When we are stressed the body secretes cortisol, which is an important hormone created by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is activated by the Sympathetic Nervous System and increases when the body has a ‘fight or flight’ response to stress. In small amounts this has a positive effect on the body and gives us energy for survival. It also helps us control glucose metabolism, insulin release, regulation of blood pressure, immune function and our inflammatory response.
In today’s society, we encounter a wide variety of stresses, which has changed significantly over the years. If we think back a few thousand years, our stress levels would typically be raised when we were in imminent danger for ones wellbeing, including lack of food, warmth, or being chased by an angry bear! In today’s society, that stress profile has changed dramatically with people in a state of constant (or “chronic”) stress. Chronic stress is defined as constant or repeated stress (as a result of having less time to rest, more noise, continuous input of information (especially through your phone and social media), influx of toxins, break downs in family support systems, work pressure etc.) that your body does not have the chance to recover from and therefore keeping the Sympathetic Nervous System activated. This leads to impairment of the immune system and general health, which can show itself in a variety of symptoms within the body.
It is important that the body has the chance to recover from these stresses and return to ‘resting’ state and there are some simple ways to do this in our modern hectic lives. Below are some stress busting and relaxation techniques:
- Exercise regularly – Exercise affects a neurotransmitter that has an antidepressant-like effect on your brain, helping you to cope with stress, while helping to decrease muscle tension.
- Focus on your breathing – Take three deep breaths through the nose and release slowly before reacting to a stressful situation. This will help oxygenating your body properly as well as correcting your internal and energetic balance, having a direct impact on your nervous system.
- Eat right – Scientific research has shown that there is a link between the gut and the brain. Nourish your gut to help improve brain function and mood control. Fermented food and high-quality proboscis will help with this and there are some more food tips below.
- Take a break outdoors – Research shows that this helps to lower cortisol levels and even 5 minutes a day can make a difference.
- Enjoy yourself – Make sure you have time in your day for fun activities, as the old saying ‘laughter is the best medicine’ is so true. Or a relaxing reward at the end of the day could be an Epsom salt bath.
- Manage your time – Make a list of what you need to achieve and do the most dreaded task first so you can enjoy getting through the rest of your tasks without it hanging over you.
- Keep hydrated – Drink plenty of water as dehydration can exacerbate the feelings of anxiety and stress.
- Meditate – Positive mental attitude, which can be helped through meditation, can help us deal with stress, so not focusing on the negatives or what might go wrong.
Foods that can help us cope with stress and definitely foods to increase at stressful times include:
- Cashew nuts – highest natural sources of tryptophan, the precursor for the production of serotonin, your “happy hormone”
- Blueberries – rich in vitamins and phytonutrients (plant nutrients), with a variety of antioxidants that are considered extremely beneficial for relieving stress
- Almonds – have healthy fats, zinc and iron to help with brain function and balance mood.
- Dark Chocolate – Reduces cortisol (make sure this is 70+% cacao)
- Bananas – Bananas contain dopamine, a natural reward chemical that boosts your mood. They’re also rich in B vitamins, including vitamin B6, which help to soothe your nervous system, and can promote sleep.
- Turmeric – curcumin has neuroprotective properties and studies have shown that it can enhance mood in those with depression.
Rebecca Pilkington, Naturopathic Nutrition, practicing in London and Claygate, Surrey. Please get in contact if you are looking for help with your health goals or if you are interested in finding out about more about which foods compliment your DNA