‘I feel so stressed’… heard it before? You’re the lucky one if you’ve never said it or felt it! For most of us stress rears its head at some point and when extreme can cause us huge amounts of physical and emotional distress. So decreasing stress on your plate is essential for living a calmer, happier life.
What is stress?
Stress can be defined as the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. Pressure becomes stress when you feel unable to cope. We all react differently to stress, so what is stressful to you may be motivating to someone else.
The primary causes of stress are:
Your assessment of what is going on around you and whether you think it is worthy of anxiety
How your body reacts to your thought processes.
This is where your instinctive responses kick in – ‘fight or flight’. They are hard wired reactions to any perceived threats that have the ability to affect your survival. The threats these responses were great for are no longer (or rarely) experienced (for example, fighting wild animals) however your response mechanism remains the same – not great for many of today’s situations.
Stress affects the fight/flight reaction, changing your body’s physiology.
Hormones that help you to run faster or fight harder are activated, your heart rate and blood pressure increases (delivering more oxygen and blood sugar to power up your muscles) and you sweat more to cool these muscles, helping them to remain efficient. The hormones also divert your blood away from your skin in order to reduce any blood loss if you are hurt. In addition breathing speeds up to supply more oxygen to produce more energy.
You have probably felt your heart beat change when in stress mode, doing its best to supply the body with more oxygen and nutrients.
Add to all that your immune system being activated in order to administer to wounds and you start to get a picture of why stress is as much a physical experience as a mental one and why too much of it can, literally, kill you. What you end up seeing in this heightened state is a hostile environment and you react accordingly.
The bad news: the more frequently you experience these stress symptoms the more active your fight / flight responses become.
What’s the impact of stress?
Here are a few stats from the UK around work related stress:
The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013/14 was 487 000 (39%) out of a total of 1 241 000 cases for all work-related illnesses
The number of new cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013/14 was 244 000 (so it has doubled!)
The total number of working days lost due to stress, depression or anxiety was 11.3 million in 2013/14, an average of 23 days per case of stress, depression or anxiety
Know Your Stress Hormones
Adrenaline – produced by the adrenal glands after receiving a message from the brain that a stressful situation has presented itself – the initial response
Norepinephrine – released from the adrenal glands and the brain to arouse, awake, focus
Cortisol – a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands – kicks in after the other two (and is known for causing food cravings – in women these cravings tend to be strongest for carbohydrates)
What Aids Stress Reduction?
Serotonin – a chemical that is responsible for maintaining mood balance (carbohydrates prompt the brain to make more of this)
Dopamine – helps regulate movement and emotional responses (tyrosine rich foods help boost dopamine production – ex. fish, eggs, and spirulina)
A healthy diet – can help counter the impact of stress because it builds a healthy immune system and lowers blood pressure
Carbohydrates at bedtime – can speed the release of the brain chemical serotonin and help you sleep better
To keep stress off your plate, consider getting some of these in your diet:
Warm oatmeal – it boosts levels of serotonin calming the brain
Oranges make the list for their wealth of vitamin C – curbing levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system
Calcium – it eases anxiety and mood swings linked to PMS
One cup of spinach helps you stock back up on magnesium
Green, leafy vegetables
Cooked soybeans or a fillet of salmon
Omega-3 fatty acids
Half an avocado – good source of potassium, good for high blood pressure
Bedtime helpers: jam on wholemeal bread, a glass or warm milk
And reduce take-aways, fizzy drinks and processed foods – they won’t aid stress!
And if all else fails there is always… Exercise!
Studies have shown time and time again that moving (walking, running, biking, swimming) changes the balance of stress hormones in the brain.
When your body is stronger and healthier, exercise aids your ability to respond to stress, reducing the negative effects such as anxiety and depression. Exercise can also help flush out hundreds of chemicals released in response to a stressful situation, helping you to return to a normal state quicker.
Also consider meditative exercise like yoga to better manage your body’s ability to remain calm or get back to calm effectively.
Decreasing stress on your plate will help you have a calmer, happier life. Take care of you!
Healthy Living, Happier Life
Stress Management Society