Stress Management

What is stress?

The term “stress” was first coined by Hans Selye, in 1936. Being an endocrinologist, he studied the production of hormones in response to stress and its effect on the human body. A mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine, which when released into the bloodstream, provides us with more strength and energy and is known as the ‘fight or flight’ mode. During this stage, the body is prepared for instant action. When the “danger” is over, the body settles back to normal. However, some of the stressful responses can be a starting point for endocrine disorders (1).

Stress is a natural part of our everyday life. In modern life, the term “stress” is more associated with distress, when an individual is strained emotionally, mentally and physically. Thus, stress is usually associated with a  negative effect on people, typically ignoring the positive impact. However, a certain amount of stress (eustress – good stress) can be beneficial and even healthy for our body. It evokes a positive physiological response and helps us to deal with daily problems, improves athletic performance and allows us to meet challenges. On the other hand, excessive amounts of stress can be harmful.

What causes stress?

Historically we still have the same primitive response of our system to stress triggers. Nowadays we experience stress differently, in a modern way, but this fact remains: the detrimental effect of stress is the same. Everyone has different stress triggers and our body reacts to physical, psychological, or emotional demands as a part of modern life. Some people are less resilient to stress than others. It may depend on the amount of pressure on an individual at that time, the perception of the situation, emotional stamina to stress etc.

There are many factors that may lead to stress and these are only some of them:

✅ Chronic illness
✅ Emotional problems
✅ Excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption
✅ Financial pressure
✅ High consumption of processed foods including sugar
✅ Major life changes
✅ Relationship difficulties
✅ Sleep problems
✅ Smoking
✅ Working long hours

How does stress affect you?

Unfortunately, there is not any system of the body that would not be affected by prolonged stress (2). During numerous experiments, Hans Selye showed, that persistent emotional and physical stress can cause various diseases including allergies, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, muscle pain,  alopecia (hair loss), miscarriage, IBS, stroke, kidney diseases, hormonal imbalance, obesity, depression and weakened immune system.

What happens during a period of stress? When we face a perceived threat e.g. predators, your brain, specifically the hypothalamus, secretes corticotrophin-releasing factor, which in turn activates the adrenal glands, which sit atop of your kidneys. They produce and release into the bloodstream a splash of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. As a result, the “fight or flight” mode is turned on. During this reaction, your heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels are elevated. Digestive and reproductive systems are, on the contrary, suppressed. Now we are ready to run away or fight with predators. Of course, we don’t live in this dangerous world anymore and the chance of meeting a predator is zero, but we do live in a stressful world. The “fight or flight” response is stimulated regardless of what caused the stress, which can be from emergencies to everyday stressors e.g. from being stuck in traffic jams, eating on the run, working a very tight deadline and even drinking an excessive amount of coffee or alcohol.

During this period of increased stress, the body believes it is in an emergency situation and the body is then depleted of certain minerals and vitamins including magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, chromium, selenium, vitamin C&B, as they are all used excessively in hormone production and regulation.

The stress performance curve

To better understand the effects of stress on performance, Nixon, P. (1979) created the following graph of the stress performance curve showing how stress affects performance.

Figure 1. The Stress Response Curve

On the curve, you can see that as the level of stress increases, the performance level also increases, to the point of good stress. Near the point of fatigue is the area called the Comfort Zone. This clearly indicates the range of stress levels that we can easily manage and that can contribute to a good performance level.

As stress begins to be perceived as excessive, the person reaches a fatigue point wherein the performance levels start to fall. The ultimate end to excessive stress is burnout and this can include exhaustion, ill-health or even breakdown.

Symptoms of stress

Stress can easily creep up on you and you might not even notice that you are stressed. That is why it is essential to be aware of stress symptoms which can contribute to a long list of health problems.

✅ Chronic fatigue /exhaustion
✅ Depression/anxiety
✅ Digestive issues
✅ Excess sweating, especially at night
✅ Frequent colds and infections
✅ Headaches
✅ High blood sugar/pressure
✅ Insomnia
✅ Irritability
✅ Loss of appetite
✅ Loss of libido
✅ Mood swings
✅ Poor concentration/ foggy head
✅ Heart problem

The earlier you spot these symptoms and take appropriate action the greater the chance you have of preventing your stress from getting worse.

How to manage stress

Stress is fueled by your macro- and micronutrients, leaving you with nutrient deficiencies. As a result, you become exhausted, depressed and full of painful symptoms.

Stress is not preventable, but it is manageable

Here are some food and lifestyle recommendations.

— Identify stress-related problems as soon as possible. It can help you to develop the right strategy to minimize the risk factors before the serious stress-related health issues occur.
— Get moving. Regular exercise can improve your mood and distract you from your worries (3).
— Learn relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing. This can activate your bodie’s relaxation response (4, 5)
— Try to avoid processed foods, caffeine, alcohol, white flour, white rice, sweets and fizzy drinks.
— Eat regular, well-balanced meals in a relaxed environment. Each meal should contain good quality proteins, fat, and complex carbohydrates. Eat a rainbow of colored fruits and vegetables, wholegrain foods, lentils, beans, seeds, and nuts. This will provide you with an adequate intake of vitamins C & B, magnesium, zinc, calcium, potassium and essential fatty acids, which are extremely important nutrients for people under stress (6).

If you often find yourself overwhelmed and stressed and it is already affecting your physical and mental health please do get in touch. Together we can devise an individual programme, tailored specifically to you which can quickly help you to bring your nervous system back into balance and effectively manage stress.

To book a Skype consultation, please send me a message via my “contact” page.

I wish you great health and happiness!
Yours ever Alla_Nutrition

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