Balanced Living

Let’s Talk About Stress, Baby

Posted by Arja on March 4 in Holistic Health

Are you experiencing insomnia?  Maybe you’re suffering from chronic headaches or depression?  You could even be having digestive issues or noticing an increase in irritability?  Any of these symptoms could be an indicator that you’re dealing with increased stress levels.

If you are a human being living on planet Earth, chances are you have experienced stress either now, or in the very recent past.  Some people thrive on stress, and to a certain degree, a little stress may not be such a bad thing.  There are, however, varying degrees of stress that can affect us all at one time or another.  Two psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, developed a popular method of rating stress levels called the Social Readjustment Rating Scale.  This scale shows how even seemingly positive events may produce an increase in stress levels.  Stress of any kind produces a biological response in the body.  Prolonged stress places a burden on many of the body’s systems, especially the heart, blood vessels, adrenal glands, and immune system.

Some people try to manage their increased stress levels with negative coping mechanisms like alcohol consumption, overeating, chemical dependencies, overspending, and other excessive behaviours.  The problem with all of these strategies is that while they may feel good in the moment they are all actually increasing stress in the body.  Alcohol increases adrenal hormone output and produces chemical stress on the body.  It also interferes with healthy sleep.  Refined carbohydrates cause blood sugar control issues which can lead to hypoglycaemia, and hypoglycaemia has been linked with depression, anxiety and increased stress.  You see where this is going, right?

Better coping mechanisms would include relaxation techniques (breathing exercises, quiet time outs), a healthy diet, regular exercise, lifestyle changes, and use of specific nutrients to support the stress response.  I can’t change the amount of stress you currently have in your life, but I can offer up some easy things you can do to improve the way you respond to your stress.

1.  Small changes in your lifestyle might lead to big changes in your overall stress load.  For many people, the sheer act of having better time management can make a big difference.  Prioritize, organize, delegate and stop procrastinating.  There are many resources out there to help you get started and feeling more on top of things will pay off in dividends.

2.  Eat a healthy diet. You didn’t think I’d leave that out did you?  Avoid caffeine and alcohol as even moderate intake puts stress on the adrenal glands.  Choose whole grains over refined because refined flour and sugar both contribute to problems with blood sugar control which can lead to hypoglycaemia.  Also, whole grains are a valuable source of B Vitamins which play a role in the overall health of the adrenal glands, as well as contribute to energy levels.  Fresh fruits and vegetables contain a myriad of vitamins and minerals which are needed more than ever during periods of high stress.  Some specific nutrients to focus on include:

Vitamin C – during periods of stress (emotional, chemical, physiological) the body excretes increased amounts of vitamin C.  Extra vitamin C from both diet and supplementation can help counteract this increased loss.  Some of the best food sources of Vitamin C are not actually citrus fruits, contrary to popular belief.  Red and green peppers, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, red cabbage and strawberries all contain more vitamin C than any of the citrus fruits.

Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) – Although it is found in highest concentrations in liver, organ meats, fish and poultry, it can also be found in whole grains, cauliflower, legumes, sweet potatoes, broccoli and salmon (amongst other foods).  This nutrient plays a key role in the health of the adrenals and is often considered an anti-stress vitamin. 

Vitamin B6 – Many studies have shown low B6 levels to be involved with a variety of different health conditions.  With relation to adrenal function, however, its importance is probably more heavily linked to its relationship with Magnesium.  Good sources of B6 include sunflower seeds, legumes, whole grains, and avocados.

Zinc – Zinc plays a crucial role in immune system function, skin disorders, low sperm count, prostate enlargement and wound healing.  On top of all its other important roles, it is also vital to the good health of your adrenal glands.  The best food sources are oysters, pumpkin seeds, legumes, nuts and whole grains.

Magnesium – This is one of the most predominant minerals in our bodies.  Its levels are easily depleted from alcohol consumption, use of diuretics, oral contraceptives, and surgery.  It occurs abundantly in whole foods, so if you are eating a lot of processed foods, you are probably not even coming close to adequate Magnesium intake.  Nuts, whole grains, tofu, apricots and sea vegetables are some of the best food sources of Magnesium.

3.  Breathe.  Seriously.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but taking 3-5 minutes to just breathe in through your nose all the way down to fill up your belly,  and back out through your mouth can have an amazing effect on your stress level.  If you’ve ever done yoga than you are probably familiar with the power of harnessing our breath, but you don’t have to become a yogi master to just take a 5minute break from your day and breathe.

If you feel like your stress levels are threatening to overtake your ability to cope and function, it’s probably time for a break.  Whether you go away somewhere for the night or weekend, or just take an evening to watch a movie and relax you will probably feel infinitely better for having done so.  Don’t be afraid to say no in order to give yourself a break.  You will be more focused, more productive, and so much happier if you keep your stress under control.

arja pennanen lytle c.n.p. n.n.c.p certified nutritional practitioner

Arja is a Holistic Nutritionist with a passion for balanced living. She loves to help people sleep better, think better, feel sexier, and just generally feel better by putting the focus on eating foods that make you feel good. Arja uses whole foods, lifestyle adjustments, herbs, and some supplements to help people feel their best and achieve their health and wellness goals.