What is Stress and why do you need it?
Stress is the body’s response to challenging or potentially dangerous situations. We all experience stress at some stage of our life but its not always such a bad thing. In fact, a small amount of stress is actually beneficial and without it humans wouldn’t have survived. For example; when our caveman ancestors used stress to alert them from being chased from a sabre-toothed tiger. Another example is the stress experienced before a sporting race, as it increases alertness and adrenaline causing blood to quickly divert to muscles for that instant kick of energy. However, prolonged periods of stress can have detrimental effects on our health both physically mentally and emotionally.
What happens when we are stressed?
Stress initiates our sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight response), which enables the body to be prepared for potential danger and a cascade of hormones are released such as adrenalin, cortisol and norepinephrine.
But when we are living in today’s society and the sabre tooth tiger isn’t chasing us, the constant activation of the flight or fight response can cause havoc on your whole body leaving you feeling frazzled and drained. Stress can greatly affect digestion as blood is shunted away from our digestive organs, which can cause digestive issues such as indigestion, reflux, bloating and flatulence. The constant increase of cortisol places stress on our adrenal glands, making them work overtime to produce these hormones that can result in detrimental effects such as anxiety, depression poor immune function and weight gain – not what you want when your already feeling burnt out.
Here are ten ways you can naturally manage stress and support your adrenal health:
Also known as Ashwaganda or from a naturopath’s perspective “a herbal hug”. This herb is an Adaptogen, which means it helps the body adapt to stress and improve stamina. Withania has been shown to have a positive effect on anxiety and stress, potentially due to its ability to lower cortisol levels. Due to Withania’s high level of antioxidants it has been shown to improve the immune system, making it a fabulous herb for those who have immune conditions that are exacerbated by stress.
Stress is an over stimulated nervous system, thus B Vitamins can help replenish a depleted and burnout nervous system. B vitamins are responsible for numerous functions in the body such as the production of energy, neurotransmitter synthesis (messengers that send chemicals to the brain) and the production of healthy, happy hormones. Find a good quality B complex from your Health food store and sorry Berocca at the supermarket just wont cut it.
We all feel great after exercise. It could be to do with the endorphins released or more likely the fact that exercise can help reduce cortisol levels and uses up excess adrenaline. Exercise assists with blood flow to the brain, making it a great pick me for when your feeling stressed – often why some people feel they have an addiction to exercise, it really is like a drug.
Pick an exercise that you like and feel good doing and make it a routine. Don’t waste your time or money on a gym membership if you hate the gym, the great outdoors is free, full of fresh air and vitamin D!
When we are stressed our bodies CHEW through magnesium, which leaves us feeling very depleted and exhausted. Magnesium is important for a healthy nervous system, the relaxation of muscles and the production of energy.
Don’t forget magnesium can also be used via Magnesium sulphate baths (Epsom salt) or creams/ gels – 60% of what goes on our skin is absorbed into the body so take your magnesium supplement and have a relaxing Epsom salt bath.
Vitamin C isn’t just good for colds and flu, it has a number of important actions including; replenishing the adrenals, the production of hormones, neurotransmitters and nerve conduction. Studies have shown that Vitamin C (3000mg per day) can reduce our physical and mental response to stress as it helps to regulate cortisol and can prevent blood pressure spikes. So grab the oranges, strawberries, kiwi fruit and whatever fruit you can find, make some fruit salad and give your adrenals some love.
Believe it or not Shitake mushrooms are classed as an Adaptogen – they help the body cope with stress. Of course, they are also great for improving our immune system which often “takes a battering” when we are feeling under the pump. Include them in stir-fry’s, lentils, veges or soups – a great addition to any meal.
Think about it, Caffeine is the last thing you need when you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus. Caffeine stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight response) leaving us pumped full of adrenalin that quickly plummets your energy. Yep, this includes avoiding chocolate and coffee! Swap your morning coffee to dandelion coffee, which is caffeine free and great for your liver.
Affirm that stress is no longer going to rule your life! Affirmations are a useful stress management tool that can be used on daily basis to create foundations for positive messages to the self. Examples:
- “I willingly release any need for struggle or suffering. I deserve all that is good”.
- “Life supports me in every possible way” – Louise Hay.
Check out Louise Hay – she is the affirmation queen and has some great literature on how to deal with stress that is beyond your control.
If you or someone you know is going through a stressful period at the moment, these supplements and lifestyle interventions can be utilised to help manage your stress levels because lets face it, no one wants to be stressed 24/7.
Stephanie is a Naturopath and Nutritionist who has a special interest in female reproductive health, sports nutrition and digestive issues. She lives by the beautiful beaches of Bateau Bay.