Stress… what is stress? When I was counseling as an RD, I asked clients to discuss their stress levels because it
affected their overall health and eating habits. When I asked one elderly lady
about her stress levels she said, “I have no stress. That’s all a state of
mind.” How amazing! I had NEVER encountered any clients that said they had no
Every day we encounter various forms of stressors, and especially now with all that is happening in the world, we have more children and adults struggling with anxiety and/or depression. Stress is a daily part of modern living; however, these modern-day stressors are constantly bombarding. Such things as traffic, jobs, co-workers, unemployment, technology, media, family, relationships, illness, finances, school, social isolation, or loneliness.
Let’s also add in the upcoming holidays with gift buying, more parking congestion, longer lines at stores while maintaining 6 feet apart, extra holiday cooking, and much more that can be very taxing. Stress can affect many things in the body like memory, concentration, sleep, weight, the ability to heal from illnesses, hormonal imbalances, and acceleration of the aging process.
Technology can also add to our stress. The virtual world has exploded in usage since the pandemic hit. This is a double-edge sword as a blessing and a curse. We can now do many daily tasks without even leaving our homes, like ordering food from Grubhub and DoorDash; sitting in on classes with Google Classroom; or joining a Zoom meeting with coworkers on another coast. These were perfect solutions, as we were instructed to shelter in place, but it also keeps us constantly “plugged in,” so we can never completely relax.
From the moment we wake up, we have phone calls and text, we have work emails into the late hours, and we may find ourselves surfing the internet before bed. On top of it, the extra blue light exposure can disrupt melatonin production and affect our ability to sleep well. Technology is important, but it can also cause social isolation, depression, and anxiety.
How we choose to manage stress plays a huge part in how it will affect us overall. Some people deal with it in unhealthy ways and turn to detrimental habits, but healthy and constructive ways like the five I have listed below can be beneficial at reducing stress levels.
- Exercise can have so many beneficial effects on the body and brain through increased blood flow and a decrease in stress hormones, like cortisol. Choose a type that you enjoy, so you'll stick with it. Whether it’s cycling, kickboxing, running, yoga, or walking in nature, they all assist with beating stress. Being outdoors has its own set of benefits, so if you're able to do your exercise outside, you're getting a two-for-one. Ever try grounding? It’s walking on the grass barefoot and feeling the benefits from it.
- Activities and hobbies can increase the hormone oxytocin, which is associated with empathy, trust, and relationship building. Listen to music, dance, read a book, catch up with a friend, take a bath, get a massage, huge someone you love, paint, do photography, knit, play a game, sit on your porch, garden, care for pets, or cook.
- Meditation and breath exercises can assist with quieting and focusing the mind, increasing oxytocin levels, and decreasing cortisol levels. We can start out meditating 5 minutes a day and work our way up. There are many websites, apps, and books available on meditation and breathwork. Breathing exercises can be done while waiting in a store line, at a doctor’s office, or in a car to pick-up our child from school or a game. I like to do one I learned a while ago from Dr. Weil. It’s inhale through the nose at a count of four, hold for seven, and exhale through the mouth at a count of eight, and repeat three times.
- Some like to journal or write a gratitude list, which can help us let go and lift our spirits.
- Choosing healthy meals and specific supplements will also assist us with beating stress and feeling good.
When we're stressed, we usually do not choose healthy foods to replenish what our body needs. Typically, we rely on caffeine, sugar, fast food, and salty foods. We should be choosing foods like protein, fruits, veggies, fermented foods, and a little bit of dark chocolate to nourish our bodies and give it the nutrients it needs during this time. Along with healthy food choices, we should supplement some additional vitamins and minerals.
A high quality, well-absorbed multivitamin should be the basis of your supplemental regime. An additional B-complex is crucial in these higher times of stress for our nervous system. Magnesium is very important as it regulates more than 300 enzymes in the body, and it helps to keep adrenal stress hormones under control. Vitamin C is essential and key to the synthesis of hormones involved in adrenal gland functioning. It normalizes cortisol in severe stress. Our brain is made up of around 60% fat; therefore, it is highly reliant on healthy fats and omega-3s to function optimally.
Studies show probiotics can help with stress and increase production of GABA (gamma amino-butyric acid), a naturally occurring amino acid and inhibitory neurotransmitter in our brain. It promotes alpha brain waves to calm and focus, and it supports levels of endorphins and serotonin. GABA promotes a healthy mood, relaxation, and restful sleep. L-theanine is an amino acid that is found naturally in green tea and black teas. L-theanine helps create a calm, centered feeling and promotes alpha brain waves, which are associated with a state of wakeful relaxation.
A busy lifestyle, bad night's sleep, extra activities, holidays, or an unfortunate event can throw off our mind-body balance. Regardless of the cause, we all have days when our bodies need some extra support. Help reset your mindset, promote calmness, add mental clarity, and support a healthy mood using various lifestyle changes, including eating healthy foods and supplementing with important nutrients.