Stress is not an easy word to define, although everybody has a sense of what stress means. Stress means a pressure or tension, created by too many physical, mental or emotional demands. Physiologically our reaction to stress is known as the “fight or flight syndrome”. Situations frequently occur that require physical action quickly. The body prepares for this rise in effort by diverting blood from the digestive system to the muscles, raising the level of blood sugar, mobilising fats into the blood stream and increasing the pulse and blood pressure. This reaction is caused not only by stress, but also by “adrenal stimulants”, such as coffee, alcohol, and many other drugs. Refined sugar in the diet has a similar effect in raising blood sugar levels. Today, unlike our ancestors, we do not respond with a burst of activity, which is the natural way of utilising the extra sugar and fats made available.
Our diet consists of the foodstuffs and liquids we take into our bodies on a daily basis. The diet when broken down by the digestive system then provides the nutrients the body needs to function properly. The better the quality and source of the food we intake the better the quality of the nutrients (or fuel) we provide for the maintenance of our overall health.
The long term effects of stress and its interaction with nutrition are directly the result of being in “top gear” too often. This uses up nutrients needed in the stress cycle at an alarming rate. Stress weakens the immune system, thus increasing the risk of frequent infections. In the body stress manifests itself as physical tension and the inability to relax. But stress is not just physical. Emotional upsets and awkward relationships cause anxiety, and mental stress results in preoccupying fears and worries, the mind endlessly chattering without a break. Whatever its origins, stress has a profound effect on our body chemistry. The heart beats faster and stronger, the blood vessels constrict, the liver converts protein to glucose, muscle cells break down glycogen (stored sugar) to glucose, our who biochemical system swings into action, all conducted by the adrenal glands.
|Avoid the following foods when stressed||Increase the following foods when stressed|
|Processed foods||Whole-wheat cereals, porridge, oats, millet, spelt.|
|Saturated fats and trans fats (max 4 g per 100g serving||Chicken and fish – especially cold water fish for E.F.A.’s|
|Sugars – such as white bread, sweets, breakfast cereals (they contain no nutrients and stimulate the pancreas to release more insulin)||Vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables. Eat a variety for optimum nutrient intake.|
|Alcohol – high in calories, low in nutrients, depletes B vitamins, increases blood pressure and alters blood sugar levels.||Fruits – eat a variety in season for optimum nutrient intake.|
|Chocolate and confectionery – see above re sugars||Tofu – to provide good quality protein|
|Coffee and stimulants – can lead to mood swings, irritability, digestive problems, nervousness and interfere with sleep.||Seeds, nuts, brown rice, legumes, avocados, examples of these include sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, hemp, flat seeds, walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, beans, lentils, quinoa etc.|
|Salt / sodium – 1 slice of bread usually provides our daily requirement||Some dairy including milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs.|
The body needs an increased amount of B vitamins, especially Vitamin B5, Vitamin C, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc and Selenium when stressed. They help adrenal function and also help protect the body from free radical damage. Sources of these nutrients are as follows:
B Vitamins: sources include dark leafy green vegetables, whole wheat, wholegrain, brewer’s yeast, broccoli, legumes, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, egg yolks, yogurt, mushrooms, brown rice and wheat germ.
Vitamin C: Good food sources include: avocado, blackcurrants, broccoli, brown rice, cabbage, cheese, citrus fruits, nuts, oat bran, parsley, peppers, pineapple, potatoes, sesame seeds, strawberries, sunflower seeds and wholegrains.
Calcium: sources include: milk, cheese, dairy products and green leafy vegetables.
Magnesium: Good food sources include: brown rice, soybeans, nuts, brewer’s yeast and wholegrains, cod and mackerel.
Potassium: Consume more avocado, lima beans, potato, tomato, nuts, fish, bananas, fruit juices, carrots, cauliflower, celery, leafy green vegetables, mushrooms, peas, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes,watercress and whole-wheat.
Sodium: As sodium is present in so many foods it is unlikely to be deficient. The body in stress, especially prolonged stress, retains sodium and this helps to increase blood volume and raise blood pressure. So do not add salt to the diet. Cut it out wherever possible.
Zinc: Sources include: oysters, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, fish, oats, ginger, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, almonds, turnips, pecans and brewer’s yeast. Recommended daily dosage is 15mg.
Selenium: Good sources include: Brazil nuts, brewer’s yeast, broccoli, brown rice, cashew nuts, chicken, crab, seaweed, garlic, eggs, herrings, onions, salmon, tuna, tomatoes and wholegrains.
Relaxation techniques for Stress Management:
Breathing exercises for awareness; tension release; progressive relaxation exercises; meditation; visualisation; affirmations; massage can help relax the nervous system, lead to better sleep and an increased ability to deal with stress. Also beneficial are techniques to deal with worry control and better time management, improved life / work balance. A stress management therapist can teach the above techniques. To restore balance daily try the following:
- Make time every day for yourself (even 10 minutes or better still 30 minutes per day can help).
- Do something which you enjoy every day and which makes you LAUGH; laughter is wonderful for relieving stress. Ensure there is some FUN in your life.
- Exercise such as walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi can help relax the nervous system, release endorphins and provide an increased ability to deal with stress.
- Reconnect daily with family and loved ones, a daily meal together is ideal as it creates a break with work-time, reconnects with family and loved ones and can be relaxing.
Changing unhealthy eating habits can make a positive difference to health, changes such as:
- Eating more complex carbohydrates and fibre. These are better for the body than refined sugars; they provide bulk in the diet and help feed our essential friendly gut bacteria. They also a) help to give a sense of fullness and satisfaction, b) protect against chronic illness as wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, legumes also reduce constipation, c) help to control blood sugar, d) maintain a healthy digestive system, e) reduce the risk of colon cancer, f) support out adrenal glands. Eat some protein foods with carbohydrate foods to maintain blood sugar levels.
- Attain / Maintain ideal weight. Overeating stresses the body and carrying extra weight is a continuous physiological strain. Psychologically the image of being overweight is even more pervasively damaging. So eat when hungry and try not to comfort eat. To lose weight, follow a sensible eating plan and exercise to expend surplus calories. Individually our correct weight is dependent on height, size and structure and our ideal body weight should be in the body mass index range of 20 – 25. Exercise with a friend if this helps.
- Eat frequent, calm meals. Our fast paced society, together with our many available fast food options, encourages us to eat on the run and denies us the time to relax as we eat. Our bodies’ run/work better if we refuel them frequently and properly.
Simple Methods to improve your digestion and reduce stress:
1)Eat in a settled and quiet atmosphere and sit down to eat. It is important that you take meals during a settled and pleasant time of day when you are free of distractions. Sitting relaxes the digestive tract and helps focus your attention on the process of eating. Even if you are only having a small snack, sit down to eat it.
2)Take a few minutes to rest quietly at the end of your meal. By relaxing at the finish of your meal, the digestive process can begin in an effortless way.
3)Don’t eat when you are upset. If you feel upset at mealtime, wait a little while until you feel calmer. When you are emotionally upset there is an increase in the production of acid and a slowing of normal stomach contractions. These acid rich secretions remain the stomach longer and cause severe irritation.
4)Avoid overeating. You should eat to about three quarters of your stomach’s capacity. Eating beyond this point prevents normal stomach contractions. This is also the point that gives us a feeling of satisfaction without the sensation of overeating. The average stomach size is that of a closed fist, each person’s stomach size being individual to them.
5)Don’t drink while you are eating. Many of us are in the habit of washing our food down with a drink, before we have chewed it properly and by drinking whilst we have food in our mouths. Chewing your food helps your digestive system with the process of digestion, as there are smaller pieces to break down, and helps prevent indigestion and excess wind.
6)Eat at a moderate pace. This allows you to chew your food well and helps you to find the point at which you feel satisfied. If you find that you eat too quickly, simply put your fork down after each mouthful and don’t eat more food until that mouthful has been chewed and swallowed. Your digestion will thank you!
7)Eat meals that a freshly cooked using a variety of ingredients. This will ensure that you get all the necessary nutrients needed for a healthy diet and enable your body to maintain balance.
8)Eat your meals at a regular time each day. This will allow you to develop a routine, helps to prevent snacking, maintain blood sugar levels, and put less stress on your digestion.
Acupuncture for Stress management:
Acupuncture is a great way of relieving stress because it relaxes the muscles in the body and causes a mental feel of tranquility. The benefits of acupuncture not only relieve stress but may provide many other benefits as well. When learning to manage stress, acupuncture gives you the emotional break to rein in your emotions. Often, with the assistance of acupuncture, the triggers for stress are greatly reduced or eliminated.