As we get into the busy Christmas season it’s even more important to think about how you manage your stress levels, get some tips with this article written by naturopath Olga Bowers-Taylor.
Stress! What is it?
‘A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances’. We all experience it, sometimes for a short time, sometimes for longer, sometimes it doesn’t seem to go away.
How we deal with it is very important. Some people seem to manage it better than others.
Experiencing a bit of stress every now and again is good, it motivates us, it allows us to get moving, get things done, finish tasks and so on.
When this happens, we activate the fight or flight response and the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin are release from our adrenal glands. This is helpful as we become sharper, more awake, more responsive, more focused as pupils dilate and muscles tense. So far so good…
Until the stress response goes on and on, as it so often does these days. With stressful jobs, relationship dramas, having children, money worries, keeping up appearances on social media etc.
Cortisol keeps getting released and this is where the problems start….
The immune system becomes compromised, blood sugar goes up, as does blood pressure, digestion suffers, energy drops, you become cranky, you can’t sleep. The result is an even more tired you who forget about the healthier choices you’d committed to making when you were more relaxed….reverting back to poor food choices, increase reliance on stimulants such as coffee, alcohol and sugar, and thus continues a downward health spiral.
Moderately stressed people are often pretty good at their jobs because they get things done and seem to excel under pressure – great for your employee, but not great for you in the long term. A number of medically diagnosed diseases are caused or affected by high cortisol release such addictions, alcoholism, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, infections, reduction in bone mass and osteoporosis, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, impaired memory and loss of cognitive function, thyroid dysfunction and hormonal disturbances.
In clinic we see stress as a component to development of many diseases and disturbances usually as a result of chronic or sustained low grade stress. From mild to severe gut disturbances, eating disorders, and even vertigo. Often when the client thinks back to how it all started, there was a significant stress trigger in their life.
Usually this stress is unavoidable, but with a good practitioner and some self-managed home care clients can come out the other end of the stress much better off than doing it alone.
So what do we do?
Firstly, a fair bit of listening, sometimes you feel better just talking about what is stressing you out. Often it isn’t until we start talking about things that we realise the extent of how stress is affecting our lives.
Next, we will look at their diet…… Some people will not even realise their diet is contributing to the stress roundabout. Usually, sugar sugar and sugar, carbs (more sugar) coffee, and a whole lot of processed stuff from packets. With not a vegetable in sight.
So we start with diet, focusing on balancing blood sugar with good quality protein and vegetables. Vegetables will give you a natural energy (I’m talking a truck load of vegetables, not a piece of lettuce in a sandwich), and the protein with stop cravings for sugar and carbs. Then eventually remove all stimulants such as coffee, black tea, soft drinks, juices, chocolate etc…. It’s important to understand that these stimulants just place a further drain on the adrenals by producing a fake short term energy boost, which then drops even lower than before.
Herbal medicine is fantastic for stress, adrenal depletion and exhaustion. Depending on what stage of the stress you response you are in, will depend on what herbs will work best for you.
Herbs that can be used include; adaptogens, which help the body adapt better to stress and reduce the risk of disease caused by high levels of cortisol, anxiolytics to reduce feelings of anxiety, sedative herbs to support relaxation, and antidepressant herbs. Because everyone is so different in how they present, a detailed case history needs to be taken to determine how symptoms manifest for you. For example some people with still be able to sleep really well while others will have complete insomnia so we’ll use the most appropriate herbs for you at that time.
Nutrients, vitamins and minerals are also really important to support the stressed and depleted body. B Vitamins and vitamin C to support depleted adrenal glands, Coenzyme Q10 and B vitamins again are essential cofactors in the krebs cycle for energy production, Magnesium is also a cofactor in energy production, essential fatty acids such as fish oil is needed to support a healthy nervous system and is indicated in supporting low mood, anxiety and depression.
There are many more nutrients, but again, completely depends on the individual.
Other useful techniques for reducing feelings of stress include; yoga, meditation, slower forms of exercise, massage, aromatherapy oils such as lavender on the pillow at night, and of course seek a referral to a phycologist or therapist if needed.
And try to avoid winding down with alcohol, which is a major energy thief and disrupts sleep, herbal teas like chamomile will help you relax at the end of the day.