Generally speaking, stress means pressure or strain, and life constantly subjects us to a multitude of pressures. Humans can experience stress on a physical level (i.e. disease), emotional level (i.e. grief), or on a psychological level (i.e. fear). Individuals vary in their ability to cope with stress, and how you perceive a situation and the state of your general health are the two main factors that determine how you will respond to a stressful event.
What is the stress response?
The most familiar stress response is what has been coined the ‘fight or flight’ reaction which happens whenever we feel threatened. This stress response signals the adrenal glands, your stress management center, to release stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones increase your concentration, improve your reaction time, and temporarily boost your strength and also raise your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. After you have dealt with the temporary stress, everything returns to normal. If you repeatedly face challenges, your body continues to produce stress hormones and chronic elevations can result in a variety of health problems.
• Digestive system: stress hormones slow down digestion, which is the most common cause of stomach aches.
• Obesity: stress may increase appetite or cause you to binge on junk food.
• Immune system: long term-stress can weaken the immune system, which can result in more frequent cold and flu infections and longer recovery time.
• Nervous system: anxiety, insomnia, and indecisiveness are all common side effects of long term stress.
• Cardiovascular system: stress hormones increase blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, and blood sugar and risk factors for heart disease.
How can you tell if stress is impacting your health?
1. Change in appetite
2. Change in sleep – either insomnia or excessive sleeping
3. Anger and irritability
4. Indecisiveness, forgetfulness
5. Teeth grinding and/or jaw clenching
6. Frequent infections and slow recovery from illness
8. Headaches, back pain or other muscle pains
9. Digestive problems
10. Emotional changes including apathy, depression, hopelessness and/or anxiety
What to do?
Yoga and regular exercise can help balance your mood and thought processes, and meditation and taking the time for personal reflection can support mental well-being. What all of these activities have in common is the ability to produce alpha-waves in the brain, associated with a feeling of mental calmness and clarity.
Good-quality sleep and a well-balanced diet are key factors in supporting the body’s systems, especially in people under stress. Quality sleep patterns include a regular, 7 to 8-hour sleep in a dark and quiet room, and eating a diet rich in whole foods, antioxidants, lean proteins, and whole grains will not only keep you energized, but also help to replenish a variety of nutrients depleted due to stress hormones. In addition, various natural supplements are available to help the body cope with high levels of stress:
Have you ever enjoyed a hot cup of tea to help you relax? If so, you’re not alone; all around the world, tea drinking is associated with resting and relaxation. One of the reasons for the relaxing effects of tea is an amino acid called L-Theanine. Supplements that provide pure L-Theanine are now available and research has established that these products help to safely promote relaxation without drowsiness. Doses of 200-250 mg of L-Theanine have been shown to work within an hour to reduce the feelings of anxiety associated with a stressful situation as well as some of the physical impacts of stress. L-Theanine supplementation may also reduce feelings of fatigue and ease PMS symptoms. The effects of L-Theanine appear to be associated with its impact on brain activity. In multiple studies, researchers have shown that L-Theanine supplements cause an increase in alpha brain waves, associated with a state of relaxation. Stress can often be sudden or unpredictable and when there’s no time for tea or yoga, L-Theanine can help you feel calm, relaxed and focused.
The adrenal glands are a major player in our response and resistance to stress and have one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C among our organs. Vitamin C is believed to play a vital role in the health and function of the adrenal glands, and additional intake of vitamin C is beneficial during stressful times. Supplementation can help ease stress-induced increases in cortisol and blood pressure and can reduce the risk of the common cold by as much as 50% in those under stress.
The family of B vitamins are known to help with mental and physical energy. Stress also increases our need for B vitamins. A good B complex, providing 25-50mg of most of the B vitamins, supports the body during stressful times.
As an “adaptogen”, rhodiola can help you adapt to stress. It helps support adrenal glands and when your stress management centre is in good health, stress can be a motivator and provide the drive, desire and ambition to complete tasks. Safe, effective, and relatively fast-acting, rhodiola has been shown to help improve mental performance and reduce stress-induced fatigue. It can also help to reduce elevated cortisol levels in those suffering from stress-associated “burn out”. Best of all, this herb combines well with vitamins B and C and L-Theanine to complete your anti-stress tool kit.
The body requires a broad range of nutrients to keep it fueled during the day. Eating a well- balanced diet is always the best way to ensure a proper nutritional foundation. However, there are many obstacles to maintaining optimal levels of nutrients. When under stress, the body uses higher amounts of vital nutrients to keep us functioning, and a daily multivitamin can help ensure adequate levels of a variety of nutrients. During stressful times, choose a multivitamin with a high-potency B vitamin complex and minerals in a citrate or chelated form for a more rapid absorption.
There are plenty of studies supporting the use of essential oils to not only help combat stress and anxiety, but can also increase feelings of positivity. Lavender, bergamot, and orange all have calming and relaxing properties and they smell good when added to a diffuser or applied topically (with a carrier oil). Lavender is known for its relaxing properties, especially when you want to have a good night's sleep. Bergamot has a similar scent to an earl grey tea and has been shown to increase positive thinking. Orange is an energy scent - it's great as a pick me up in the morning and inhaling it has been known to alleviate anxious feelings.