To put it simply, stress is the production of hormones within the body when we react to perceived threats. These threats can be something real, such as a car accident. Or they can be perceived threats that occur through thought processes in our head. Our body cannot tell the difference between real or perceived threats and will respond in a similar way.
When we’re talking about stress it’s important to discuss our adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys. The adrenals are the manufacturer of our stress hormones (like adrenaline and cortisol). If your adrenal function is low, your body may have difficulty responding and adapting properly to stress. If stress is chronic, elevated cortisol can persist, leading to chronically increased blood sugar levels and many other health issues.
Whilst short term stress is healthy, it can help us run faster, be more focused and give us a burst of energy when we need it. However, it’s the long-term day-to-day stressors that contribute to excess cortisol and the health problems that this causes.
Here are my main tips on how to manage your stress, starting with the true building blocks for holistic wellness…
· Set and stick to a regular sleep/wake cycle. Set a reminder for some wind down time at least 30 minutes before your bedtime. During this wind down put your screens down and start some mindfulness, breathing or relaxation exercises to get you off to dreamland. If you need some extra help getting off to sleep, ask me about Vetiver (the horse tranquilliser of essential oils) or download my sleep meditation here.
· Mindfulness practices can really help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (helping us kick the body into relaxation mode). Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment, which sounds easy but can be challenging if we’re often thinking about our to-do lists and planning for our future. If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness join my 8-week course that starts on the 27th of April.
· Unregulated blood sugar is a significant stressor on the body. Prioritising balanced meals with protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats helps to stabilise blood sugar levels and minimise the release of stress hormones is a must.
· Movement upon waking can be helpful to regulate cortisol levels, as our cortisol is highest in the morning. I find that a morning walk or yoga flow is a great way to manage my stress levels. I also find it gives me more energy for the day ahead.
· Ensure you're eating adequate calories and healthy carbohydrates to support the body's stress response. Not eating enough can also be a source of stress for the body. Supporting the body with magnesium (magnesium rich foods such as fatty fish, avocado, legumes and leafy greens), vitamin C and herbs like licorice will help regulate stress hormones.
· If you’re suffering from high levels of stress, it’s important to avoid high-impact exercise. This is another form of stress on the body which can make it harder for our adrenals to recover. When you’re stressed consider yoga, pilates, or a light form of cardio. Even better, get outside and go for a walk in nature! Forest bathing (shinrin yoku) is proven to reduce stress hormone production, improve feelings of happiness, as well as lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost the immune system and accelerate recovery from illness.
· Look after your adrenals. Caffeine and particularly coffee addiction is one of the biggest culprits of adrenal fatigue. Whilst the science tends to support low to moderate levels of caffeine consumption for various health benefits. The effects of caffeine can also worsen stress. One study found that those who ingested approximately 300 mg of caffeine experienced more than double the stress of those who took a placebo. The bottom line is, when you’re stressed decrease your caffeine intake.