How to manage stress

October 15, 2014

By Alisa-Jayne Butler

 

What is STRESS?

 

Stress is something that everyone has processed at some point and affects people in many ways and causes different problems for different people.

It needs to be pointed out straight away that stress should not always be seen in a negative light. A little stress is good – in fact, it’s vital as it is designed to protect us. Stress acts to motivate and sharpen your focus in situations where immediate action is required. When faced with a dangerous situation your body switches on your acute stress response – also known as “fight or flight”. This gives your body a burst of energy to help you deal with the danger by either running away or fighting back.

 

What is the ‘Stress Response’?

 

With the stress response, the body first reacts by releasing certain hormones such as epinephrine (AKA adrenalin), which helps you respond quickly to a threatening situation. There is an increase in heart and breathing rate as well as an increase of energy. Another thing the body does is direct blood away from your digestive system and other less important organs and delivers it to your large muscles, heart, lungs and brain. This whole process is to enable us to respond quickly to sudden events and remain mentally alert and physically prepared to meet the challenge.

The nature of stress today is not a confrontation with a sabre-toothed tiger or hostile warrior, but rather a host of emotional treats

  • Major life changes

  • Work

  • Relationship difficulties

  • Financial problems

  • Being too busy

  • Children and family

And our bodies react to these stressful events as if we were being attacked or repeated invoked. Prolonged stress or lots of little stressors at once can cause this response to continue. In order to deal with long-term or chronic stress, your body release a hormone called ‘cortisol’. Cortisol allows us to stay in an active, attentive state for a long period of time to deal with the stress at hand – this sounds great BUT chronic stress affects every system in your body and long-term or poorly managed stress can have serious health consequences.

 

What are the health consequences of stress?

 

Stress may affect:

  • Cardiovascular heath

  • Digestive health

  • Energy

  • Hormonal balances

  • Sleep

  • Mood and mental health

 

What are the classic signs and symptoms of stress?

 

FEELINGS:

Worried                                               Anxious                                                                               

Poor concentration                           Distracted

Exhausted                                           Increased or decreased libido

Depressed                                          Racing thoughts

 

BEHAVIOUR:

Teeth grinding                                   Disturbed sleep

Mood swings                                     Procrastinating

Irregular eating                                 Getting into arguments

Withdrawing/Fidgeting                    Drug & alcohol abuse

 

PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS:

Stiff & sore muscular joints            Abdominal pain

Irritable bowel                                  High blood pressure

Irregular menstruation                   Fatigue/exhaustion

Increased or loss of appetite         Increased cold/flu symptoms or occurrence

Headaches                                        Eczema

Ulcers                                                 Worsening of existing illness or condition

 

Why are we stressed?

 

Sometimes it’s difficult to work out why we are stressed and identifying the contributing factors and what you are feeling may help you work out how to deal with it.

 

EXTERNAL STRESSORS:

Includes adverse physical conditions, such as pain, hot or cold temperatures, sleep deprivation, disease, noise and environmental toxins

INTERNAL STRESSORS:

Includes infections, inflammation, allergies or stressful psychological environments such as poor working conditions or abusive relationships and emotional issues like fear

 

How do we cope with stress?

 

Some of us cope very well to stress and high levels of it - others may fall to bits the moment their levels increase.

Poor coping mechanisms:

  • Smoking

  • Alcohol

  • Relying on caffeine i.e. Coffee or soft drinks

  • Skipping meals or overeating

  • Reduced social interaction or relaxation time

  • Emotional or angry outburst

  • Procrastinating, ignoring or avoiding problems

 

What can you do to help with cope with stress?

 

Eliminating stress is rarely practical or feasible, but these are several ways to reduce its impact and in most cases small daily decisions for improvement over time turn a stressed existence into a pleasant and productive one.

 

Good Nutrition:

Eating a healthy balanced diet is necessary to make sure you get all the nutrients you require to help you cope and recover from stress.

Balancing blood sugar: eating small frequent meals which should consist of a small amount of good quality protein and a good carbohydrate source such as fruits or vegetables may help balance your blood sugar levels and provide more sustained energy.

Go Green: 70% of daily intake of greens allows the body to cleanse and provides increased energy. Greens are packed full of vitamins, minerals, fibre, enzymes and phyto-nutrients.  And these all help facilitate chemical reactions in the body and provides the basic components of tissues, maintain proper electrolyte balance and aid in repair and regeneration.

Essential fatty acids: are an important nutrient for the brain and nervous system and can help support memory, cognitive function and healthy moods. Consume unprocessed fats in their natural state, e.g. Avocado, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil.

Magnesium: it is required to help muscles relax and promote a calm mind and a relaxed body. Include in your diet red meat, almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, spinach, bananas.

B Vitamins: B vitamins are a group of nutrients that act together to support energy production, nervous system function and optimal brain function and are found in wheat germ, rice bran, almonds and eggs.

 

Foods to avoid:

Equally as important as the foods to include in your diet are the foods are these foods listed that can amplify your stress response, and you should try to avoid or at least limit these in your diet.

Below are foods that can amplify your stress response and includes:

  • Limiting caffeine containing drinks and foods

  • Limiting alcohol

  • Avoiding refined carbohydrates including sugar, white bread, rice and pasta

  • Avoiding allergenic foods

 

Exercise:

Exercise, exercise, exercise... Let’s be honest, not everyone loves it – but we all have to do it!

Exercise is associated with:

  • Improved brain function

  • Decrease stress hormones

Aerobic forms of exercise may include:

  • Running

  • Swimming

  • Walking

 

Sleep:

Just as exercise and nutrition is necessary for optimal health and happiness so too is sleep. The quality of your sleep directly affects the quality of your waking life, including your mental sharpness, productivity, emotional balance, creativity, physical vitality, and even your weight. No other activity delivers so many benefi

ts with so little effort!

Try to get in the right amount of sleep for your body: not too much, not too little. There is a big difference between the amount of sleep you can get by on and the amount you need to function optimally.

While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between seven and a half to nine hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Keeping your sleep schedule consistent can also eliminate a lot of changes in your energy level from day – to – day.

 

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