our lifestyle choices and ways of being are often the source of this repetitive and stressful behavior. For example, self-criticism, highly competitive personalities, perfectionism, and constantly worrying.
Chronic stress slowly wears us down physically, emotionally and energetically. It can creep up on us because our body will start to ignore the constant influx of SOS signals. Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation of the body, with both being the root of most diseases and health issues today.
The amount of stress and the kinds of stress in your life has a huge impact on what you should eat and also how you should exercise.
Eating the right foods can offer relief from stress
The 6 types of stress we experience
Most people think there is only one type of stress namely; psychological. But there are actually 6 types of stressors to the human body and mind.
There are psychological/emotional stress, sleep deprivation stress, inflammation-induced stress, chemical stress, dietary routine and physical stress. That’s a lot of stress!
1. Emotional Stress
This type of stress is one of the most significant causes of all chronic health challenges because your body cannot defend itself against the damage that it quietly creates over time, every time you feel anxious, tense, frustrated, and angry.
These emotions all serve important purposes when they first arise, however the danger lies in experiencing these on a chronic basis.
It can flood your body with adrenaline and cortisol, which can reduce your energy levels and sex drive whilst increasing fatigue, depression and anxiety. Research also shows that emotional distress and elevated cortisol secretion promote abdominal fat while improvements in mindfulness and lowered cortisol levels were associated with reductions in abdominal fat.
Possibly every health condition is partly caused by emotional stress. This type of stress always equals increased output by the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn equals accelerated aging and breakdown of your tissues.
The most powerful step you can therefore take is to dramatically improve your health by learning to effectively manage emotional stress. It is to your advantage to have a healthy sympathetic nervous system, one that is capable of providing all of the necessary functions during physical emergencies.
2. Sleep Deprivation Stress
It’s not always ways easy to get 8 hours of proper sleep per night. Add to this sleep debt, small stressors and things can quickly seem overwhelming to manage. Studies also show that lack of sleep makes you eat more, age faster and hold on to fat.
So turn off artificial lights an hour before bedtime, ease your mind into a peaceful time, light a candle, soak in a bath, put away the mobile phone and try and get to sleep by 9pm.
3. Inflammation-Induced Stress
The typical Western diet today certainly adds stress to your body. Highly processed, high-salt, high-sugar convenience foods, coffee and alcohol is devoid of nutrients to nourish our systems properly. Replacing these poor choices with whole, clean, organic food and filtered water. Fresh fruits and vegetables, plant based proteins and grass-fed meat and eggs (if you choose to consume animal products) will provide sustained energy and your body with the nutrients it needs. It is highly likely you will experience the sometimes added benefit of weight loss in the long run as well with this type of alkaline eating plan.
4. Chemical Stress
Reducing your intake of foods that are full of additives, preservatives and unpronouncable elements is a great start in reducing chemical stress on your body. However, don’t neglect the often overlooked culprits in personal care and every day household products. Unless your skin care is natural and certified organic you are most probably exposing yourself to toxic chemicals. It’s not uncommon for example for something as simple as lipsticks to contain the heavy metal lead. Be aware of the ingredients of what you put in and on your body.
5. Dietary Stress
Overlapping with other stressors named, not following a healthy nourishing meal plan, adds stress tio your body. Some very common and often overlooked factors are skipping of meals, avoiding fats (even good ones), eating too
many refined carbs and not eating enough good protein. Snacking in between meals and not drinking enouhg water. Also changing from one diet to the next places stress on your system. Research has shown an optimum diet to be overwhelmingly meat, wheat, dairy and sugar free. Opt for a wholefood plantbased diet to give your body all the nourishment it needs. A big healthy wholefood breakfast; a substantial lunch and a small dinner has been shown to be the least taxing on your system. Make sure to drink plenty of water to keep your metabolism steady and cleanse your system.
6. Physical Stress
This type of stress can be manifested at work or when you exercise or train.Even though exercise has a positive effect on your body, this is only true if done within your limits and in moderation. Exercise can help to reduce stress but over training can cause further stress and even result in injuries.Doing gentle exercise like walking or gardening can be very beneficial to your system.
Keep in mind that if you have a job which requires manual labour then be extra careful as to how you “wind down” from a busy day with exercise to avoid further stressing your body.
Regular massages can also help reduce this exhausting stress and your body to cope with and overcome injuries.
Negative stress does not provide any long term benefit
The key to getting ourselves destressed is to activate our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
● Go to bed at regular times and get enough deep sleep per night. Avoid television or computer screens / technology before going to bed as the light they emit can disrupt your production of sleep inducing hormones
● Do regular exercise. Ensure the exercise you choose is relaxing and something you enjoy doing. Exercise helps release endorphins (feel good hormones) helping your body and mind find peace and balance again.
● Eat healthy fresh whole foods. Nutrient dense foods will assist in nourishing your body and giving it the support in the form of micro nutrients (minerals and vitamins) it needs to deal with stress.
● Find an emotional outlet – whether it is a diary you keep or seeing a counsellor or speaking to a friend. Sharing your emotional stresses with someone youtrust will help you feel less overwhelmed.
● Find time to quite your mind and reflect on the day in prayer, or listening to soothing music; thinking on the positive aspects and visualizing how the negative aspects can be improved upon.Prayer has been shown to decrease blood pressure, decrease pulse rate, and improve blood circulation.
● Do regular deep breathing exercises preferably in fresh air outdoors.
Learn to Relax
Foods that help you manage your stress
Often when one feels stressed and overwhelmed, we reach for comfort foods aimed at making us feel better. This is not a problem, as long as the foods you’re choose are actually helping you manage your stress and not making the situation worse.
Eating ‘comfort foods’, like a bag of chips, that are high in transfats, chemicals or sweets that are high in sugar and and other stimulants, can provide a short-term relief from stress but leave you feeling worse in the long run and can actually be damaging to your health.
The challenge is that bad choices often come in convenient, easy forms and healthier choices might need preparation. Making these choices can be difficult when your body already feels fatiqued and tired and you are under pressure.
Making the choice to be committed is easier said than done, so here are a few ideas to help pave the way. Keep healthy snacks on hand for when you know a busy day or week lies ahead.
These top foods are proven to help boost your feel-good hormones, lower your blood pressure and reduce cortisol levels, which will help you balance your moods and make you feel more calm.
Under stress, our bodies release the chemical cortisol. Capsicum reduces the amount of cortisol in the blood stream which helps to manage stress, plus it contains vitamin C that boosts immunity.
Chop some into strips and enjoy raw with a spicy salsa or hummus dip when you are feeling stressed. You can also take the powder mixed with some juice.
● Cooked Tomato
Like capsicum, this too helps to reduce your cortisol levels but is also a major source of lycopene; which has been linked to a reduction of depressive symptoms, and helps prevent inflammation and blood clots. Studies have found cooking tomatoes can increase the potency of lycopene, far great than any other fruit or vegetable.
Try adding cooked tomatoes to lentils for a hearty breakfast or lunch or have homemade tomato soup on hand for a healthy salty snack.
Spinach, and other dark leafy greens, are rich in folate which helps your body produce serotonin and dopamine, regulating your moods. Spinach is also high in magnesium which helps to lower high blood pressure.
The body becomes depleted in magnesium when under stress, so getting plenty of magnesium and spinach is a great way to rebalance your body.
Add a cup of spinach leaves to your morning smoothie or add raw chopped to your salads.
Avocados contain 20 essential health-boosting nutrients, including potassium, vitamin E, B vitamins, and folate. According to research published in the Nutrition Journal, avocados which is high in natural good fats, keep you satiated throughout the day and are helpful for regulating blood sugar levels, which helps to keep your mood steady even in times of stress.
Avocados are so versatile you can add it to almost anything or eat it on its own for a pick-me-up snack. Add avocado to your morning smoothies, chop it up and put it in your salad, whip it up in your blender to make a guacamole dip or even use it in a dessert with carob powder to curb those sweet cravings.
Walnuts contain a plant form of Omega- 3 fatty acid that the body converts into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to lower norepinephrine, a hormone which can make you feel anxious and irritable. Add a sprinkling of walnuts to your salad at lunch or eat a handful sprinkled with Black or pink Himalayan salt.
● Sesame Seeds
Stress and anxiety tend to deplete your body of zinc, and our bodies need zinc for both the immune and nervous systems. Sesame seeds hold around 10 mg of zinc per 100 g serving, whether you eat them raw, toasted or ground. Sesame seeds ground into butter, known as Tahini, is delicious with salads or as a dip with a few veggie sticks for a quick and easy snack. Tahini is also a core ingredient for hummus!
If you know you’re a ‘comfort eater’ when you’re stressed, stock up on these healthy, calming foods to help you balance your emotions and keep your calm.
Choose meals and snacks that will truly soothe and calm you