It is International stress awareness week this week, so I thought it a great time to post about stress. It is common to feel stressed occasionally & stress is a normal part of life, at any stage of life. However, when it is all the time; that is when stress can cause a lot of harm to your health.
OK, so why do we get stressed? It is a survival strategy. Yup, it is a physical response triggered by your nervous system & adrenal glands when you are in a stressful situation. Hundreds of years ago it was to help us escape threats to our life THINK situations similar to a lion chasing us. However, now we stress over things more in keeping with our modern lifestyle (& no, it doesn’t usually involve being chased by lions). THINK an exam block at uni; a constant barrage of phone calls &/or text messages; relationship or money issues; even car problems; to name just a few.
Sometimes you will hear it referred to as a “fight or flight response”. This is really well named, as your body will prioritise vital functions like increasing your heart rate & respiratory rate – allowing you to run or fight. Cool right? Basically, full power is being diverted to get more blood to our muscles, brain & vital organs (such as your lungs). The result is our senses are sharper & we are ready for action. I mean the flip side is “rest & digest” as the name suggests it is all about digestion & sleep, which let’s face isn’t really a priority during a crisis situation. This is more what assists with calming you down after the crisis.
OK, but what happens if you are always in crisis? Your body only sees a threat, it can’t discern whether it is life threatening or just “life drama”. When people are living in a world where they are constantly stressed, often they describe themselves as “wired but tired”. They can’t dial it back; their bodies aren’t adapting & their lifestyle isn’t allowing them to resolve the stress nor it’s knock on effects.
Stress has lots of effects on the body, that is no secret. Your digestive processes are slowed (poor digestion, fluctuating appetite, upset tummy, constipation or diarrhoea), inflammation increases & your sleep is disrupted. Another by product of that stress is how your body absorbs & stores some nutrients; triggering symptoms such as fatigue, low mood &/or mood swings, even muscle pain/tension. These are warning signs, which if ignored can lead to serious health issues. The goal is to keep the body nourished so it flourishes. Realistically, good foods in to fuel your body & you will get better results; or on the flipside, junky rubbish stuff in & things ain’t gonna shine.
Stress is super hungry for B vitamins, magnesium & vitamin C. Unfortunately, B vitamins are water soluble, so your body doesn’t store them for long – you need to have them every day, seriously EVERY day. These help your body cope with the stress, however if you are chronically stressed they get depleted so your body needs even more – creating a cycle. THINK leafy greens, bananas, nuts & seeds, eggs, dairy products, meat & fish.
Vitamin C is well known vitamin & I gotta say it’s a great multitasker involved in lots of functions within your body. However just like Bs, they are also water soluble. This is another must have in your daily diet. THINK kiwi fruit, broccoli, capsicum, or of course citrus.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 chemical processes & reactions in the body, yup it works seriously hard. As you can imagine, working within that many processes in the body it is not surprising that it is also depleted when the body is stressed. THINK leafy greens, avo, bananas, nuts & seeds, & wholegrains. Even add in a regular foot soak or bath with Epsom salts, because that is magnesium sulfate. Some of that magnesium soak is absorbed through your skin – winning!
Stress has a BIG impact on digestion. The flight or fight response is a short term survival strategy.. Your body either eliminates or slows down on the digestion front, both of which mean – you don’t get to absorb any nutrients. Let me explain further. Stress weakens your gastric secretions. Your stomach relies on these to help break down food, so your body can absorb the nutrients. However, if the gastric secretions are declining, then your food is not being broken down & your body is hampered in it’s ability to absorb the nutrients.
Of course, when you are stressed you also tend to indulge in unhealthy habits THINK chocolate, craving stodge meals, skipping meals or upping your coffee or alcohol intake. OK, my personal fav a packet of Smiths crinkle cut potato chips for the salt & crunch. These add to the depletion of nutrients, sometimes even hindering nutrient absorption. Bottom line – stress management is important. Your game plan needs to be a mix of nutrition plus some holistic practices (THINK gentle exercise like walking, breathing, or even yoga to start) these assist with the mental & physical load of stress. There are many influencing factors, but you need to find what suits you.