Stress is an overriding theme in our busy modern lives. Whether it’s pressures from social, emotional or work sources, we are living in an age of anxiety that affects us all. There often seems to be a weary acceptance that high stress is simply a part of life. Although that is true to some extent, the notion that we have no control over our stress levels, or its effects and management thereof, is not correct. Taking the time to look after one’s self, investing in our health and what we consume has a very direct and tangible effect on stress relief. This week, Antonia Magor, Nutritional Therapist, mBant rCNHC, who sees clients in London and Wiltshire sheds some much needed light (especially given the time of year), on her top nutrition tips to help with stress. Over to you Antonia...
What does stress do to our bodies?
Stress is a physiological response we experience when we face a threat we do not feel we have the resources to deal with. In our most basic form we are wired to the “fight or flight” response of our caveman ancestors. Short, sudden shocks & stressors activate the adrenal glands & nervous system to pump more blood around the body to make us move faster, be more alert & release glucose from our liver to give us a shot of energy.
The problem is that although this was how we survived when we were cavemen, our bodies haven’t evolved as quickly as our lifestyles and diet. We often live in states of chronic stress triggered by everything from a traffic jam to our phone. This constant state of stress ends up in a “wired but tired” style of life as our adrenals and nervous system are overly exhausted. This can lead to fatigue, disrupted hormones, weight gain and digestive issues.
Nutrition helps tame stress in several ways, whether it’s by stimulating a comforting hormone or reducing the dominance of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Good nutrition also acts as a counter balance to the toll stress takes on us and builds our natural defenses.
All carbs stimulate the brain to produce the feel good hormone serotonin. Complex carbohydrates like wholegrains, beans and legumes take longer for our bodies to digest, which not only stabilizes blood sugar levels, but maintains a steady supply of serotonin. So don’t be afraid to include good portions of carbohydrates in each of your meals and snacks.
Vitamin C is often thought of as the go-to nutrient during cold and flu season, when we want to strengthen our immune system. However it actually works in several other ways within the body. Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties help repair the damage and aging stress causes to our cells. It has also been indicated that Vitamin C aids in returning levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) to their normal state after a stressful task. Supplementing Vitamin C during the winter season can help support your health, otherwise including healthy portions of brightly coloured fruit and veg daily, supplies us with plenty of vitamin C.
Magnesium is nature’s calming nutrient. It counterbalances our stress response and helps relax muscles and restore cells. However we are becoming more and more magnesium deficient, with the excess of adrenalin and cortisol depleting our reserves and our diets becoming less magnesium-rich. Magnesium deficiency can be a cause of stress as it can magnify the stress response.
To get more magnesium in your diet add dark green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, swiss chard or cabbage; try and include 3 portions daily. Almonds and small oily fish such as anchovies are also good sources.
Essential Fatty Acids
We hear a lot about essential fatty acids for heart health but they may also help in cases of depression and severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The omega 3 fatty acids, found in oily fish and at lower levels in nuts, seeds and oils act to prevent surges in stress hormones balancing our fight or flight instincts. Oily fish, or cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and fresh tuna are particularly high in omega 3s and 6s; aim to include a variety twice to three times weekly.
Quit the Sugar Habit
We are all beginning to understand just how bad excess free sugars are to our health, but when the 3pm slump hits and the biscuit tin beckons, we can sometimes forget this. Biscuits, cakes, sweets, sugary drinks all give us that quick peak of energy and blood sugar, however it is followed by a slump. This constant rollercoaster places a strain on our body and disorders our hormonal response, making us tired and grumpy. So focus on limiting sweet treats and if you do want to include something sweeter make sure you combine it with protein and fat to prolong the energy release.
Stressing about nutrition?
With everything we have to balance in our lives the pressure to eat well can become just another stress. However good nutrition and eating well should be a part of enjoying life and looking after yourself, not an extra strain. If you feel that this is becoming a disordered and unenjoyable relationship do consult with a professional, there is always someone who can help you restore the balance.
Check out Antonia's website at www.antoniamagor.com or contact her directly on: firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find her on twitter and instgram @antoniamagor. Antonia is available for consultations in London or over Skype.