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Stress busters

There is plenty of stress in the world, whether it is work or exam related or linked to mental and physical fatigue. Rude Health finds how we can all help ourselves

There are many causes of stress including work, family, financial problems, health issues and physical stress,” says Dorothy Browne, manager of Nice & Natural in Cootehill, Co Cavan. “A short period of stress can be positive, such as when it avoids danger or to meet a deadline, but when stress lasts for a long-time it may harm your health. Elevated stress hormones especially cortisol can increase inflammation, reduce immunity and increase the risk for blood pressure and heart disease. Physical stresses include fatigue, sleep problems, digestive problems, headaches, chest pains and panic attacks.”

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

Stress and your body

“Stress is hard to avoid,” says Meaghan Esser, registered holistic nutritionist at ITL Health. “When it isn’t managed properly, stress can lead to a plethora of health problems including a suppressed immune system, digestive issues, and depression and anxiety.”

“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 ok 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.”

Preventing stress

“Stress-free is an impossible goal in today’s busy world, but there are a few simple ways we can help our bodies cope with stress in a healthy way,” says Meaghan Esser. “These include ensuring a good night’s sleep (aim for at least 7 hours per night), taking a daily walk, limiting consumption of caffeine and sugary, highly processed foods, and carving out a few minutes each day to do breath-work or simple meditation. Magnesium is a vital nutrient for the body to cope with stress, so taking a high-quality, bioavailable magnesium supplement can also help to support your body during times of high stress.”

“When stress hits it really takes iron discipline to resist the temptation to get by on quick unsubstantial foods and to indulge in tea and coffee as a means to keep us going when our energy levels begin to 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 hold our nerve, eat good wholesome food and continue to engage in activities like running, swimming, yoga or going for a walk.”

Foods to reduce stress

“Foods high in magnesium can help your body to manage your daily stress load,” says Meaghan Esser. “These foods include leafy greens (spinach, kale), dark chocolate (70% or higher), nuts and seeds, bananas and avocados. Getting enough B vitamins is also important in reducing stress in the body, so ensure you’re eating plenty of foods like leafy greens, eggs, salmon and legumes.”

“Eating a balance of fresh food is so important for reducing stress,” says Dorothy Browne. “Go for green leafy vegetables, rich in vitamins and fibre. Fish rich in omega-3 like salmon, tuna and mackerel, omega-3 is a type of fatty acid that has a strong relationship to cognitive function and mental health. Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids which have been shown to reduce inflammation and increase blood flow and boost brain health. Fermented foods such as kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir may help to improve gut health and mood. Cereals such as oats which are rich in vitamins and iron help boost energy levels, stabilise blood sugars which are important for controlling mood swings and irritability. Berries have a wide range of antioxidants which play a key role in combatting oxidative stress.”

Turkey – contains the amino acid tryptophan that makes you sleepy and helps produce the feelgood 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.

Lifestyle changes

“Making some small changes in your lifestyle can often help reduce stress,” says Dorothy Browne. “Exercising regularly, learning to breathe, meditation, mindfulness, yoga and massage. Taking control of your work-life balance, taking time to eat and sleep.”

“I find one of the most important things to counteract stress is to get outdoors and engage in an activity which completely takes your mind away from what you are worried about,” says Matt Ronan. “Whether it’s walking, swimming or yoga, it makes little difference as long as you are absorbed by it.”


“Sometimes we need to supplement our diet to help reduce stress,” says Dorothy Browne. “Supplements like B complex, magnesium, ashwagandha, rhodiola, l-theanine and lemon balm all help to bring calm, balanced mood and sometimes help to soothe your stresses away. It’s always good to talk to your health food advisor for advice and care.”

“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, which should help with energy as well as resistance to stress” says Matt Ronan.

Exams and stress

“If you’ve got exams around the corner but your brain feels like it’s fit to burst, try optimising nutrition to increase productivity, improve memory, make you more alert and even boost intelligence,” says Olive Curran a Galway-based nutritional therapist who works with PPC.

Fuel your brain: Omega-3 rich oily fish is by far the most important food for brain health. It has also been shown to boost serotonin (our happy hormone) and decrease anxiety.

Omega-3s must be obtained through diet (oily fish, seeds, nuts) or supplementation. Without these important fats, it can become difficult to concentrate, learn new information, and balance moods properly.

Eat a balanced diet: Having balanced meals and snacks spaced evenly throughout the day will help you feel alert and stable, and less susceptible to compulsive snacking. Aim for a combination of protein (eggs, lean meat, greek yoghurt, beans, pulses), healthy fats (avocado, oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil), and fibre (wholegrains, vegetables, fruits such as blueberries and strawberries). Make sure you are drinking plenty of fluids e.g., water, herbal teas, kombucha, smoothies.

Get your zzzz’s: A good night of sleep will help you feel more energetic, alert, focused and upbeat.

Be positive and de-stress: It may be appropriate to add rhodiola and B vitamins into your daily regime to help balance your mood and reduce stress. Rescue remedy is perfect for those weeks leading up to the exams and during exams to bring a bit of calm.”

Step by step

“Stress often creeps up on us slowly and before we know it we are feeling overwhelmed,” says Matt Ronan. “Therefore it is important to see the signs of trouble at the early stages and start taking measures which support your survival:

1. Really make an effort to get to bed early and therefore enable yourself to get up earlier without panic.

2. Do even five minutes of journalling first thing in the morning so that you are aware of what feelings are within you.

3. Set yourself a target amount of water to drink, as it helps your brain to function much better.

4. When you do get through your stressful period, or if stress is going on for a prolonged number of weeks, be sure to visit your local health store and get advice on how to help your adrenals to recover.

5. Phone a friend. Even a 10-minute conversation with someone who you know can empathise with your situation can help.”

Iron and stress

“Fatigue is just one of the signs of iron deficiency,” says Peter Harney, nutritional therapist at The Natural Medicine Company. “Some symptoms can include tiredness and lack of energy, shortness of breath, heart palpitations or pale skin.

“Your body relies on a steady flow of oxygen, which it receives from red blood cells and iron is an essential mineral that helps to make red blood cells, which transport oxygen around the body. If you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Without healthy red blood cells, your body can’t get enough oxygen and without sufficient oxygen in the body, you’re going to become fatigued.

“Once your body’s iron levels are depleted, you are more likely to develop anaemia. As iron levels drop, you may begin to feel breathless, suffer palpitations and even experience temporary memory loss.

“You should be able to get all the iron you need from your daily diet. This should include lean meats if you eat these, and for everyone pulses such as peas, beans, lentils and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach.

“However, there are times when you may need a supplement. Heavy periods and pregnancy are very common causes of iron deficiency. During pregnancy the demand for iron can rise significantly. Women who lose a lot of blood during their period may need to take an iron supplement. If you think you might have low iron levels, see your doctor. It’s important to find out why you have iron deficiency and what you can do about it.”

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