We could all do with some stress relief
. Stress is a fact of life for many of us as we rush around to accommodate our careers, family, friends and relationships. Throw in a few environmental stressors like pollution, noise, traffic and your nosy neighbour and it is easy to see why are becoming increasingly popular.
But just because stress is becoming more prevalent, it doesn’t mean that we should take it lightly. We tend to think that the phenomenon exists solely in our heads, but in truth it affects our bodies as much as our minds. Think of it this way: millions of years ago when we were all cave people eking out a living in the vast wilderness that was the world, our nervous systems adapted in order to react to stressful situations by means of the well-known fight or flight impulse. Granted, back then a stressful situation was more likely a sabre-toothed tiger attack than a performance assessment meeting, but the body’s reaction remains the same to this day. Stress hormones are released resulting in an elevated heartbeat, increased blood flow to the brain and muscles, decreased digestion, higher muscle tension and faster breathing.
Good, right? Not unless you are preparing to run the hundred yard dash or to lift a concrete slab off your trapped child. If all that tension and nervous energy is not released in a constructive manner it leads to all kinds of maladies. It has been speculated that more than one third of all visits to a General Practitioner’s office is due to stress-related ailments. These include:
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- Chronic fatigue, digestive upsets, headaches, and back pain.
- A lowered immune system due to the effect of stress on the blood cells that fight infection.
- An increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Risky behaviour in an attempt to eliminate stress, i.e. smoking, drug abuse, overeating and the misuse of alcohol.
Luckily, there are lots of easy ways to reduce your stress levels. You can improve your ‘stress health
’ by exercising, setting yourself realistic goals, reducing self-criticism and avoiding undue competition, to name but a few natural stress relievers
. Diet, of course, also plays a very important part. Stress relief supplements
are readily available, but taking a good look at your diet could also be beneficial. Here are a few rules of thumb:
- Eat frequently. Keeping your blood sugar levels stable can go a long way to improving your mood. This can be achieved by eating consistently throughout the day, thus providing your body with a ready source of fuel. This doesn’t mean you should scoff pies and hot chips every four hours however. Rather opt for nutrient-dense snacks like nuts, fruit, raw veggies and low-fat dairy products like cheese or yogurt.
- Cut the refined carbs. Or limit them at least. Swop concentrated sources of sugar (i.e. fruit juice, candy, jam, syrup, white breads and rice) for high quality carbohydrates like brown rice, fresh fruit and vegetables or legumes. This will prevent blood sugar spikes that can make you irritable and susceptible to stress.
- Up your fibre intake. Soluble fibre found in foods like barley, apples, pears, strawberries and carrots have the ability to slow down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream, which in turn inhibits mood swings.
- Also make sure to include:
- Omega 3 and 6. These compounds play a very important role in brain function and studies are being conducted to determine the exact nature of their apparent positive effect on depression.
- Folic Acid and Vitamin B12.
- Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin!).
The main point is to slow down and take care of yourself. Whether you choose to do so by participating in yoga, by taking a natural anxiety medication
or choosing herbal products for is up to you.