Stress has become an inevitable part of our fast-paced modern world. The alarm goes off, we pour the coffee, feed the kids, navigate the traffic and go to work. Your classic morning routine is more than enough to get the cortisol pumping.
Let’s first clarify that some stress is beneficial – it motivates us and keeps us alert. The problems arise when we’re in a state of prolonged high stress. Consistently elevated stress hormone levels sends a message to the body that we’re not safe. The body cannot distinguish between physiological stress (such as being chased by a wild animal, or having no food to eat) and mental/emotional stress (such as being stuck in traffic or pressures at work). It all feels the same to the body and they physiological response is the same: prioritising blood flow away from our internal organs (so we can run fast away from danger), burning carbohydrates for energy rather than fat (our fast-release fuel system) and putting things like digestion and reproduction on the back burner.
Our body switches from our “rest and digest” operating system and activates “flight or fight” mode. This way of operating demands an increased energy supply. Cue overworked adrenals, depleted nutrients and sugar cravings. When we live in this high stress state for a prolonged period of time we become more at risk for more serious complications such as hormonal imbalances, high blood pressure, mental illnesses, and weight gain.
Having no stress in this day and age would be unrealistic and likely unproductive. Rather, we need to channel this stress in a constructive way and keep it from getting out of hand. Read on for our top tips for effective stress management.
- Take deep belly breaths at the most stressful time of your day. Studies have shown that diaphragmatic breathing may be effective in reducing cortisol levels and improving mental function (1). This may help bring the body back to a rest and digest state, rather than staying in flight or flight mode for too long. We recommend taking 10 deep belly breaths at the time of the day which is most stressful (whether it be sitting in traffic, opening your emails at work, or attending a meeting).
- Consume more vitamin C. The adrenal glands have one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C in the body (2). This vitamin is an essential cofactor to produce stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. As you can imagine, when we’re highly stressed, our body depletes this vitamin C much faster. Being a water soluble vitamin, vitamin C doesn’t store in the body so it’s something we need to regularly top up. A good intake of vitamin C throughout the day is a great way to support the adrenals. Foods which are rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwifruit, capsicum and even broccoli. If you struggle to get a good intake of these foods a vitamin C supplement is a good way to boost levels.
- Ensure your body is getting an adequate supply of nutrients such as B vitamins and minerals. B vitamins are water soluble vitamins which are involved in the production of hormones, neurotransmitters and may help the body cope better with stress. B vitamins are found in wholegrains, dark leafy greens, legumes and meat. Taking a B-complex or a multivitamin supplement is another good way to provide a good daily dose of B vitamins. The advantage of a good quality multivitamin is the provision of minerals, which as we know, New Zealand soils are lacking. Adequate supply of minerals such as magnesium, zinc and selenium may help support the body in times of stress.
- Try herbs such as ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen herb which may help the body cope better with stress. This Ayurvedic herb may be particularly effective in reducing the stress hormone, cortisol (3), thus helping reduce feelings of stress.
- Ensure you’re getting quality restorative sleep. Various studies have highlighted the association between poor sleep quality and higher perceived stress (4). Sleep is so important to allow our bodies to repair and regenerate. Adequate sleep is essential not only to help us cope better with stress, but also to feel energised, have a healthy immune system, and optimise overall health and wellbeing.
If stress is becoming overwhelming in your life, book in for a consult with our experienced practitioners. Both Serena and Nicole take a holistic approach in addressing your health naturally, and uncovering the root cause of your symptoms.
- Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., … Li, Y. F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
- Patak P., Willenberg H.S., Bornstein S.R. Vitamin C is an important cofactor for both adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla. Endocr. Res. 2004;30:871–875. doi: 10.1081/ERC-200044126
- Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 34(3), 255–262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022
- Choi, D. W., Chun, S. Y., Lee, S. A., Han, K. T., & Park, E. C. (2018). Association between Sleep Duration and Perceived Stress: Salaried Worker in Circumstances of High Workload. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(4), 796. doi:10.3390/ijerph15040796
Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for educational purposes only. Please do not use this information to diagnose or treat any health concerns you may have. This information is not intended to replace the advice given to you by a qualified health professional. Get in contact with a Tonic Health consultant or a relevant health professional if you need guidance on your individual health journey.