The stress test

How many ways can stress affect you?

Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
Ask Ali

10 August 2012

The stress test

A female client in her early 40s came to see me because, having always run herself full tilt at life, holding down a highly pressurised job and relishing the challenge of endless deadlines and crisis management, she had suddenly found herself unable to get out of bed in the morning, crying for no reason, unable to do the simplest things, and feeling as if several trucks had run her down whilst she wasn’t looking.

For many years this woman had eaten on the run, throwing ready meals from the freezer to the microwave or getting by with takeaways, and skimming through the day on tea or coffee and endless biscuits and confectionary.

Now her digestion was a mess, she craved sugar constantly, she was exhausted but couldn’t sleep, her skin had flared up and was itchy and flaky, and her hair was falling out. For her, the worst thing was not being able to get her body to do what she wanted, as she had always been able to previously, and feeling as if the personality she thought was hers had evaporated, leaving a sad wraith behind it.

The interesting thing about this type of case, which is quiet common these days, is that there are so many simple things you can do to start improving things, it doesn’t take long for changes to start happening – so long as the person involved will actually do as you say, and they’re usually scared enough to take it seriously as well as having long training in not wasting their own time!

So the first thing was to get some water into her, in place of all the caffeine-filled tea and coffee, which irritating her frazzled nervous system and making sleep impossible. I prefer people to cut down on caffeine gradually if they’re a bit of an addict, but she immediately cut it out completely, suffered the few inevitable days of headaches, then never looked back.

The biscuits that inevitably accompanied the tea and coffee stopped, and she went onto dried fruit and nuts and seeds for snacks – well chewed, to help that under-functioning digestive system.

I always give bitters to people who have been stressed for a while, because stress switches off the digestive system and it takes a while before chewing and relaxing can switch it back on properly. Bitters are a bit of a short cut and allow them to make the most of the healthy food they are now eating.

Taking bitters before food, eating regularly and only eating real food, not processed nonsense that had never fallen off a tree nor grown out of the ground, chewing well and allowing herself plenty of rest in order to digest, she started to feel the first signs of improvement and had the energy to start experimenting with the easy, vegetable-based recipes I gave her.

She was used to challenges in her professional life, and now she had been forced to turn her skills towards looking after her health for a change, she tackled it with determination, encouraged by how much better she very quickly felt.

Her digestive system sprang back into action and she found her sugar cravings had disappeared, whilst sleeping became a pleasure instead of a trial. Of course, once she wasn’t stressed to the gills from dawn to dusk, her nervous system could relax and let her sleep.

The healthy food she was eating also contained heaps of magnesium, which is excellent for soothing a jangled nervous system and unravelling the knots that we tie ourselves in when we’re constantly fighting dreadlines.

The reduction in stress reduced the amount of inflammation in her body, which helped her skin, as did the nettle tea she drank (nettles naturally counter inflammatory histamine) and the oils in the nuts and seeds she was enjoying. Her skin cleared up and friends started commenting on how well she was looking. She had sufficient energy to get more adventurous with her cooking, and to start some gentle exercise, which also lifted her mood.

The trick at this point is not to dive back into the old ways, thinking that the worst is past. If you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got.

The symptoms return when people give up their new good habits – believe me, I’ve had enough clients who’ve done this and then dragged themselves back to the clinic surprised at how awful they once more feel.

If often takes years to wear the body down with bad treatment and poor nutrition, but once you’ve done it you have to mend your ways if you want to retain your health. It’s very simple, and it works.

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