The physical nature of stress is the release of stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones constrict our blood vessels to send more oxygen to our muscles and brain preparing them to tackle the stressful tasks at hand. Our heart rate, blood pressure and perspiration levels increase and our breathing quickens. This is our sympathetic nervous system taking over also known as “fight/ flight/ freeze”. Without this reaction our ability to avoid threats and perform demanding tasks significantly diminishes but our bodies are not designed to constantly be in stress for a long period time.
The stress response is well characterised as the flight or fight or freeze response and is highly variable between individuals. Therefore we need to develop individual strategies based on our symptoms, lifestyle and health goals.
Stress responses are beneficial to challenges us, encourages change, creates adaptation and makes us resilient both emotionally and biochemically. However, when faced with extraordinary or constant stress, without adequate recovery, we become predisposed to physiological and neurological changes. This then leads to major chronic conditions including neurological and hormone imbalances, insulin resistance and immune suppression.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress
- Neurological: anxiety, poor concentration, excessive worry, insomnia, depression, fatigue.
- Cardiovascular symptoms: palpitations, clammy palms.
- Digestion: cramping, irritable bowel syndrome, food intolerances, hypochlorhydria.
- Immune system: Inflammation, increased risk of infection, predisposition to allergies.
- Metabolic symptoms: insulin resistance, obesity.
- Hormonal and Thyroid function: changes in hormonal function (e.g. PMS, mood changes), Thyroid imbalance.
- Muscular: tension headaches and muscles e.g. shoulders. Cramps.
- Other common signs: declining vision and/or hearing, fatigue, loss of skin elasticity.
Lifestyle guidelines to management stress
- Take regular exercise.
- Ensure regular adequate sleep.
- Practice meditation, yoga, guided visualisation and/or breathing excercises.
- Explore meditation/ relaxation apps and use them throughout the day.
- Set clear boundaries in relationships, families and work.
- Get support from friends, family, colleagues.
- Assign “time to fret” then let it go.
- Take regular breaks throughout the day.
- Take weekend or holidays away from obligations and worries to gain a fresh perspective.
- Schedule time for yourself and express your creativity. Write, garden, paint, sing or take up a new hobby or class
- Promote “play” in your life ensuring throughout the day that you are balancing work & play time.
- Regularly expressing gratitude helps reduce the negative effects of stress and improves overall wellbeing.
- Make a smoking cessation plan for current smokers.
- Set some achievable health goals to help facilitate positive change and reduce stress on your wellbeing.
Dietary guidelines to management stress
- Eliminate refined foods and sugar.
- Emphasise foods high in essential fatty acids such as oily fish and nuts/ seeds.
- Eat a minimally processed diet rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients and bioflavonoids.
- Protein stabilizes blood sugar levels and therefore is essential for managing moods.
- Support digestive health including fibre and yoghurt.
- Minimise intake of caffeine, alcohol and salt.
- Nutritional Support: Vitamins B5, B6 & C, Magnesium, Taurine & Glutamine.
Risk Factors contributing to stress
- Immune activation chronic inflammation, autoimmunity, allergies & infection
- Toxicity gut dysbiosis, heavy metals, environmental toxicity (chemicals, noise, electromagnetic)
- Food intolerances and allergies
- Nutritional deficiencies, especially B vitamins, zinc and magnesium
- Overweight and obesity
- Sedentary lifestyle OR over exercise
- Hormonal imbalances including cortisol and insulin resistance, gonadal and thyroid hormones
- Insufficient sleep
- Substance abuse alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs and excessive caffeine
- Psychological stress including habitual worry, grief, trauma and constant life stress