Stress is inevitable in our fast paced modern world, it creates a survival fight or flight response in our bodies and was only ever meant to be short term. During stressful times our bodies secrete the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This sends the stress signal to the rest of our cells and they respond.
The stress response in our bodies is an inefficient one in which blood is redirected from our skin and vital internal organs like the intestine and liver to the skeletal muscles in order to have enough oxygen and nutrients to be able to run away from or flight the stressful situation. This means that our precious intestine where we digest our food, house 70% of our immune system and make 75% of our happy brain chemical serotonin doesn’t do any of these functions well. If the stress goes on for a long period of time the body gets inflamed and chronic mental and physical health conditions can begin to occur.
Without stress life is pretty boring so we need to accept that it is part of life but needs to be well managed in order to reduce its impact on our physical and emotional well being.
There are many strategies to increase our resilience during stressful periods and a crucial tool is to get enough good quality sleep. Adults need about 7 ½ hours a night and children need more. The blue light coming from electronic screens can have a negative impact on our brains, they then have trouble winding down and getting good quality sleep at night. It is important to try to get at least 2 hours of non-screen time in before climbing into bed. Try an old fashioned book with real pages!
All research suggests that exercise is one of the best stress busters. It reduces inflammation, increases energy, gives an outlet for the stress hormones and produces crucial happy brain chemicals, endorphins. Yoga is worth a special mention as it couples the harnessing of breath with stretching, a powerful combination for releasing tension mentally and physically.
Meditation and mindfulness based stress practices have been proven to reduce stress hormones and stress triggered inflammation. This can be done for as little as 10 minutes a day to achieve stress management benefits.
Spending time in nature and with good friends helps keep stress in perspective. Most situations reduce their hold on us and stress intensity over time. In the words of the Buddhists: “everything ends” (both good and bad).
Eating good quality highly nutritional foods like vegetables, salad, lean protein, fruit and good omega 3 fats in avocados and nuts gives your body the nutrients to keep going. Try to reduce the inflammatory and draining foods like sugar, alcohol. They give you the facade of temporary relief but make you feel worse later on.
If you find that you feel overwhelmed and can’t see a way out to the other side of your stress it is important to discuss this with your health practitioner. They can suggest either herbal or conventional medical options such as St John’s wort or medication for improving your stress relieving brain neurotransmitters. Research has shown that cognitive behavioural therapy managed by a psychologist can also be very beneficial.
The take home message is to please not suffer in silence. Stress can lead to depression and chronic health conditions if not managed well and many people don’t ask for help until they are totally worn down and at breaking point. Take care of yourself, time and life are precious.