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Time for a stress test?

If you’re feeling that juggling life’s demands is just too much, then perhaps you need to consider whether you need to take steps to combat your stress levels, fight fatigue and boost energy

Causes of stress

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 can all add up to a pressurised life where you never feel totally relaxed or in control.

Stress signs

“There are many signs of stress - no energy, extreme exhaustion, feeling emotional and run down, that you can’t switch off, problems sleeping and some people often break out with skin problems,” says Helena Murphy of health store Loop de Loop in Castletownbere, Co Cork.

“One of the signs of stress, which can alert us to a higher than normal level, would be excessive sweating,” says Matt Ronan of health store Evolv in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. “This can be subtle but is often a reliable sign that stress levels are creeping above healthy levels.”

Stress effects

When under stress your body will rapidly burn up its levels of vitamins B and C, and this affects the body’s immune system, leading to a higher likelihood of catching viruses, depression, weight gain or loss, adrenal fatigue and mental health problems.

“Stress has a huge impact on the body – it puts serious strain on the adrenal glands and therefore can compromise the immune system,” says Helena Murphy. “Long-term stress can have serious impacts on your health.”

“The effects of stress can include irritability, poor digestion, lack of concentration and memory, waking up earlier than normal, worsening of skin disorders, tiredness and being wiped out at the end of a day,” says Matt Ronan.

Supplements for stress

“Supplements to help with stress include B vitamins which can become depleted, magnesium to help calm the nervous system, and ashwagandha to lower a stress hormone called cortisol which can be damaging over a prolonged period,” says Matt Ronan. “A herb called rhodiola is also often used to help cope with stress levels and to give some stamina during such times.” says Helena Murphy. “A good multivitamin will give your body what it might be missing in the diet. Rhodiola is brilliant for physical and mental stress – it’s an adrenal support and even gives you an energy lift. A good B complex is always good for stress too.”

Your stress diet

“Eating healthy and hearty meals will help the body when under stress,” says Helena Murphy. “Go for colourful fruit and vegetables, less sugar and avoid too much caffeine too.”

“Making good food choices is crucial if you are stressed,” says Matt Ronan. “Try to avoid sugary snack foods, which will do you no favours. Keep regular meals as the foundation to the day, and try not to constantly top up flagging energy levels with stimulants like tea and coffee which make our nervous system even more jittery.”

Meditation and stress

“Meditation is very helpful to relieve stress,” says Helena Murphy. “Some people think they can’t meditate, but there is no right or wrong way to do it. Start by taking five minutes to yourself, sit with your eyes closed and just focus on your breathing. Do this when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed.”

“Meditation has been shown to be very effective in counteracting stress,” says Matt Ronan. “It has even been shown to help to counteract high blood pressure which can sometimes be a consequence of prolonged stress.”

Exercise away stress

“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 makes little difference as long as you are absorbed by it.”

“Exercise can help bring stress levels down,” says Helena Murphy. “Join a fitness class, or try swimming, yoga or just a walk every day in the fresh air as long as you have time to concentrate on yourself.”

Good foods for 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 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 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.

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