What is stress?
Stress can be defined as the demands of an individual’s internal and external environment being enough to disrupt physical and mental homeostasis. Our world and day to day living is full of stressors, which chronically activates our stress response systems. These systems in our body were designed to help us deal with acute stressors (e.g. increases in heart rate, blood pressure and blood flow to muscles in order to help us run from a tiger), they were not meant to be activated chronically, which is why our genes are at a mismatch with our modern environment.
We can categorise stress into 2 categories, perceived stress or physiological stress.
Physiological stress can be in the form of things like a chronic lack of sleep (or oversleeping), poor diet choices, frequent alcohol consumption, smoking, lack of exersize or over exercising, being overly sedentary on a day to day basis, chronic infections, injuries, surgeries and chronic health issues. All of these things can increase inflammation in the body’s cells, which ultimately causes cellular dysfunction and depletes the cells of its resources in order to cope with stressors such as perceived stress. These physiological stressors increase the symptomatic effects of perceived stress on our body.
In terms of perceived stress, everyone perceives their environment differently, while some people may think one situation is stressful (therefore activation stress pathways in the body – HPA axis), another may not. Which is why everyone has different perceived stressors in their life. The most common perceived stressors in our modern world relate to relationships, business, family, social status, work (e.g. colleague relationships, toxic environments, high pressure, long hours, travel, physical work, shift work), studying, self purpose, keeping up with societal pressures/norms (comparison), money, chaotic life situations, mental health issues, loneliness, and self esteem.
The way we react to our environment and whether or not we perceive a situation as stressful or not, highly depends on our mindset and mental health. This is dictated by our genes and all the environmental stimuli that hit our sense over our lifetime, both physically and mentally (e.g. modelling from parents, societal/cultural norms, education, peer/friendship groups, media/internet).
As well, our diet and lifestyle can effect our brain chemistry, which in turn effects our mindset and how we react to situations. This shows that our emotions and cognition effect our physiology, but our physiology also effects our emotions and cognition.
Our mindset and mental health, governed by our genes and past mental/physical experiences, ultimately determines how we exist on a cognitive, emotional and behavioural level, especially in response to external events. It determines how we relate external input from our environment to ourselves. This is obviously all very adaptable and changes throughout our lives depending on our life experiences. However, the foundation of our cognitive, behavioural and emotional patterns are formed at a very young age when the brain is most malleable. This is when foundational personality traits, thinking patterns and perceptions of the world are developed.
If people have a weak mindset that is not very resilient, this increases the likelihood of them perceiving a higher percentage of day to day situations as stressful, which in turn increases their stress response, effecting their mood, emotions and behaviour in a negative way towards external situations. These people have a decreased ability to cope with stressors. People who have a strong and resilient mindset are less likely to perceive situations as stressful. Even if something is stressful, these individuals are better equipped to deal with and cope with the stressor. This means they have better regulations of their emotions, cognition and behaviour when faced with stressors.
In the modern world, there are many threats to the various factors that contribute to our mental health and mindset. The impact of mental health on longevity and health is being seen more and more in the literature. For example, we know that a common factor in the areas with the longest living populations, known as the Blue Zones (The Blue Zone Project), is that these people have low amounts of stress in their day to day lives (on top of having good diet and lifestyle habits). While this is partly due to the fact that they have a lot simpler lives due to living in less densely populated environments, it still alludes to the importance of minimising stress in order to support health and longevity.
Read this article here in order to understand some of the potential reasons as to why as a modern society, we are unhappy despite having all the basic necessities to live.
Also, poor physical health, which are most of the time driven by poor diet and lifestyle habits can cause symptoms that effect our appearance (e.g. skin, weight) and overall quality of life (e.g. painful, embarrassing, mobility impairing, energy depleting, and uncomfortable symptoms). This can in turn effect our mental health, as we may feel self conscious about certain symptoms or some symptoms effect our day to day living, quality of life and prevent us from living our best life, as well as doing what makes us happy and fulfilled (can lead to depression). This can be seen as both a perceived stressor and physiological stressor as different people handle sickness differently depending on their mindset. We also know that any chronic health issue increases inflammation in the body, which is stressful to the system.
Why is stress so damaging to the body?
There is no doubt that stress is harmful to our bodies over the long term, as stress increases inflammation in the body due to chronic activation of our stress system that releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol, in chronically high amounts, causes inflammation in the body, which then puts us at risk for a whole host of health issues. This is also why stress always flares up any health issue you may be suffering from due to the inflammation that it causes.
Stress and the resulting increased stress hormones that are secreted also leads to the shutting down of all “non survival” mechanisms, which is also why chronic stress leads to poor health. Nutrients and blood flow are taken away from organs like the brain, digestive system and reproductive system, which is why people get symptoms of hormonal issues, foggy thinking/monkey brain and gut dysfunction. Your body is under stress so it directs its energy needs to your vital organs and your muscles, as it thinks it will need to run from something or fight something.
The other damaging part about perceived stress is that it can effect our other diet and lifestyle habits, which further increases physiological stress on the body and exacerbates stress symptoms.
Our ability to cope with stressors has large flow on effect to how we manage or diet and lifestyle in times of stress. People with a stronger more resilient mindset have a greater ability to continue good diet and lifestyle habits in the face of stress, which in turn decreases the effects of stress on their body.
People with a weaker mindset are more likely to have a worsening of their diet and lifestyle in response to stressor. It can also de-rail a person who normally has good diet and lifestyle habits. This exacerbates stress because it increases the effects of stress on the body, which also increases the likelihood of “stressful” health issues like infections, weight gain, gut issues, fatigue and skin issues. Stress is bad enough as it is, but when it effects physical health, it can feel a lot worse.
Stress effects our energy levels, making us more fatigued. This is because stress decreases the absorption of nutrients for energy, it increases inflammation that disrupts cellular energy pathways and it always increases our likelihood of choosing high calorie, nutrient void, processed food. This is mainly because these foods are cheap, easy to buy/prepare and taste good, which gives us a temporary “feel good” sensation in our state of stress. Also, because our energy levels may be low, it will effect our motivation to cook and prepare healthy food for ourselves. On top of this, being stressed is normally in conjunction with being time poor and if we are time poor we lack time to prepare good food, therefore we turn to cheap, easy to prepare processed food.
Poor diet choices then exacerbates stress further because poor diet choices starve the brain of nutrients for healthy cognitive function and mood regulation. Healthy diet choices provide nutrients for the brain to function properly – leading to healthier cognition, mood regulation and a better stress response.
Our low energy levels are exacerbated by the fact that stress and being time poor also means we get less sleep. A lack of sleep firstly decreases our ability to handle stressors effectively, therefore increasing our stress levels. Secondly, a lack of sleep exacerbates our fatigue and causes us to decrease our exersize because we are too tired and don’t have enough time. This is counter productive as exersize helps to relieve stress by increasing endorphin production and helping get rid of “stressful energy.” Thirdly, sleep helps to rest, rejuvenate and repair the body, therefore helping to mitigate the inflammatory and depleting effects of stress on the body.
Stress can also often increase our intake of alcohol, smoking and drugs, which can help us “relax” and give us temporary highs or numb our emotions in order to feel good. These substances further increase inflammation in the body, decrease our energy levels, impair repair of the body in response to stress and effect healthy cognitive functioning.
Ultimately, because we know poor diet and lifestyle habits can increase stress and inflammation on the body, they exacerbate the symptoms of stress even more because it has an increased inflammatory load placed upon it, which disrupts healthy cellular function.
Furthermore, mental health issues like depression and anxiety that effect our moods are considered a perceived stress on the body as these people have severe changes in their mood in response to environmental stimuli. This in turn effects their diet and lifestyle habits, which will then exacerbate their mental health issues in a viscous cycle.
Lastly, when we are stressed and time poor we are less likely to engage in things like self care such as hobbies, relaxation, retreat or having fun, which are all important aspects for maintaining mental health, physical health and decreasing stress.
How can we try to defeat stress and its effects on our body?
As mentioned above, good diet and lifestyle habits help decrease physical stressors on the body. This is because they usually underpin chronic health issues, which increases physical stress on the body as well as psychological stress because illness can effect a person’s quality of life. Also, poor lifestyle habits alone are physiologically stressful to the body. Therefore, this highlights the importance of maintaining a solid diet and lifestyle.
Furthermore, perceived stress such as anxiety can be a normal physiological reaction to certain situations in our lives, especially when it is regards to something we care about or are important to us. However, it should not come at the expense of our health where we completely neglect other diet and lifestyle habits that keep us healthy and increase our body’s resilience to the effects of stress. We need to maintain (or change) our priorities, which should always be our health first. Stress may effect the consistency of some diet and lifestyle habits, however we must always endeavour to build and/or continue some kind of foundational habits. Prolonged or intense psychological stress, combined with poor diet and lifestyle habits can sometimes be a trigger for major health issues, which is why having a solid diet and lifestyle in times of stress may be protective to the body.
Good diet and lifestyle habits increase the body’s robustness and helps decrease the effects of perceived and psychological stress on the body. Stress is inflammatory to the body and depletes it of resources in order to cope with stress and inflammation. Good diet and lifestyle habits help to strengthen the body’s resources and negates some of the effects of stress on the body such as low immunity, mood issues, weight gain and fatigue (which are all caused by excess cortisol levels from stress).
A good diet helps to increase anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant nutrients that help decrease the inflammatory effects of stress on the body, which ultimately drives symptoms. It also provides the body with nutrients to help support energy levels, sleep regulation, immune function, healthy brain and cognitive function, which we know are all effected by stress. Eating healthy and nutrient dense food also increases our satiety, therefore decreasing the likelihood of turning to calorie dense foods that are often eaten when stressed – therefore decreasing the likelihood of weight gain.
Good sleeping patterns and getting enough sleep allows the body to rest and rejuvenate from stress, as well as negate its inflammatory effects on the body. Also, exersize helps keep us happy and gets rid of tension and stressful energy.
As you can see, maintaining healthy diet and lifestyle habits in times of stress is vital to decreasing the effects of stress on the body. However, the issue in our modern society is that people with already poor diet and lifestyle habits are more likely to have a worsening of their habits in response to stress. As well, stress can de-rail people with good diet and lifestyle habits because they might not have a resilient mindset.
This is because as a society, I believe we are not always taught to handle feelings of stress and anxiety in a healthy way. Instead of learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and that feelings of stress and anxiety are a normal part of life that will pass or that they can be worked through in a heathy manner (that doesn’t effect our health), we are taught that constant happiness is the goal and anything less than that is not desirable. Therefore, when stress, sadness, anxiety and uncomfortable emotions come along, we try to seek out temporary highs and behaviours that will help numb or escape our uncomfortable emotions. These behaviours are not always beneficial to our health such as eating “pick me up” processed food, alcohol, drugs, smoking, isolating ourselves from social support networks and over-use of addictive forms of technology/social media (e.g. Netflix, video games etc).
These behaviours will further exacerbate mood/mental health issues, poor sleeping patterns, low energy levels, low motivation levels and likely increase sedentary behaviour (some people may over sleep or over-exersize to cope with stress). Everyone has different coping mechanisms in response to stress and disruptions to mental health. For some people, these coping mechanisms can occur once every so often or consistently over a number of years and turn into genuine addictions. At the core of these addictive behaviours is usually emotional trauma that the individual is either consciously or unconsciously trying to numb, suppress and escape from.
Based on this, it is important to help coach people to build healthy diet and lifestyle habits, as well as help them to develop healthy, strong and resilient mindsets.
Developing a healthy, strong and resilient mindset in response to external events and learning how to deal with perceived stressors adequately, allows us to psychologically deal with stress better, which decreases the risk of our diet and lifestyle falling apart and buffers the effects of stress on the body. This will help increase energy levels and decrease the effects of stress, allowing us to perform better under stress. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react.
Changing our mindset can sometimes need psychological intervention/counselling – that helps us change relationship to our thoughts and reactions to external events on a cognitive, behavioural and emotional level in a non-stressful manner.
This can sometimes be very hard for people because neural pathways that have been firing for a long time, that dictate our cognition, emotions and behaviours, are hard to change. Changing them requires conscious effort to try “re-wire” the brain. Also, another difficulty is that a lot of our cognition, emotions and behaviours in response to external stimuli is not always rational, therefore trying to get people to “rationalise” it, is not always very effective. People often know it is irrational but can’t help thinking, feeling and behaving the way they do, due to neural pathways that fire more strongly than any type of rational thinking.
While changing our mindset is of great importance, learning techniques to decrease our stress response and mitigate the effects of stress on the body can be very useful and helpful as well.
Simply implementing daily stress reduction techniques can also have profound health benefits and can be used to significantly decrease our stress. These stress reduction techniques ultimately lower stress hormone production such as cortisol, which is raised in times of chronic stress. Even lowering these stress hormones for a small part of your day while engaging in stress reduction techniques cans till have a profound impact on your health and longevity.
BONUS NOTE: Read the book “The subtle art of not giving a fuck.” It is certainly a counterintuitive approach to living a better life, with a healthier mindset. This book was a game changer for me as it was practical, realistic, funny and challenged everything I thought about typical self-help books.
Simple, user-friendly stress reduction techniques.
Choose a simple task in your day that you do every day. It could be something like making your daily cup of coffee, getting dressed or making breakfast. Bring yourself into the moment and focus all your attention/5 senses on this task. For example, if you are making coffee, use all of your sense in the process of making it. How does it smell? What does it look like while you are making it? What does it taste like? How does the hot mug feel in your hand? What does the kettle/coffee machine sound like? These are just some examples of things to focus on. Find something that works for you and focus on all aspects of the task with all of your senses.
It is amazing how many things we do in our day on autopilot while projecting our minds into the future. Most of our stress, anxiety and ultimately our internal suffering comes from worrying about things that have not even occurred yet, things that may never happen, things we need to do or things we fear may happen. We are the only species on this planet that has a sense of self beyond the present moment. Performing seemingly benign tasks with your complete attention and focus can help take you “out of your head” and bring you into the physical moment. The present moment is all that we have to focus on, and the more we can focus on the now, the less we will stress about the future and about things that may not even occur or are not in our control.
Lastly, there is a plethora of apps that you can download, which take you through guided mindfulness sessions. Even doing a 2 minute session, once per day is better than nothing. Start small and you may enjoy it so much that you start to increase the length of your sessions, as well as prioritise time to do longer sessions. One app I would recommend is called headspace.
Take 2-5 minutes out of your day to stop, listen, smell and feel.
Take time out of your day to find a space on your own, close your eyes and use your other senses to take note of your surroundings and all the stimuli hitting your senses. What can you hear? What can you smell? What can you taste? What can you feel?
It is preferable to do this outside and expose yourself to daylight. You can maybe do it in your garden if you have one, a park close to your house, or a park close to your work during your lunch break. It doesn’t matter when you do it, just try an do it at least once in your day, especially if you are having a rough day. This activity will also help bring you into the present moment.
Interestingly, a recent study monitored people walking through the city and monitored their nervous systems in various situations. The research found that just sitting in a park on a bench, decreased the participants sympathetic nervous system. This is the branch of the nervous system that is activated in times of stress and is responsible for your fight or flight response.
At the end of each day at night, before bed, place your legs up the wall for 5-10 minutes, in this time do some deep breathing and progressive relaxation. At first you might find this difficult, however over time the overthinking and busy mind will settle.
Mindfulness through movement and meditation.
Yoga, Tai Qi, Qi gong or meditation are all extremely effective ways to decrease stress, change your mindset and bring you into the present moment. You may need to attend classes in order to learn these techniques.
Create a journal.
At the end of the day start to write in a journal. Write your thoughts, things you wished you had of achieved that day, things you are grateful for, things you need to do tomorrow and also your feelings. You can also write down your values, short/long term goals, priorities and what you can be doing on a day to day basis to live by your values, priorities and achieve your goals. They don’t have to be massive. Make them achievable and sustainable, while still leaving room for self improvement. Once you’re done, close the book and put it in another room. It’s now time to relax, you’re officially done for the day and have done all that you can. Tomorrow is another opportunity to tick some more things off your list, so make sure you prioritise a good nights sleep in order to kick more goals. Writing in itself can be therapeutic.
Take time out in nature.
Being in nature can stimulate all of your sense in various ways and it has far-reaching health benefits, including stress reduction. When in nature try some mindfulness and bring yourself into the present moment by using all 5 senses to observe your natural habitat around you. Admire the beauty and contemplate how many years the natural landscape you are looking at has taken to form.
Going into nature could involve camping, going on a hike, swimming in the ocean, surfing or it can even be as simple as taking your shoes off and walking on the grass in a park during your lunch break at work. Even exposing your skin and eyes to sunlight (when possible) for at least 30 minutes a day can have profound effects on your health. UV ray exposure in amounts that don’t cause sunburn, have been shown to increase endorphin production, which helps modulate your immune system, decrease pain, decrease blood pressure and increase happiness.
Find a hobby or take up something new.
Finding a hobby or pursuit that you enjoy, that you find challenging and requires your complete focus, can also help bring you into the present moment and take your mind off the past and future (helps minimise anxious self talk). It also helps you feel like you are accomplishing new things, improving yourself and adding more tools to your shed as a person, especially hobbies that require you to learn new skills out of your comfort zone. Hobbies that involve physical activity and seeing your friends are even better due to the health benefits of exersize and social connection. Pursuing hobbies is an essential part of self care and are vital to living a healthy life. Making time for yourself, to do things you enjoy and that break up the routine of day to day living is essential for staying happy, minimising stress and keeping healthy both physically and mentally.
Lastly, here are some other things you may want to prioritise in your life as part of your self care regime in order to decrease stress and help you feel happier and healthier. Massage, hiking/walking in nature (bio-philia decreases cortisol and inflammation), laughter, good sex, surfing, martial arts, acupuncture, sunlight, listening to your favourite music, dancing, playing with your pet, hanging with a friend/s, physical contact with a partner or just having any kind of FUN! All of these things release endorphins in our bodies, which bind to opiate receptors, making us feel happy, regulating our appetite, decreasing pain and increasing immunity. Our genes and past environmental exposures/mental experience determine the extent of how much these behaviours or new hobbies “feel good” to us or if they feel good at all. For one person, playing with their dog is bliss, where is another person may feel the same way when listening to their favourite music. We all perceive things differently in our environment based on our genes and past experiences, which is why everyone chooses to do different things that make them feel good. The key is to ultimately find the things that make you happy, mitigate stress and increase enjoyment.
Furthermore, in our modern world, taking time out to play, pursue hobbies, practice self care and have fun is sometimes frowned upon due to the increased demands of work and life in general. However, it is vital to our health and it is innate when we are kids, but taken out of us when we enter adult life. When we play and have fun, we do it without a purpose, it is voluntary, it is improvised, it feels good, we loose sense of time and self and it can be addictive in the best of ways.
Working yourself into the ground, being highly stressed and busy is not a badge of honour. Especially if the busyness is in the pursuit of more money, social status or to financially maintain a lifestyle that is not based on a healthy value system.
You are not winning in life if you are so busy and stressed at work that you don’t have time for family, friends, partners, hobbies, self-care or looking after you own health with good diet and lifestyle habits. Because at the end of the day, without your health, what do you have? If you are not healthy, you can’t possibly live your best life and achieve your dreams. You will die one day and on your death bed, I promise you will not look back and say “wow, so glad I worked those extra hours and neglected everything else in my life….”
Don’t get me wrong. Be deeply committed to all endeavours that you decide to pursue in life, and work hard to that end, however it should never come at the expense of your health and what is genuinely important in life. There’s a difference between working hard for a meaningful purpose and being a slave to a cultural (or personal) ideal that many of us would never accept if we were given the choice.
Most of us juggle multiple roles in our lives that are easy to get caught up in —career, parent, partner, provider, friend, and more—and sometimes it can be a struggle just to keep our heads above water.
Without time to pause and reflect, we can find ourselves simply bouncing from one commitment or obligation to the next, like a pinball in a machine.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, sometimes removing yourself from everything in the form of retreat can be hugely beneficial.
Stepping outside of the rhythm of our daily lives—even if only for a day—is a powerful way to gain clarity and reconnect with ourselves and our deepest needs and goals. This can be in the form of:
- Meditation retreats.
- Personal retreats could be you going into a beautiful location where you spend time doing things that you love and that relax you (e.g. walking, yoga, exersize, reading, surfing and other hobbies etc.)
This is a way for you to re-group yourself and your goals, as well as reduce stress. Retreat is another important part of self care that must be scheduled in our daily lives every so often.
Taking a break from the daily routine and stressors of life, or just taking small scheduled breaks in between things like work or studying helps to re-charge your motivation batteries, it revitalises you, clears your mind, helps decrease stress, lets out stressful tension and actually increases productivity. This can be done by engaging in any of the above activities suggested above.
Self-care, relaxation, retreat and engaging in hobbies is vitally important for women!
In our society, women are put under a lot of pressure to juggle their careers, personal goals and family. Gender roles are changing, but women still come under a lot of pressure as they often find themselves having to balance their careers and maintaining a household with little help (if any at all) from their partners. There is a societal and cultural norm (that is slowly shifting) where women are expected to put others first, especially if they have a family, as doing otherwise can sometimes be seen as selfish. Women naturally tend to do this based societal pressures.
A lot of the time, once women have kids, they sometimes don’t even realise it, but they start putting their families/kids needs before their own and feel guilty/shameful if they take time out to look after themselves and their own wellbeing (e.g. exersize, prepare healthy food, get enough sleep, stress reduction, engage in hobbies, self-care and relaxation). Down the line this leads to poor health outcomes. While parenting does come with and raising a family does come with responsibilities, compromise and sacrifice, it should not lead to the complete abandonment of self care.
If women look after themselves and prioritize self care and their wellbeing, they are more likely to feel more energised, healthy and refreshed so they can be their best selves for their family.
Sadly, some women who lack support from nannies, family members or a partner (for whatever reason) leads to an increased likelihood of struggling to find balance. However, some women are lucky enough to have a solid support network like family members and a partner. These women must utilise this so they can receive help with managing the household and family, which then leaves more time for self-care.
Women must embrace self-care and not feel guilty or selfish for it. They have to realise that in order to be the best mother and partner, they have to feel good about themselves and be energised and healthy. Otherwise they are functioning below optimally.
Schedule a digital detox.
Social media, the internet and technology has revolutionised our world. There are some amazing positives to the technological advancements of our world, as well as some detrimental effects. Especially towards our mental health. We can help negate these effects by being more mindful around our use of social media and technology. Even scheduling a digital detox can be extremely helpful, allowing you to remove yourself from the virtual world and bring yourself into the present. Read this post to learn about how technology is effecting our health.
Don’t go to your grave without having properly lived
Our modern world is so busy and faced pace that if we don’t prioritise the above aspects of health, life just wizzes by and we forget to enjoy ourselves. You only live once and the point is to actually enjoy most of your life, it is not supposed to be a slog of just existing. Yes, certain unenjoyable things are necessary, which is why we need to make time to enjoy ourselves as well.
A lot of research is starting to point towards that chronic disease and premature death is mostly driven by perceived stress, which as we have seen, flows onto effect energy levels, our mood, mental health, sleep, diet and exersize – all important factors for deceasing disease risk and living a long, healthy life.
Some evidence suggests that stress reduction and maintaining low stress levels is in fact the most important factor for decreasing disease risk and increasing longevity. There is evidence to suggest that even people with a mediocre diet and lifestyle but very low amounts of stress tend to be healthier and live longer than those who are highly stressed, with or without good diet and lifestyle habits.
People who have low amounts of stress in their lives tend to have healthy and strong mindsets, allowing them to decrease their amount of perceived stressors in their life. They also tend to have many healthy and strong relationships (i.e. family and friends), they enjoy their work, they have a strong/healthy value system that they live by, they have a strong and resilient mindset and they frequently engage in fun, nature, hobbies and self care.
While a good diet and lifestyle is important to deal with stress, trying to reduce stress as much as possible is best all together.
Before you supplement, make sure you try some of the techniques listed in this post. Supplementation can be an adjunct to stress reduction techniques. Some good supplements to help support stress include…
- Magnesium: Magnesium is depleted in times of stress. It is important for energy production, muscle relaxation, and inhibitory neurotransmitter production (chemical messenger in the brain/nervous system the promote calm). Magnesium can also help decrease inflammation and reduces the cognitive decline caused by long term stress. Dosages range from 400-800mg per day. When buying magnesium, go to a health food store and ask the sales assistant for magnesium that contains magnesium biglycinate. This is the best-absorbed form of magnesium.
- Withania 500mg of extract: This herb has been shown to decrease stress hormone levels, decrease stress related immune suppression, improve sleep and helps individual’s resistance to mental and physical stress. It has also been shown to help reduce the feeling of fatigue in response to stress as well as other stress related symptoms like cognitive decline. Lastly, it has been shown to decrease anxiety in stressed people.
- Rhodiola 50mg of extract: Rhodiola is a herb that has been shown to decrease fatigue, exhaustion, and stress related symptoms like poor cognition. It has also been shown to increase mental and physical performance under stress and decrease stress binge eating (in rats).
- Lavender 80-160mg of extract: Another herb that has been shown to decrease stress and induce relaxation. Even through aromatherapy.
- Phosphatidylserine: 400mg/d of phosphatidylserine has been shown to regulate cortisol rhythm by acting on the hippocampus in the brain.
As you can see, there are so many ways to implement stress reduction into our busy lives. Stress reduction should be an absolute priority and I would argue that it should be your first step in trying to achieve optimum health. This is because it has such a profound effect on our other diet and lifestyle habits.
In saying that, making sure we have consistent and ingrained diet, exersize and sleep habits, that are not completely thrown out when we are stressed, makes our body more robust in order to deal with the stressors at hand. It offsets the negative effects stress may have on our health (e.g. decreased immune function and fatigue), which is extremely helpful as stress is sometimes unavoidable at times.
Lastly, perceived stress is a major driver behind disease and likely to be one of the main factors preventing symptom improvement if diet, sleep and exersize are taken care of. Also, if stress is present, it is likely to be the biggest contributing factor to a person’s symptoms presentation, no matter what the health issue is – purely due to its ability to increase inflammation in the body. Inflammation essentially drives chronic disease symptoms.
However, it is the least talked about because it is hard to control your own emotions, thinking patterns and reactions to the environment around you – especially if you have learnt to get stuck in a certain cycle/pattern of thinking and behavior. Stress is also the hardest thing to address because it is the most abstract thing in our lifestyle, as it isn’t really tangible like diet, sleep and exercise. This is why sometimes people can find it hard to address, but it is the most important factor to good health.
NOTE: Pharmaceutical drugs often have a side effect of depression and decrease our ability to cope with stressors/emotional regulation. Pharmaceutical drugs are becoming more and more common due to increased chronic disease. Therefore if you have felt a change in your mood or ability to cope with stress and you have recently adjusted your medications, please speak to your doctor.