Understanding Stress Inside and Out
Originally seen on besthealthmag.ca.
It’s possible to minimize the impact of stress with these key tools.
Try to think of your greatest source of stress
For many, a demanding job, financial woes or a family/social conflict immediately come to mind. However, hidden stressors like poor diet, lack of sleep or exercise, and even excessive screen time can be just as detrimental to your health.
On the inside
To understand how stress affects us, we should first note that “stress” is not inherently a bad thing. It merely nudges (or shoves!) us out of balance, forcing us to re-establish a comfortable state. Just as we strive for work-life balance to feel at ease, our bodies are constantly seeking a similar balance in order to function optimally.
How does stress work? When you’re under stress (whether from a tight deadline or a deer running in front of your car), your body responds as though your life were at risk. It focuses its energy on the processes it deems most essential at the moment. For example, your brain triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, that cause your heart to pound, and increase blood pressure to supply your muscles with the oxygen needed to “fight or flee” from your perceived threat. In addition, various tissues including muscle and bone break down into glucose to provide a burst of energy. Less immediate processes (such as digestion, reproduction, and immune function) are put on the back burner. Again, stress is not always a bad thing, and short term stress can help us cope with real dangers, emergencies, work deadlines, etc. However, chronic stress can lead to hormone imbalance, muscle loss, weight gain and deficiencies in nutrients including vitamins C, E, and a number of B vitamins, as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc.
On the outside
Now that you understand how it works inside, what can you do to reduce the impact of stress?
With your heart racing, blood pumping, and increased glucose in the blood, your body is primed and ready to move. This is why exercise is a great way to manage stress. Be sure to choose exercises that you enjoy, and always listen to your body. It may not always be possible to get in the recommended 30-60 minutes, five days per week, and that’s okay. Too much exercise is as stressful on the body as too little. Make time for a healthy, active lifestyle, but don’t let it add to your stress.
Nutrition and supplementation
As previously discussed, stress can severely deplete our body’s levels of several key vitamins and minerals. In addition to a healthy, balanced diet, a high quality multivitamin can go a long way towards correcting this issue. One of the nutrients most affected by stress is vitamin C. To more directly address a vitamin C deficiency, consider a highly bioavailable, non-acidic form such as Ester-C®, shown in research to remain elevated in the immune system’s white blood cells for a full 24 hours. Magnesium and zinc, both of which have been shown to reduce cortisol levels, are also commonly deficient with recent studies estimating up to 80 per cent of the population lacking these two important minerals. Finally, a number of botanical/plant-based extracts, such as L-theanine (derived from green tea) and rhodiola, have also been shown to support healthy stress hormone production.
Shift your perception of stress
We are the only animals on earth that can create our own stress, and an increasing amount of evidence is proving that our thoughts (both negative and positive) have a physical impact on our bodies. When you feel stressed, do your best to stay calm and in tune with the reactions that are happening inside your body. View the stress as positive and consider that it’s just your body’s amazing way of keeping you alive and safe.