Is Stress Getting in the Way of Achieving Your Health Goals?
Modern living and stress seem to go hand in hand and it may be no surprise to you that the effects of stress can have a significant impact on sleep, happiness, and mental wellbeing. Nevertheless, you may not know that the effects of stress can impact other body systems potentially hindering the achievement of health goals such as losing weight or improving digestive function, so it is important to understand what the stress response is and how it could affect you.
Fight or Flight – the Ancient Coping Mechanism
The stress response is an evolutionary strategy to cope with immediate dangers, such as an approaching lion! In response to an external threat, the chemical messengers, adrenaline,cortisol and noradrenaline are released from your adrenal glands, which enables you to either stand and fight or flee as fast as you can. In modern times, the feeling of being under constant stress, whether from work, family or financial pressures is interpreted by your body in the same way and can therefore lead you to be in a permanent state of emergency. This is significant as stress may be the underlying reason for a seemingly unrelated bodily imbalance, such as an inability to digest well when you are under pressure.
What is Stress Doing to Your Body?
A chronic state of stress can have wide spread negative effects, such as:
- Poor digestion – reduced digestive secretions can lead to bloating, abdominal pain and reflux.
- Irregular blood sugar control – cortisol signals the release of sugars into the bloodstream in anticipation that muscles will need fuel to help you run away. These sugar spikes can lead to weight gain if the sugars are not utilised as muscle fuel and instead converted to fat.
- Hormonal imbalances – lack of libido, menstrual irregularity and fertility issues can all arise when your body switches to making stress hormones in preference to sex hormones.
Breaking the Cycle
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are several nutrients and herbs that can help calm an overactive stress response, which may be hindering you from achieving your health goals. For example, magnesium is essential for the nervous system by supporting the appropriate functioning of your brains chemical messengers, the‘neurotransmitters’. Magnesium also produces energy, helping you resolve the fatigue that may come with being stressed. In addition,the B vitamins (often taken as a complex) work as a team with magnesium to support your nervous system as well as play a role in energy production themselves.
Make sleep a priority
Sleep is rejuvenating for your energy and your brain. Even one night of disrupted sleep can lead to irritability, mood swings, unwanted food choices (yes croissants, I mean you!) memory and concentration issues and evena greater chance of accidents. So ensuring you get enough hours of quality sleep will help to manage stress and keep you feeling well. Let me know if sleep is problematic for you.
Start to build a bedtime routine:
- Finish eating a couple of hours before bed.
- Turn off devices and screens within an hour of sleep at least,
- Make sure the room is cool at around 18°C for best quality sleep,
- and aim for regular sleep and wake times.
Your body and mind love routine!
A class of herbs known as ‘adaptogens’ may be helpful to increase your body’s physical and mental capacity to cope with stress. Traditional adaptogenic herbs include withania, rehmannia and rhodiola. If stress makes you uptight you may also benefit from anxiolytic herbs. These help reduce feelings of anxiety and promote more restful sleep so you can handle the challenges your day has for you more easily. Passionflower, zizyphus, and magnolia are all anxiolytic herbs that have been extensively studied for their mild sedative and calming effects.
As a Medical Herbalist, I will often blend a bespoke liquid for you. Or i may recommend tableted formulas that contain combinations of adaptogens as well as nutrients depending upon your needs, so you can break the cycle of chronic stress and get back on the path to wellbeing.
A Life Less Stressful
There are a number of lifestyle changes you can employ to help manage your stress and optimise your well-being:
Eat well – lean proteins, antioxidant-rich fresh fruits and vegetables, and essential fatty acids from oily fish, nuts and seeds, all nourish your neurotransmitters.
Move your body – a fabulous stress buster, exercise helps burn up excess adrenaline whilst releasing the ‘feel good’ chemical messengers, the ‘endorphins’.
Meditate – particularly helpful if you cannot “switch off” your brain at night. There are numerous techniques available to help calm an overactive mind, such as transcendental meditation, mindfulness and creative visualisation.
Stress is an inevitable part of modern lifestyles, but it needn’t get the better of you nor keep you from reaching your health goals.