We all know what it’s like to be stressed; it’s an everyday occurrence, and in fact, we need a certain amount of stress to survive. Even so, it can get out of hand.

When discussing stress with patients, I often use the Sabre-Tooth Tiger analogy: our body is no different biologically from what it was thousands of years ago … when facing that Tiger, we had two choices – attack or run (known as the fight/flight response). This is how we managed to fight/flight to day, and is why stress is necessary.

When this “stress” button is hit, chemical messengers are produced by the brain and adrenal glands called adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals increase blood flow to the essential organs to help this fight/flight response, namely the heart, lungs, brain and muscles. Cortisol also increases the amount of sugar released into the blood to provide energy for our muscles to attack or run. Once the danger is over, these chemicals return back to normal quite quickly.

In ancient times our society was more confined: we were not often exposed to unfamiliar faces, we never travelled far from our groups, and our stress was surviving the elements and wondering where our next meal was coming from, as well as having the occasional savage beast to contend with.

Well, it’s no different for us in today’s age, except that the tiger is now in a different form, and we have a much higher exposure to it. We are constantly being bombarded with information via emails, television, internet, we are exposed to hundreds of unfamiliar faces on a daily basis, long work hours, financial worries, traffic jams, family problems … you get the picture? And all the time these chemical messengers are being released telling us to fight it or run! In some people, this fight/flight button may never get turned off, and this leads to chronic stress.

Chronic stress can be the underlying cause of many health conditions today, as it weakens the delicate homeostasis (balance) in our bodies. It can have a negative impact on our cardiovascular system, lead to poor digestive function, create sleep disturbances and nervous system disorders such as anxiety and panic attacks. The constant release of cortisol can also wreak havoc on our hormones, affect our blood sugar levels, lead to an increase in weight, and deplete our immune system.

Can you see how important it is to manage our stress? If we are constantly looking over our shoulder at that sabre-tooth tiger, can we really expect to successfully improve our poor sleep patterns, or to lower our blood pressure, or resolve whatever health issues may be the problem?

There are many herbs available that work successfully to help the body adapt and resolve inappropriate stress responses. Before self-prescribing, I would recommend you consult a qualified health practitioner, as some may be contraindicated with certain conditions or medications. Certain nutrients can also assist with stress, such as Vitamin C, Magnesium and the B Group of vitamins. Because we are all different, it is best to have a treatment program especially tailored for you.

Still, even without taking supplements or herbs, there are things you can start to do today to help turn that tiger into a pussy cat:

•    Exercise – a great stress buster that releases feel-good endorphins. Yoga is also recommended as it teaches breathing exercises that can come in handy when feeling stressed.

•    Make time “just for you” – have that pedicure, go see that movie, sit quietly and start that book you’ve been meaning to read.

•    Regular massages not only feel good, but are excellent for the nervous system.

•    Avoid stimulants such as tea, coffee and alcohol.

•    Stop smoking.

•    Watch your diet – avoid high sugar intake, junk and processed foods. Eat wholesome foods high in fruit and vegetables.

•    Spend time with nature – get that sand between your toes, walk barefoot on the grass, have a picnic in the park.

STRESS! Can live with it, can’t live without it.

Cassi Cowlam, Naturopath, The Medical Sanctuary


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