The effects of stress will often creep into your life without much notice – show up as short term sleeplessness, irritability or sugar cravings – but can, over time, influence more serious health conditions such as heart disease and metabolic disorders.
Nurturing adrenal health, and improving your body’s response to stress, is an important measure in supporting long term health and wellbeing. This is because the stress response, and in particular adrenal function, plays an important role in so many other body systems; influencing metabolism, reproductive hormones, immune function, cardiovascular health and blood pressure.
Although stress is a normal, healthy, physiological response to perceived danger – the old ‘fight or flight’ response – our bodies are not intended to remain in this state. We are designed to have rest periods between bouts of naturally occurring stress, during which our bodies can relax and repair. Without this reprieve, we place our bodies under significant strain.
How do i know if I am stressed?
Most people know when they’re stressed, but many others do not identify it until after the fact. This is because stress and adrenal fatigue don’t always manifest with the ‘usual’ symptoms of moodiness, irritability and fluctuating energy. Any of the symptoms below may be related to stress.
Do you feel anxious and moody?
Do you frequently get irritable or angry?
Do you rely on coffee to get started each day?
Do you wake feeling unrefreshed?
Do you find yourself craving sugary, fatty or salty foods? Or all three?
Do you experience bloating after meals, or other changes in digestion?
Have you noticed weight gain, particularly around your middle, that is hard to shift?
Are you getting sick – coughs, colds, sore throats – more often than usual?
Do you have difficulty sleeping, even when you’re tired?
Have your hormones changed? E.g. irregular cycle, low libido, infertility.
Are you prone to a mid-afternoon energy slump?
Is your memory and concentration suffering?
Top 5 tips to help manage stress
Learning how to manage stress, rather than eliminating it, is one of the most important parts of staying healthy and maximising your physical and mental wellbeing. Identify stressors – financial pressures, family issues, work deadlines, social media usage – and assess whether any of these are modifiable. Can you remove or change any of these factors? In many cases, you will still have to deal with one or more stressor, so introducing diet, lifestyle and holistic measures to support your body’s stress response can prove very beneficial.
1. Just. Breathe.
A lot of us, without realising, will breathe with short shallow breaths when stressed. This puts us into a mildly hypoxic state, which promotes inflammation and an inevitable cascade of health complaints. Relaxation techniques such as meditation and mindfulness slow the breath, interrupt the stress-feedback loop and signal to your adrenals that you are safe. This allows your system to adjust to a lower stress response, which includes releasing fewer stress hormones.
Group classes can be very useful to get you into the habit. Apps such as Smiling Mind and Headspace are also available and make practicing these techniques even easier.
2. Get moving.
Regular exercise is healthy for body, mind and spirit. Regular is the key word. Enjoyable is important too.
Focus on sustained, flowing, resistance-based movement when you are stressed or r
undown. This type of exercise is highly beneficial – and will still get your heart rate up – without inducing a stress-like response / cortisol spike, as high intensity exercise can do. Over-exercising can actually contribute to adrenal fatigue, especially if you’re already burning your candle at both ends.
3. Choose the right fuel
Eating foods that are prepared fresh, including a wide variety of fruits and vegetable, and avoiding processed foods is strongly recommended.
During busy periods and high stress, it’s common to crave carbohydrate-dense food at the expense of protein – an important source of fuel for the body and brain. Avoid that habit by keeping a wide range of high quality proteins in your diet. Good sources of protein include free range meat, poultry, eggs, fish, cultured dairy (natural yoghurt, cheese), legumes, tempeh, nuts, and seeds.
Fat is another important source of energy for the body and plays a key role in nervous system function. Good sources of fat include nuts (and nut butters), seeds (and seed butters), olive oil, coconut oil (and milk and cream), cold water fish (e.g. mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines), eggs, avocado, grass-fed meats, organic butter, natural yoghurt.
4. Stay hydrated
If you don’t drink enough fluids (namely, water) you will become dehydrated. And if you become dehydrated, your body won’t work as well as it should. Every system in your body depends on water. Aim for around 2-3 L of fluid (ideally water) each day. Herbal teas, soups, broths and watery fruits and vegetables also count towards your fluid intake.
5. Supplement appropriately
There are a wide variety of herbal and nutritional medicines you can take to support your energy, adrenal health and improve stress response. However, there is no one remedy that works for all, as each person’s needs will vary slightly. Nutrients such as Magnesium and Vitamin C can be very useful during times of stress, to physically relax the body and nourish the adrenals. Herbal medicines such as Withania somnifera and Eleutherococcus senticosus can increase the body’s nonspecific adaptation response to stress and normalise adrenal function. It is important to speak with a qualified practitioner before taking any supplements.
For more information on how to improve your response to stress and optimise overall wellbeing, come into the clinic and talk to us about what measures would work best for you.