The reality is that we all have stress in our lives. It exists from a variety of sources and some of those sources we can't escape from, but we can work on how we let it affect us. We can also ensure that we have a good foundation to help us deal with it. That foundation is a lifestyle that includes exercise, nourishing foods and good sleep.
When we are stressed, our bodies produce cortisol which is a hormone produced by our adrenal glands in reaction to stress. Cortisol can be both good and bad. It is typically known as the "stress hormone" because it is secreted in higher levels during the body's "fight or flight" response to stress. Small amounts can have positive effects such as a quick burst of energy for survival; heightened memory functions; burst of increased immunity and lower sensitivity to pain. Being able to relax - triggering the body's relaxation response is important so that the body's functions can return to normal. That is the problem that many of us face: not being able to Relax after a stressful event or a seemingly never-ending series of events. Not being able to relax leads to a state of chronic stress. Chronic stress has negative effects on our bodies: impaired cognitive performance, suppressed thyroid function, blood sugar imbalances, decreased bone density, decreased muscle tissue, higher blood pressure, lowered immunity and increased abdominal fat. Increased abdominal fat is associated with metabolic syndrome, heart attacks, strokes, higher levels of LDL cholesterol and lower levels of "good" HDL cholesterol.
Why do some people react better to stress than others? Cortisol secretion varies among individuals. What stresses you, may not stress me as much and vice versa. Bringing this back around to overall health and fitness: studies have shown that people who secrete higher levels of cortisol in response to stress tend to eat more food and that food is higher in simple carbohydrates (sugar, starches; carbohydrates without fiber). Carbohydrates without fiber do not provide us with the feeling of being full. We can eat a great deal of sugary, non-fiber carbohydrates in a short period of time because they don't give us a feeling of fullness - we are still hungry. Protein and carbohydrates with fiber are satiating so our appetites are not raging; but in times of stress, it is simple carbohydrates that we are drawn to and are consuming more calories than our bodies need.
What can we do to Relax? Get some Endorphins flowing with Exercise. I cannot recommend or encourage this enough. Exercise and regular physical activity produce endorphins which are chemicals in the brain that boost mood, act as natural painkillers and they also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
Some other things to try:
see Stress/Page B6
• Breathing / Mindfulness Meditation
• Laugh. Hang out with a funny friend, watch a funny movie; read or listen to a "mindlessly" funny book and escape the world for a while.
• Book a Massage. In addition to keeping cortisol under control, massage reduces stress by promoting production of dopamine and serotonin.
• Cut back or eliminate sugary and heavy-duty caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks. These beverages spike cortisol levels almost immediately.
• Reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet. Processed flour and sugar cause a spike in cortisol and increase blood sugar levels which makes you feel anxious.
• Make sure you are drinking enough water. Dehydration can cause stress. If your urine is darker colored, it is likely that you are not drinking enough water.
• Add more Omega 3 fatty acids, Zinc, B Vitamins, Magnesium and antioxidants into your Diet. Salmons, Spinach, Walnuts, Cashews, Chia Seeds, Almonds, Avocado, Oranges, and Berries especially dark berries such as blueberries, blackberries and elderberries.
• Brew up some tea. The "cup that cheers" has deep associations with comfort and calm--just think of how the English revere their late-afternoon teatime. As it turns out, science confirms the connection: naturally occurring chemicals such as polyphenols and flavonoids may be responsible for tea's calming effects.
• Listen to Relaxing Music
• Sit down with a Coloring book and crayons
• Head outside and spend some time with Nature. Stretch out and relax in a field of daisies and just enjoy the sun and gentle breeze on your face; Lie in a hammock under the stars; Grab some binoculars and head out for some bird watching (or squirrels).
• If there is source of stress that is impacting your body, mind and spirit to a great extend: perhaps you need to cut it loose.
Stay Healthy. Be Strong. Get After It.