When a busy schedule, high work load, family demands or self-imposed pressure get the better of you, your stress response can work overtime. In fact, your stress response can get stuck on red, making you feel like you’re constantly under fire.
Whilst cortisol (our main stress hormone) gets a bad rap, small amounts of this hormone (alongside our catecholamines, adrenaline and noradrenaline) are critical and life-saving to us when we are in danger. Consistently raised cortisol, on the other hand, can leave you low in energy and disrupt a multitude of other hormones and physiological processes in your body.
How stress affects your body
Stress directly impacts the hypothalamus (your brain’s hormone command centre). Under stress the hypothalamus reduces signals to the pituitary, which in turn reduces production of FSH/LH (two hormones that promote ovulation), leading to longer, irregular or missing periods.
Chronically increased cortisol can also steal protein from our muscles, encourage middle weight gain, reduce insulin sensitivity, weaken our immune system, impede ovarian steroid hormone (oestrogen & progesterone) production and ovulation, AND damage the hippocampus (an area in the brain, which calms the HPA-axis) leading to a disturbed stress response (and bit of a vicious cycle).
Basically, long term stress can affect everything from your mental agility, energy, metabolism, weight, immunity, digestion, nutrient status, fertility, bone density, brain health, performance & sex drive! No big deal then, right?!
9 simple strategies to reduce stress
With the best will in the world, we all get stressed from time to time. But, if you’re feeling anxiety, overwhelm or stress daily then here are some initial steps you can take to reduce stress & start building resilience:
Try 6 or 7 deep belly breaths first thing in the morning and throughout the day. Breathe in through your nose slowly, to a count of 5, and out through your nose, for another count of 5. Expanding the belly and lower ribcage helps draw the air down into the lower lobes of the lungs, stimulating the vagus nerve – the main nerve of the PNS “rest and digest” part of the nervous system. We want to avoid shallow breaths into the upper part of the lungs, where there are a lot of stress receptors. Breathing through your nose also increases levels of nitric oxide (NO) – a gas that is produced by the lining of every blood vessel in your body. NO is also a neurotransmitter that balances out other, more excitatory chemicals in the brain.
2. Try a warming hot drink
Try a cup of African Red Bush (rooibos), lemon balm, chamomile or ashwaghanda tea – the phytonutrient properties in these teas can have calming effects on the nervous system. Some evidence also suggests rooibos can actually balance out our cortisol levels.
3. Stock up on vitamin B
Found in oats, nuts, seeds, fish, leafy greens and moderate amounts of organic meat. When we’re stressed out or constantly on the go, our adrenals use up a lot of these nutrients and we need to replenish them regularly.
4. Eat magnesium rich foods
Foods such as dark leafy greens, beans, pulses, almonds, pecans, cashews, brown rice, seafood and dark chocolate. Magnesium is our relaxation mineral and stress antidote. Magnesium also plays a vital role in energy production, which can also be up and down when we’re stressed out.
5. Choose foods high in vitamin C
Foods like whole citrus fruits, coloured peppers, tomatoes, kiwis and rocket. As well as the immune system, vitamin C plays an important part in maintaining adrenal function, which can get out of balance when we are consistently subjected to stressful stimuli.
6. Try a few minutes of mindfulness
Meditation, yoga or an Epsom salt bath every day. Choose what works for you.
7. Practice saying ‘no’ more often!
You can’t please everyone and you need to prioritise your own self-care.
A good quality multi with the active forms of B vitamins (especially B5 and B6) can help restore depleted levels of these nutrients, as can magnesium and vitamin C. Chat to a Nutritional Therapist to ensure you are using good quality brands, the most bioavailable forms and therapeutic doses to ensure you’re not wasting money and getting the right results for you.
It’s never a good idea to make any presumptions about why you might be stressed. Testing your cortisol levels via a simple urine test can be a great way to investigate the route cause of your symptoms to help you get back to balance.
Vitrue Health can help with core workplace health and wellbeing assessments. Make sure your team is HSE complaint while working from home. Our wellbeing and desk assessment / DSE assessments can help them fix ergonomics online and improve workplace health and safety.