Feeling the pressure of everyday life? We caught up with Personal Trainer and Nutrional Therapist, Mike for a few tips on tackling stress through nutrition.
Mike's pearls of stress-busting wisdom...
"Wherever you turn nowadays, there is another opportunity to be stressed.
It has become the norm to be “busy” or constantly “on the go”, and with this new, seemingly accepted culture, it also comes with an added impact on our health. We have become a population of people that never rest, completely out of tune with what our body really needs to repair itself.
And hey, I get it. We all need to adapt to the world around us, and most people simply don’t have the choice to take time out of their day to relax. With the cost of living increasing, a large number of single income households and young soon-to-be home owners saving tirelessly to get that first mortgage, how could you possibly decrease your stress levels without sacking it all off and living in the mountains?!
Whilst studying Nutritional Therapy, I was able to understand and identify the root cause of people’s stress, and through my own work, as well as watching my peers, I was able to see the beneficial effect a holistic approach could bring to someone who is chronically stressed.
The most fascinating thing I found, is the denial people are usually in. A great example of this is ‘Bob’.
On paper, Bob had a great life, with a high flying job where it was almost necessary to drink socially and network, however this was accompanied by very little chance to rest, broken sleep and a huge reliance on coffee. In Bob’s mind, he was perfectly fine and functional, but when he learnt that his lifestyle choices may lead to ill health, he had doubts about his current way of life.
It was clear that work was important to Bob, but he may not be able to carry on working at such a high capacity if he wanted to continue. Whilst he acknowledged this, deep down I thought there was no way he would change his habits and stick to it - after all, a leopard never changes its spots.
However because Bob was understood and he felt safe and secure to share exactly what he was feeling (fatigue/ tiredness etc), we were able to identify why these symptoms may have been occurring in the first place, and address the deeper issue.
This is the beauty of nutritional therapy, and why I believe in it wholeheartedly. A client comes in, they have their medical history and bodily systems looked at closely through specific questioning. From that information, we can come up with a plan that relies on the information they give us.
It is a beautiful harmony between listening, understanding, investigating and most importantly educating & empowering the client to make real and sustainable lifestyle change.
Do you find yourself burning the candle at both ends? you may be suffering with a few of these common symptoms:
● trouble getting to sleep and waking up
● craving salt and sugar
● unexplained weight loss
● reliance on stimulants such as caffeine
● nonspecific digestive problems
● night sweats
● high blood pressure
Sound familiar? If so, you could be suffering with some sort of adrenal deficiency, as well as a few other things that could be improved by getting more rest…
You can’t expect your body to be able to focus on making a baby or thinking about your next meal when it’s on red alert, trying to fight off the impact stress is causing, so rest is key.
When we are in our resting state, our body is able to recover and repair itself appropriately. This spans across all areas from muscle regrowth and repair, producing immune protecting cells, ability to digest nutrients from food & producing sex hormones.
This could explain why some people have deficiencies in certain nutrients, as stomach acid is not stimulated often enough, or why some couples may struggle to conceive a child.
Like our hunter/gatherer ancestors, we are much better equipped to get through short bouts of extreme stress, followed by long rest periods, yet todays pattern is long periods of mild stress, with little or no resting state for our nervous system.
The profound factor within all of this, is that the body is doing what it is meant to - it is producing a fight or flight response to a stimuli that we constantly have. It is no longer producing this stress response to run away from a Lion, but maybe to react to the anxiety of upcoming bills, essay deadlines or social anxiety at parties.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying that early humans didn’t have food worries, social anxiety, unruly children etc, I don’t imagine they ran away from a predator, and just grunted and were blissfully happy once more. My point is that nowadays these social pressures and stimulants in our environment are to the point where they are relentless and create a state of no real rest within the body.
They don’t sound too similar do they? Although running from a Lion may seem a little more extreme and life threatening (which it totally is), your brain processes our modern day social pressures in very much the same way.
The big difference is that hopefully, you will quickly get away from the Lion & a resting state (parasympathetic) can be resumed. Our modern day stressors tend to not go away, so we often stay in a stressed state (sympathetic) for much longer than is helpful to us. In short, the modern world does not match our needs, and it is becoming strikingly obvious.
Tips For Tackling Stress
ONE | Avoid stimulants
Easier said than done, of course, but anything that can be done to reduce stress should be applied where possible. The main stimulants people face are caffeine and high intakes of processed sugar. Both of these stimulate a stress response on the body but it’s so easy to become dependent on these things - after all, if your tank is running on empty, you’ll want the quickest & easiest fix to perk you up again!
Try and swap a coffee for a green or flavoured tea, and avoid drinking coffee past noon, as caffeine can stay in your system for up to 12 hours. Although green tea contains caffeine, it also contains theanine, which promotes relaxation.
Try and stick to natural sugars and eat smaller amounts if possible. (More on portion control here.) Slower digesting carbohydrates may help with this, and generally meals with higher amounts of fibre and protein will be more filling and cause a lower cortisol response on the body.
You need a mixture of soluble & non-soluble fibre. Processed foods only contain soluble fibre, whilst vegetables contain both. Vegetables are also good for nourishing the body.
TWO | Optimise your bedtime routine
Before bedtime should be when your body wants to shut down and be in a fully resting state. Many things can stop this from happening, meaning poor quality of sleep and therefore resulting in next day symptoms like grogginess, lack of concentration, tiredness & fatigue.
Ensure you’re not exposed to blue light from 45 minutes before bedtime, as this stimulates cortisol and reduces levels of melatonin (sleep hormone). This means phones away, and TVs out of bedrooms!
Do not eat up to 2-3 hours before bedtime, as this causes stress on your digestive system and can affect sleep quality.
Enjoy a bath with magnesium salts. A cup of these salts in your bath tub will induce a level of relaxation on your muscles that will aid overall relaxation going into night time. This is especially useful if you’ve been to the gym!
Use aromatherapy oils. There are many of these on the market, personally I like to use Neal's Yard night time remedies, they are excellent for helping you nod off just before bedtime!
THREE | Find your own form of relaxation
I could be super generic and tell you all to try yoga or meditation, and for some of you, that might be exactly what you need to induce a relaxed state. However from personal experience, and speaking to many clients and healthcare specialists, this might not be for everyone. You need to find what helps you to turn off mentally, and by that I mean: think about what activity makes you lose track of time, without raising your heart beat too much.
It can be walking in nature, cleaning your car, or perhaps even playing an instrument. Try and incorporate this as much as possible, but at the very least for 20 minutes each time & 2-3 times per week. When you are able to find what makes you relax, it should help induce parasympathetic system dominance and aid relaxation in the body.
So there it is, 3 easy steps to improve your stress levels. In my experience I’ve found it more effective to try and attempt a few smaller lifestyle changes, rather than to overcomplicate/ overwhelm yourself.
You might be surprised how a few simple changes could really help your quality of life. I am in no way saying it is easy or straight forward, but understanding yourself is key, and so is being mindful of your choices when thinking about your levels of stress. If we really want to be healthier as a whole, we need to take back control of our bodies through long lasting lifestyle change."