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How to stress less

Managing stress in all parts of your life with diet, nutrition and lifestyle tips

The main causes of stress are lack of exercise, poor diet, eating on the go, lack of sleep, pressure at work and home, not enough ‘down’ time and too much time on electronic devices,” says Helena Murphy of health store Loop de Loop in Castletownbere, Co Cork. “Stress now comes in many guises that span our emotional, physical, psychological and metal wellbeing,” says nutritional therapist Susie Perry-Debice who works for Abundance and Health. “Nowadays we tend to carry our own unique list of causes, stressors or triggers which can include relationship dynamics, family and social commitments, working environment, financial worries, digital toxicity, physical issues and of course poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle habits and even sleep deprivation.”

“Stress can be any unsolved problem a person experiences – from dealing with a daily list of things which need to be done, a challenging task at work, a social occasion or an ongoing sense of difficulty with a partner, parent or child,” says Matt Ronan of Evolv health store in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

Stress and your body

“The immune system is the front line of defence for good health,” says Ellen Cox of essential oil company Atlantic Aromatics. “When we are stressed it is one of the first systems in the body to be affected, weakening our ability to fight off everyday infections.

“The body has a very structured way in which it handles stress,” says Susie Perry-Debice, “admittedly this response is still tailor-made for our flight-or-fight caveman ancestors and is in much need of a 21st century upgrade! The adrenal glands respond to stress by producing the hormones cortisol and adrenalin.

Unfortunately, there’s no sliding scale when it comes to the stress response – it’s an all-in kind of situation. We essentially handle a modern-day stressful situation in the same way as our ancestors handled a life-threatening situation. Once the situation has passed the stress response fades. The problem in modern life is that we are constantly being exposed to a variety of stressful situations, and long-term exposure to stress has very serious health implications – poor immune function, poor digestion, high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, insomnia, headaches, fatigue, depression and weight issues.”

“All of the B vitamins, particularly B5, and also vitamin C are burnt up rapidly in a body which is under stress, regardless of whether it is emotional, psychological or physical,” says Matt Ronan. “Extra cortisol floods into the body in order to facilitate increased energy to help in meeting the challenge. This is fine on a short-term basis, but when it goes beyond that vital body tasks such as the proper performance of the immune and digestive systems are impaired, normal repair of muscles and joints from everyday usage are neglected and other health issues emerge too.”

“Stress can have an awful impact on the body, from the body’s ability to fight disease, depression, weight gain or loss, adrenal fatigue, impaired immune system and mental health problems,” agrees Helena Murphy.

Stress relief

“Take time each day to switch off for five minutes – sit in peace and quiet, meditate or read a book,” says Helena Murphy. “Have time without electronic devices – leave the phone, TV and laptop off. Exercise for half an hour a day – walk somewhere instead of driving, get some fresh air. Aim for eight hours sleep every night. Add more fruit and vegetables to your diet and don’t skip meals. Drink more water and herbal teas instead of black tea or coffee. Adding supplements like B vitamins and vitamin C to your diet can really help. Rhodiola supports the adrenal glands.”

“One simple trick to dampening down the stress response is to re-engage with your inner calm,” says Susie Perry-Debice. “As soon as you feel stress rise, take a moment, take a breath, turn your attention inwards and find your stillness. This sends a new signal throughout the nervous system and brain indicating that there is no need to launch the fight-or-flight response, giving you a chance to recalibrate the adrenal glands. This enables you to shift away from being highly reactive (like a ticking time-bomb) and move towards being able to assess your situation, gather your composure and respond appropriately.”

“When stress hits it really takes discipline to resist the temptation to get by on quick insubstantial foods and to indulge in tea and coffee as a means to keep us going when our energy levels flag,” says Matt Ronan. “This inevitably leads to much faster burnout and longer lasting depletion of our general health. Therefore it is imperative that we eat good wholesome food and continue to engage in activities like running, swimming, yoga or going for a walk. Some of the supplements which can help us with supporting a system under stress are vitamin C and B complex taken twice per day along with the herbs ashwagandha or rhodiola.”

“One Austrian study found that lavender and orange oils reduced anxiety and improved mood in a dental waiting room,” says Ellen Cox. “I recommend applying an essential oil blend to the body daily with lavender, tea tree and ravensara. Dilute your oils in a carrier such as aloe vera gel and a vegetable oil. In 50ml of carrier add 25-50 drops of essential oils for an adult. Apply regularly to the tummy, adrenals, feet and knees. The digestive system is also affected by stress – loss of appetite and nausea can be some of the first symptoms. Apply an essential oil blend to the tummy daily. I suggest camomile, fennel, ginger and peppermint. To help the hormone (endocrine) system I suggest roman camomile, frankincense, lavender, neroli (excellent where anxiety is present), rose otto (particularly balancing), sandalwood and vetivert (grounding).”

Stress and vitamins B and C

“During the stress response the adrenal glands use vast amounts of B-vitamins and vitamin C – since both of these nutrients are water-soluble they cannot be stored in decent amounts in the body. During times of prolonged stress these nutrients can become easily depleted. Taking a daily supply of liposomal C and liposomal B-complex helps to offset the negative effects of stress, keeping the body in a better state of health and better able to cope in stressful situations.” Susie Perry-Debice

Foods that help you cope with stress

Berries – packed with antioxidants which combat damaging free-radicals released by stress in the body.

Cashew nuts – a great source of zinc which can help reduce anxiety. Other good sources of zinc are chicken and beef.

Green leafy vegetables – contain folate, which produces dopamine, a chemical that helps you to keep calm. Try eating more spinach, cabbage and broccoli.

Salmon – packed with omega-3 fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory properties which in turn can help your body cope with stress hormones.

Seeds – such as flax, pumpkin and sunflower all contain magnesium, the stress-fighting mineral.

Turkey – contains the amino acid tryptophan that makes you sleepy and helps produce the feel-good hormone serotonin. Other good sources are nuts, seeds, tofu, fish, oats, lentils, eggs and beans.

Yogurt – a good probiotic yogurt gives you the benefit of live native bacteria to settle your digestive system, as well as calcium and protein.

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