How you can break the stress cycle
Is stress getting in the way of you achieving your health goals? This article explains how stress can cause problems with your hormones, weight, bloating and digestion and how you can live a life less stressful. Breaking the stress cycle could be the key to a healthier life.
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 mental health.
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, balancing hormones or improving digestive function.
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 and cortisol 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.
What is Stress Doing to Your Body?
A chronic state of stress can have widespread negative effects, such as:
- Poor digestion – reduced digestive enzymes and stomach acid 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 – adrenal and thyroid problems, lack of libido, menstrual irregularity and fertility issues can all arise when your body switches to making stress hormones in preference to sex and other hormones.
Breaking the Cycle of Stress
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are several nutrients and herbs that can help calm an overactive stress response, breaking the stress cycle 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.
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 need 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 calming effects. I can recommend formulas that contain combinations of these herbs and 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 wellbeing:
- Eat healthy. Choose lean proteins, antioxidant-rich fresh fruits and vegetables and essential fatty acids from oily fish, nuts and seeds. They will nourish your neurotransmitters.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise is a fabulous stress buster. It helps burn up excess adrenaline whilst releasing ‘feel good’ endorphins.
- Get seven to eight hours of quality sleep. Practise good ‘sleep hygiene’ techniques such as no TV or computer time for at least half an hour before bedtime. Avoid caffeine in the afternoons.
- Meditation is particularly helpful if you cannot “switch off” your brain at night. Lots of programs and techniques are available. The aim is to find one or more techniques that work for you.
What This Means To You
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. Breaking the stress cycle may require implementation of strategies and supplements to help regain control over the stress in your life.
Related: How yoga can reduce stress