We often think of stress as more of an emotion, but the body addresses it in a physiological manner. From an evolutionary point of view, the experience of stress is what kept us alive. You meet a bear in the woods, your heart rate goes up, you start mobilizing fuel for energy, and your muscles are ready to run. Fast! But what happens now? Our modern day stresses are related to deadlines and to-do lists, not actual life and death situations. Now we encounter stressors and our body is prepared for action (to run away from the bear) but that’s not what we need it to do. Instead, we sit at our desks with all this muscle tension, and energy literally pouring through our veins but we have no physical outlet (we don’t actually run away anymore).
Consequently, we get neck or back pain, we develop belly fat, our digestion gets messed up (because blood is directed away from our intestines and towards our muscles), we have trouble regulating our blood pressure (either too high or too low), we become cranky, sleep is disrupted, we crave carbs, and over time our immune systems crash. Just to name a few of the effects!
But really, I’m sure I don’t need to convince anybody that stress is bad for us. What you want to know is how you can deal with it. Naturopaths are excellent at helping with stress management, and we do so mainly with herbs, a few vitamins, some dietary tweaking, and a few lifestyle adjustments. With these strategies you will feel like you are coping, your energy will go up, your mood will improve and you can ride the waves instead of feeling like you’re drowning.
Here are some tips for you to get the ball rolling. Like anything, stress management takes practice but the rewards are well worth the effort.
1. Deep breathing/Meditation/Prayer - slow, deep breaths ‘trick’ the body out of the fight-or-flight (run away from the bear) mode, and meditation makes us more present minded. Much of stress has to do with thinking about the mountain of work ahead of us, we are often not very present-centred thinkers. If you can just be focused on the task at hand things seem much more manageable. Start with 5 minutes twice a day.
2. Move your body - I hesitate to use the much hated word ‘exercise’ but if you can move your body in some way for 30 minutes per day you will get rid of that built up fuel and reduce muscle tension considerably. It also helps to clear your mind of worries, and boosts mood by releasing endorphins.
3. Eat the right foods at the right times - focus your meals on vegetables and protein, more than on carbs and simple sugars. If you balance out your blood sugar you will have fewer cravings and less peaks and valleys in your energy levels. Often people who are stressed get a 2 o’clock sugar craving, but then by 3 o’clock feel like they need a nap. Have protein every time you eat to avoid energy crashes in your day. Instead of a donut or cookie, try an apple with a handful of almonds or carrots dipped in hummus.
4. Support adrenal gland function - the adrenal glands are what control the stress response in the body. When they are very busy they start to get tired out and need some help. Vitamins B and C, and Magnesium can help to support adrenal glands. So can herbs like licorice (just watch if you have high blood pressure), ashwagandha, and ginseng. Your naturopath will develop a plan that suits your body best.
5. Mindfulness - quite often we are doing several tasks at once. Make the choice not to text message while you’re at home and turn off the TV while you are eating dinner. Our brains are often overstimulated which leads to inattention and feeling overwhelmed. Plus, we spend a lot more time having cyber relationships and less time enjoying the people in front of us, often the people that matter most like our families.