Stress is a word that covers a multitude of meanings to many people. We all have differing tolerances to stress and for some people one situation can be extremely stressful while other people breeze on through or even thrive in and enjoy that same situation. Take bungee jumping for example.
Stress is broadly defined as acute or chronic. Acute stress is often in the moment, a response to a stressful trigger. It’s easy to think of things that cause us instant stress. An unexpected bill lands on the door mat, we are held up for an important meeting in traffic or we knock something over by accident and it smashes. In those triggering moments our sympathetic nervous system is activated, and we enter what is called the fight or flight state.
When we are triggered into the fight or flight state, our body, expects us to either need energy to run as fast as possible away from the advancing man-eating tiger or to need energy to fight for our life. In order to have this ready energy, the body dumps a kind of sugar called glucose into the bloodstream. This is instant energy which our fast-beating heart gets quickly around the body to be used in the muscles for whatever we are about to do.
The problem is, that we aren’t living in caves and running away from man eating tigers in the modern world. We aren’t using up all that ready stress energy to fight off a pack of hungry wolves from our camp.
When sugar is released into our bloodstream it is known as blood sugar. If this goes too high, we can develop hyperglycaemia which can eventually lead to cardiovascular, kidney disease and nerve damage. The pancreas releases insulin which brings down the blood sugar. Insulin causes sugar to be stored as fat and it is essential for a healthy metabolism. People with Type 1 Diabetes cannot produce insulin so they are dependent on taking insulin for life.
If the body is exposed to too much insulin over too long a period of time, our pancreas gets ‘desensitised’ to the levels and stops responding as well. This is called insulin resistance and is the pathway through to Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.
The dance between blood sugar and insulin is part of what we call the metabolism and is considered to be at the root cause of most cancers, heart disease, hormonal imbalances, chronic fatigue and cardiovascular diseases, it is even implicated in Alzheimers disease which was recently called Type 3 Diabetes. So, if we imagine that every time we experience stress and we cannot burn off the sugar that is released, we also have insulin being released to keep the blood sugar in a careful safe balance. That, coupled with our unnatural diets of refined carbohydrates, processed foods, sugary drinks all day long, sugary, or carbohydrate-based snacks throughout the day plus sedentary lifestyles.
Stress that is constant like chronic pain, a boss that you don’t get on with or being in a job you hate, a lack of exercise, unresolved trauma, a poor diet is also a stress, chronic illness, nutritional deficiencies. These all come under the category of chronic stress and most of us have a number of chronic stressors.
Imagine you have a rucksack and each of these stressors represents a rock. Over time, you are gathering more and more rocks which weigh you down. Management of stress is an essential part of being healthy, taking the rocks out of the backpack will lighten the load overall.
Some technique for stress management include:
1. Learning to say No!
Many of us find it hard to say no when people ask us to do things for them. Learning how to kindly but firmly decline requests that are going to put too much pressure on you, is important boundary setting. Healthy boundaries mean that you are caring about your own workload and taking care of yourself.
2. Avoiding self-sabotage.
Making decisions that you know your future self will thank you for – is a great life strategy. Making sure that your bed is made on a morning. Choosing to go to sleep at the right time. Saying no to the chocolate bar that you kind of fancy but know will regret later. Showing up for your workouts.
3. Being organised.
A lot of stress is caused unnecessarily by a lack of helpful systems. Like having one place for your keys all the time and putting them there, helping you to avoid the stress of losing keys and being late. Making sure you create a filing system for your papers so that you can find the things you need easily. Throwing away, selling or gifting things you don’t need any more, not hoarding unneeded items ‘just in case’. Marie Kondo has written many excellent books on tidying.
4. Having strategies for the stressful moments like Box Breathing.
Box breathing is a technique involving four long breaths. Slowly in and count to four and slowly out and count to four. Imagine that each breath is drawing a line to create a box. Breathe in – imagine a line sideways, Breathe out – imagine the line going down, Breathe in – the line comes back parallel to your top line and Breathe out – your line goes up to join the corner where you started. You can repeat this several times until you feel calmer. There is a growing body of research showing that breathing techniques are highly effective for stress management.
Other lifestyle changes that are proven to reduce stress include:
- Regular Exercise
- Eating a whole food diet, rich in Omega-3 and healthy animal proteins
- Getting regular sleep
- Being in nature at least once a day
- Being a part of a community -> Having a creative outlet like journalling, painting, or writing
- Sex and Intimacy
- Spirituality and meaning, connecting to a higher purpose
When we are stressed our body uses up vitamins and minerals at a higher rate. In particular our immune system is suppressed which is why we often become ill following periods of intense stress. Ensuring that we have a diet with a large range of fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices and healthy animal proteins with healthy fats and oils will give us the solid foundation to navigate the inevitable ups and downs we all have to contend with.
The vitamins in particular that are useful to cope with stress are the B vitamins, a quality broad spectrum B complex can be useful. Zinc and Magnesium. Vitamin C to boost the immune system and, of course, Vitamin D3 which is used in many body systems and which many people are deficient in.
Only take supplements under the guidance of a health professional.