What is stress? The term stress is very generic as it refers to anything that disrupts the balance of normal functions in the body.
We generally perceive stress to be a psychological issue, but it is also the natural response of the body to physical triggers such as:
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Blood sugar imbalance
Psychological stressors may include (this list is not exhaustive):
Illness - mental and physical
Family and relationships
Bullying, school exams
Why is stress so bad for us?
Actually, not all stress is bad. Some stress is necessary and good, for example it gives us that adrenaline surge needed for a job interview, presentation or sporting
event. It stimulates our brain, makes our muscles work harder and gets our heart pumping faster. What is important is our body’s ability to switch off that stress response and return to “normal” – the parasympathetic state which allows the body to re-set through rest, digest and repair.
What if my body can’t switch off?
A constant state of high state of stress – whether that is physical or psychological is called chronic stress. The result of this is that other systems of the body may be affected and stop working properly. This will be different in everybody. For example:
Digestive system – food may not be digested properly and symptoms such as constipation, bloating, pain and heartburn may be experienced.
Immune system – increased risk of colds and infections.
Cardiovascular system – the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack increases.
Metabolism - increased risk of blood sugar dysregulation, obesity and diabetes.
Reproductive system – women may experience infertility, low libido or issues with their periods. Men may experience low sperm count, low libido or impotence.
Brain Health - decreased concentration, memory and increased hippocampal brain cell death.
Mood - increased risk of anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorders and sleep disturbance.
Nutrition and lifestyle changes can help:
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables of all the colours of the rainbow – these are high in vitamin C which acts as an antioxidant to reduce the impact of stress on the body.
Include eggs, nuts and seeds - these also all contain powerful antioxidants reducing the impact of stress on the body.
Include 2-3 portions of oily fish per week – these include essential fatty acids that help reduce inflammation resulting from stress in the body.
Avoid refined sugar and white carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta and white rice.
Choose wholegrain varieties instead. This will help balance blood sugar levels which will reduce stress on the body.
Chewing each mouthful 20 times, looking at our food, putting our cutlery down on the table between bites will support the digestive process and encourage the ‘rest and digest’ response.
Reduce consumption of caffeine and alcohol – these both stimulate a stress-like response in the body. Choose herbal teas and water instead.
Yoga/Walking in nature have been shown to decrease cortisol and trigger release of chemicals that relieve pain and improve mood.
Belly breathing exercises for 5 minutes such as: 3-4-5 BREATH, especially helpful for those prone to anxiety or stress OR BOX BREATHING. Breathe in for 3 seconds Breathe in for 4 seconds. Hold for 4 seconds Hold for 4 seconds.Breathe out for 5 seconds Breathe out for 4 seconds. Hold for 4 seconds
Meditation just 15 minutes a day has been proven to reduce stress, apps such as headspace.com and calm.com, can support the parasympathetic nervous system.
Sleep – aim to get 8 hours of sleep per night. Give yourself a strong bedtime routine that doesn’t involve screens. A bath, reading or a quick yoga routine are all great ways to wind down before bed.
Connection and laughter – loneliness can be deadlier than smoking, and we are evolutionarily primed to live as a tribe, thus connection with friends and family is crucial to our mental wellbeing. If you can, make time for regular downtime from work to socialise.
For more information and support
If you feel in need of support with physical or mental stress,please contact your GP. Additionally, these charities have more information and support: