With our 24/7 society, it’s no wonder that increasing numbers of us are suffering from ‘stress’. Signs and symptoms may include feeling tired or overwhelmed; our mood and memory may diminish; we may crave alcohol, have insomnia, or find ourselves frequently coming down with colds or having skin flare-ups for which doctors can’t diagnose a reason. We may suffer tension headaches or find it really difficult to relax, as if the ‘on’ button is on all the time.
When your body gears up to deal with stress, two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, are released to jump-start fats and carbohydrates in your body for quick energy. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac output and carbohydrate metabolism. Cortisol directs the necessary energy to meet the increased needs of your muscles or brain to respond to the stress. With chronic stress, cortisol levels go up and remain high. Our adrenal glands can quite simply become ‘exhausted’ from prolonged overproduction of cortisol, potentially leading to further health complications.
The good news is that there are practical steps you can take to help boost your body’s immune system naturally. In fact, with the right diet and lifestyle, you can increase your energy levels at the same time, and enjoy what feels like a whole new lease of life.
The basis is to provide your body with high quality fuel, unprocessed and organic to provide the necessary ‘buffer’ to physical and emotional stresses on the body. Stick to the basics of good quality vegetables and fruits, wholegrains like oats and brown rice and good quality proteins like fish, beans and legumes. Avoid sugar as this can aggravate stress levels by playing havoc with your glucose and insulin levels. The nutrients contained in a good diet can really help you to cope with stress. Magnesium is nature’s tranquilliser, whilst a zinc deficiency can lead to irritability, chronic anger, and reduced ability to handle stress. The B vitamins are involved in many stress and energy processes. Vitamin C is required for the adrenals and omega-3 for brain function.
If you need extra help, there are some excellent stress-relieving ‘adaptogen’ herbal preparations on the market, which your herbalist or naturopathic therapist could recommend for you in the correct doses. Suitable herbs range from Siberian Ginseng to Rhodiola and Ashwagandha.
It is important to eliminate or contain the causes of stress so that you don’t get into a vicious cycle. Getting plenty of exercise is good, as the endorphins released as a result are very stress relieving. Time spent out in nature is deeply restorative so take a walk in the park or the countryside, leaving your electronic gadgets behind. Plus, enjoying some safe levels of sunshine will bump up your Vitamin D levels and make you feel better.
Make sure there are no distractions when you go to bed, such as televisions or mobile phones, which could interfere with a good night’s sleep. Develop some relaxation techniques or treat yourself to a relaxation session such as a massage. Acupuncture is particularly good at calming the spirit and helping the mind to switch off.