Stress is an inevitable, natural and a healthy part of life. A bit of stress can be a helpful motivating force that brings out the best in us.
A lot of stress is a whole different story. Excess and chronic stress wreaks havoc on our entire being and our entire life. Indeed medical research has shown that stress is the precursor to around 70% of all major illnesses.
If we want to live optimally and support our health and wellbeing it is important to learn to recognise the early warning signs of when our stress levels are becoming too high.
The body’s response mechanism to stress is sophisticated and is the result of millions of years of evolution. The message of stress is carried along the nervous system.
We can consider the nervous system as divided into 2 branches. The first branch is the autonomous (self-regulating) branch which is known as the Para-sympathtic nervous system. This branch regulates the body temperature, heart beat and our breathing. The second branch is known as the Sympathetic Nervous System which is responsible for our active and reactive responses to stress, i.e. the so-called “fight or flight” response.
A ‘stressful’ situation is perceived by our body as a threat. To deal with the threat, the first branch, the parasympathetic nervous system will signal to the adrenal glands to increase steroids such as adrenaline and cortisol which increase the glucose content within our bloodstream. This makes the necessary energy reserves available for the 2nd branch of the nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system, in order to action the ‘fight or flight’ response to deal with the perceived threat.
there are several roles of the hormone Cortisol. It affects blood pressure management, it reduces inflammation and also converts protein into fuel when you’re under physical or psychological stress. Cortisol facilitates directing the flow of blood and energy away from what the body deems unessential in dealing with the perceived threat, i.e. out of the digestive system and the immune system and into the major leg muscle groups such as the quads and the psoas. After the perceived threat has subsided, cortisol levels in the bloodstream should return back to normal and the Parasympathetic nervous system should restore balance in all of the bodily systems so that blood can be redirected towards the endocrine glands, digestive organs, lymphatic circulation. This returns the heart rate and blood pressure to a lower level. The parasympathetic nervous system reverts back to the ‘pre-traumatic’ functioning and the body enters into a state of restoration and healing. Once returned to equilibrium, our body functions normalise, again we are able to extract nutrients from food that we eat and efficiently eliminate toxins.
However if a person is chronically stressed they will maintain exposure to high levels of cortisol which can wreak havoc on all of the bodily systems. For example, cortisol immobilizes certain white blood cells and so weakens the immune system
sources of stress
You may not perceive yourself as stressed but physiologically, your body interprets various lifestyle choices as such, for example, lack of sleep imbalanced blood sugar levels or intensive athletic training are processed in the same way as psychological stress due to bereavement or trauma for example.
the adrenal function is significantly influenced by blood sugar levels, therefore stabilise the levels of sugar in the blood to support the adrenal function:
stabilise your blood-sugar
· never skip meals! Ensure that you eat at least every 3 or 4 hours, taking healthy snacks as necessary. Small, regular meals help to maintain energy levels and mood, while decreasing tiredness, irritability and fat storage.
· avoid highly refined foods such as white bread/ pasta/ rice, chocolate, biscuits, sweets or anything with added sugars. Hidden sugars are also included in many cereals, breads, tinned produce, and processed/ packaged foods. replace processed foods with the unrefined foods, such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, oats and rye.
· excess alcohol can also cause imbalanced blood sugar levels.
· tropical fruit (melon, grapes, banana etc), dried fruit and fruit juices can also be very sugary, therefore only a very limited intake of these should be allowed. Instead include other fruit such as cherries, berries, apples and pears, which are less ‘sweet’.
· ensure you have plenty of protein, such as lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, are included with each meal. Protein helps to slow the release of sugar into the blood stream.
· stimulants such as tea, coffee and cigarettes may provide a temporary energy boost, however these not only deplete many essential nutrients, but always reduce energy levels in the long run. Aim to drink at least 1 – 11⁄2 litres of filtered/ bottled water throughout the day, which can include herbal teas.
· nutrients that specifically support the adrenal glands are vitamin C, found in most fresh fruit and vegetables. magnesium is dramatically depleted in times of stress, and symptoms of a deficiency often include fatigue, anxiety, insomnia and a predispostion to stress. Include plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds to supply adequate levels of magnesium. The B-complex vitamins can help to support adrenal function, particularly vitamin B5, which directly supports adrenal cortex function and hormone production. Sources include wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
· sleep at between 7-8 hours a night. Get to bed before midnight and rise early.
· make sure that food is eaten in a relaxed environment, and chewed thoroughly to promote optimum digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Regular exercise is very beneficial for relieving stress and decreasing negative emotions. But intensive cardiovascular exercise could be detrimental if you’re already chronically stressed. Therefore yoga which is low impact is an excellent way to develop muscle tone, enhance core stability, increase bone density and rebalance the nervous system without further exhaustion and depletion of adrenal reserves.
You could try a yoga nidra or 1-2-1 bespoke private session in the comfort of your own home to learn an effective yoga routine for stress release, adrenal replenishment and relaxation. Yin yoga is also very therapeutic in facilitating the release of deeply held emotional tensions.
breathe: Through deep and conscious breathing, yoga calms the parasympathetic nervous system and also restores and resets the parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga postures directly stimulate the endocrine glands which boosts levels of the feel-good brain chemicals like GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, which are responsible for feelings of relaxation and contentedness.Yoga relaxation techniques such as yoga nidra and shavasana cause the mind to calm down and the body to totally relax. The bodily systems then return to a state of equilibrium and for the healing and restoration and renewal to take place.