Natural Ways of Dealing with the Stress in Your Life
Stress – although it is part of everyday life, keeping up with the pace of modern life can easily overtax our vital reserves and adversely affect our mood, body, and ability to adapt to changing situations. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 500 million people worldwide suffer from stress. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimate that 25-40 percent of American workers have experienced some form of stress-related job burnout, resulting in decreases in corporate productivity and $300 billion annually in stress-related compensation.
Over time, when not managed properly, stress can lead to chemical imbalances that can disrupt the normal functioning of a number of the body's structures and functions. Left unchecked, these imbalances can exert a range of detrimental effects on the brain, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and immune system, to name a few.
Research demonstrates that individuals significantly increase their use of the medical system during times of job security-induced stress. In fact, more than three out of five doctor visits are likely associated with stress-related issues.
How do you know whether your symptoms are related to stress? Click Here
Stress and the emotions associated with stress can have a profound effect on the heart. In fact, the Mayo Clinic has reported that psychological stress is one of the strongest risk factors for having an adverse impact on cardiovascular health. In one study, men reporting high levels of either anger or anxiety were more than three times as likely to have less than good cardiovascular health, and men reporting high levels of worry were more than twice as likely to have less than good cardiovascular health.
Stressful events can have a negative effect on the immune system. The first line of defense against invading organisms is an immune globulin called secretory IgA, which resides in the mucus secretions of the lungs, digestive tract, and urinary tract. Research has shown that stress can cause a significant decrease in this key immune factor. For example, one stressful episode of anger lasting five minutes can cause a decrease in secretory IgA that can last for up to five hours.
Natural killer cells are essential white blood cells that play a vital role in immune system surveillance. A severe life stress can result in a 50-percent reduction in the effectiveness of the body's natural killer cells.
Cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, increases during stressful situations. In fact, this hormone is often referred to as the "stress hormone." If too much of this hormone is present in the body for long periods of time, it can have a dampening effect on the immune system.
Stress can significantly affect the ecological balance in the body's digestive tract. In a study of astronauts preparing for space flight, the number of beneficial, friendly organisms in the digestive tract decreased, while numbers of organisms that could cause digestive upset increased. This effect continued to worsen throughout the stressful space flight. Thus, taking a dietary supplement with probiotics (beneficial bacteria) might make sense if you are experiencing an unusual amount of stress.*
How you deal with stress is often manifested in your mood. Emotions such as anger or worry can create a real risk for adverse physiological consequences. A vicious cycle can emerge with stress causing mental/emotional issues that then contribute to physiological compromises, which lead to further mental/emotional strain and so on. This underscores the need for healthy stress management, as a stressed-out mind often results in a stressed-out body and vice versa.
An estimated 65 percent of Americans lose sleep due to stress. The stress hormone cortisol is secreted in higher levels during the body's "fight or flight" response to stress and is responsible for stimulating the changes in the body to help it "fight or fly" (for example, heightened energy and alertness and increased heart rate and blood flow). Stress can disrupt the body's normal circadian rhythm, affecting when hormones like cortisol are released and having a detrimental effect on an individual's normal sleep pattern.
An observational study subjected military cadets to a five-day training course of heavy physical exercise and deprivation of food and sleep. Not surprisingly, due to the stressful nature of this training, cortisol levels went up and performance deteriorated. The researchers found "the circadian rhythm was extinguished," and circadian rhythms did not completely normalize even after 4-5 days of rest.
Although exposure to stress may be unavoidable, there are ways to effectively manage stress and reduce its damaging effects. One of these ways is through good nutrition. Healthy dietary habits can help lift mood, relieve stress, improve concentration, and raise energy levels.
- Eat whole foods rich in minerals and B vitamins.
Eat cruciferous (cabbage family) vegetables that support enzymes that metabolize stress hormones more readily.
- Green leafy vegetables – romaine lettuce, kale, collard greens, spinach
- Whole grains – brown rice, quinoa, teff, oats
- Raw or dry-roasted nuts and seeds – almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Cooked beans – a rich source of magnesium (a vital stress-relief mineral).
Consume natural-sedative foods or beverages an hour before bed.
- Cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel's sprouts.
Fish or fish oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the stress response.*Break the fast and eat a good-sized breakfast.
- Oats, warm milk, protein sources high in the amino acid tryptophan (cheese, meat, turkey, etc.), chamomile tea
- Skipping breakfast and drinking a cup of liquid cortisol (coffee) first thing in the morning will surely spike stress hormones.
Foods to avoid to reduce stress
Avoid allergenic foods that can cause immune activation. Research indicates that stimulating the multitude of immune cells in the intestines can lead to an increase in stress hormones. Some of the most common allergy-inducing foods include:
Avoid stimulants in the diet that can increase the stress response
- Chocolate (with caffeine)
- Refined sugars/refined carbohydrates (sweets, pastries, cookies)
Why Should I Take a Multiple Vitamin?
Although it may be easy to follow a healthful lifestyle under good circumstances, when one becomes stressed the good diet, regular exercise, and routine relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga can often go out the window. As a result, individuals experiencing chronic stress are susceptible to multiple nutritional deficiencies brought on by skipped meals, grabbing fast food on-the-run, mindless munching, and eating the wrong foods.
Stress can result in cravings for foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. Cortisol can also result in weight gain, which can then instigate a crash diet. A recent study found that taking a fish oil supplement could inhibit stress-induced increases in cortisol production.*
Nutrients most likely to become depleted from chronic stress are the B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium* – but any nutrient is fair game when one is not eating a healthy diet. Vitamin B1 and vitamin B5 are important nutrients for functioning of the adrenal glands – the most important glands in the fight against stress.* Vitamin B6, folic acid, and vitamin C are important for the formation of chemicals called neurotransmitters that are necessary for balancing emotions.* GABA is one of the most important calming neurotransmitters during times of runaway stress.* GABA, vitamin B3 (in the form of niacinamide), and vitamin B12 (in the form of methylcobalamin) can help provide restful sleep.*
As you can readily see, many vitamins and minerals are involved in the stress response or can become depleted during times of runaway stress.* Therefore, it is important to take a good, superior multiple vitamin and mineral formula, especially under stressful circumstances.* Consult with your health-care practitioner to determine which formula might be best for you. In addition, supplementation with specific nutrients and/or herbs can help support your adrenal glands, provide a calming effect, and help with sleep.*
Other Lifestyle Changes that Can Help with Stress Management
A key component to any stress management program is to incorporate lifestyle changes, not only dietary, but physical and mental/emotional activity as well. Exercise and some form of mental/emotional outlet can significantly reduce the disruptive effects of stress. Your health-care practitioner can help you determine which techniques would work best for you. Listed below are some general suggestions to help you on your way to a more stress-free life.
Relaxation techniques help relieve muscle tension, support cardiovascular health, and promote mental and emotional calmness. Examples of relaxation techniques include:
- Deep-breathing exercises
- Progressive muscle relaxation
Exercise for stress relief can be physical, mental, or spiritual in nature – or a combination of the three, as in the case of yoga. Physical exercise is a very effective way to relieve stress. It stimulates the body to release chemical substances (endorphins) that are similar in nature to opiates and make you feel good. Examples of physical exercise include the following:
- Organized aerobics
- Brisk walking
- Stretching exercises
- Strength-building (weight training, core conditioning, pilates)
Other stress-relieving ideas
One good way to help manage stress is to simply take time to do things you enjoy, either by yourself or with people you enjoy being with. Some examples include:
- Acquiring a hobby (cooking, fishing, photography, painting, or playing music, for example)
- Making time for family activities (game night with the kids or family dinners, for example)
- Spending time outside (nature walks, outdoor tai-chi, or bird-watching, for example)
Regardless of what your stress-relief program involves, make a commitment to incorporate these changes into your daily routine – for your health and for those you love. This is your life. Live it well.
Getting Extra Help
Practicing self-help techniques for stress management can be very beneficial. However, there may be times when you need additional assistance in dealing with stress. To help determine whether you need additional help, consider the following questions:
Is stress the cause or is it something else? Often, people are quick to blame stress for their fatigue, pain, or eating or sleeping disorders. Be sure to check with your health-care practitioner to rule out any possible physiological reasons for these symptoms before you conclude they are stress-related.
Is it more than stress? Sometimes the mental and emotional problems may be more complicated. Stress can be normal – anxiety and depression can be disease states. If you think you are depressed, or often feel overwhelming panic or anxiety, consult a health-care practitioner who can help you determine the primary cause and make recommendations best-suited for your situation.