What happens when we are stressed?
When we experience stress our blood sugar levels increase, our digestive system becomes suppressed and our immune system becomes impaired. But what does this mean? Well, as our blood sugar levels increase we become prone to feeling hungry and exhausted more frequently. When we feel stressed our digestive system effectively shuts down and doesn’t absorb the essential nutrients and vitamins that we need for good health. At least 70% of our immune cells are located in our gut so a result of this poor nutrient and vitamin absorption is poorer immune function, meaning that we are more likely to become ill.
During winter there are so many tasty temptations out there and a lot of them aren’t good for us! While I definitely agree with indulging a bit over the festive period, it’s important to keep in mind the effect that our food has on our body. Our diet has a big influence on both our mental and physical health so it’s important to make sure that we have a balanced, nutritional diet.
Try to include more of the following nutrients to help relieve stress:
• Vitamin B – we need B vitamins for healthy nerves and brain cells. Vitamin B deficiencies have been linked to feelings of anxiety.
• Vitamin C – vitamin C and antioxidants repair and protect our cells during times of stress.
• Vitamin D – reduced levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The stress hormone cortisol decreases the amount of vitamin D we have.
• Magnesium – magnesium helps to regulate cortisol levels as well as our mood.
• Zinc – zinc is a mineral that is thought to help reduce anxiety, it plays a part in modulating the brain and body’s response to stress.
2) Get moving
It’s a well-known fact that exercise is a natural stress-reliever; it helps to produce our happy hormone serotonin and helps use up excess amounts of our stress hormones. What’s more, exercising outside (even walking counts!) can help fight stress and gives us a dose of vitamin D which is good for our mood and general sense of wellbeing.
Exercise has been shown to help reduce depression and anxiety as well as stress. Physically, exercise helps to relax muscles and release tension in your body, neurologically it releases endorphins in the brain which are natural pain and stress relieving chemicals that trigger a positive feeling in the body.
Over the festive period exercising can seem like a chore, or something that we simply don’t have time for, but even 10 minutes a day can make a difference! Try to make it something that is fun rather than a chore – why not get the kids involved and make it a game? Or, while you’re waiting on festive dinners cooking, grab a couple of tins of soup and do some arm exercises whilst holding them. If you need another idea to get your blood pumping try out the exercise video below and check out our Get Active hub which is full of ways to help you get moving.
3) Be in the moment
During winter we can get so caught up trying to plan, organise and control every inch of every day right up until spring sprouts again. In doing this we become easily prone to stress, during winter it can become easy to get caught up in a hectic schedule which can make it difficult to fit in some time for you. No matter how busy your schedule is try to fit in at least 10 minutes a day that is dedicated entirely to you.
4) Make sure you get sleep
Stress is a state of hyper arousal for the nervous system which can wreak havoc on our sleeping habits. We spend so much time stressing about what we didn’t get done today and what we need to get done tomorrow that we don’t actually spend much time getting our much needed rest.
Generally, we should be aiming to get between 8 and 9 hours of sleep a night, anything less than that and we’ll see dips in our energy, concentration and cognitive functioning. If we don’t get enough sleep at night our body increases its levels of stress hormones.
Switching off from stress before we go to sleep can be extremely challenging but there are lots of tips out there to give you a helping hand. Everyone has a different sleep pattern so, unfortunately there isn’t a one cure fits all solution, instead be open to trying different methods until you find the one that’s right for you. I’ve listed a few below to give you some ideas.
• Dim the lights early – dimming the lights will send a signal to your brain that it is night-time and encourage the production of melatonin which will make you feel sleepy.
• Dormeasan – dormeasan is a herbal remedy that can be used as a sleeping aid, it contains fresh extracts of Valerian and Hops and doesn’t have the same drowsy side effects as some sleeping medications.
• Breathing techniques – when we are stressed our nervous system is active, breathing techniques can help to relax the nervous system and calm the mind.
• Identify the cause of your stress – acknowledging the cause of your stress head-on can be beneficial in helping you to deal with it. Trying to tackle and reduce your stress during the day can help you to get a better sleep at night.
5) Decrease stress using your breath
Breathing techniques are one of the most efficient and effective ways of releasing stress. Have you ever noticed your breathing when you’re relaxed? Steady, slow, long, deep breaths right? And how about your breathing when you're stressed? Rapid, short, shallow – or did you even have time to notice your breathing when you were so busy being stressed about other things?
Deep breathing physiologically lowers the stress state of the body; when you breathe deeply a message is sent to the brain telling it to relax. In turn this message is then relayed to the rest of the body, resulting in lowered heart rate, breathing and blood pressure.
6) A helping hand from herbs
Let’s face it, the festive period isn’t the most relaxed time of the year, some people even describe it as more stressful than a burglary!1 When it comes to stress relief, many of us opt for medication, but we often find these have negative side effects. This is why many more of us are now choosing a natural herbal alternative instead but, with the increasing popularity of herbs, so too comes the increasing number of products. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s important to find a product that not only works, but also one that isn’t packed full of the chemicals we are trying to avoid.
When it comes to alleviating stress, I always recommend Stress Relief Daytime, which contains fresh extracts of Valerian and Hops to help calm and soothe the nervous system. Although Valerian isn’t the nicest tasting of herbs, it doesn’t have the same drowsy side effects of most sleeping medications.
7) A helping hand from friends
During the festive season we often wear ourselves out by trying to keep up with our busy schedules. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for a helping hand when things seem too much. Talking through your stresses with others can help release built up emotions, talking can also show us new ways of looking at stressful situations. Having a little bit of extra emotional support can go a long way, plus spending time with friends is a great way to schedule time out for you and to have fun!
Originally written on 20/11/2017, updated on 05/10/2018.