The effects of stress can be enormous, leading to both short and long term consequences. Stress can affect eating habits and sleep cycles and trigger depression which can lead to low metabolism and inactivity. Stress can also increase bad habits such as smoking and drinking, which tend to lead to bigger health problems like cancer and heart disease. Stress hormones such as cortisol actually deplete the body of vitamins B, C, A and magnesium, which are consumed during stress responses such as muscle tension and increased blood pressure. During times of anxiety we have a special need for B vitamins, which help keep nerves and brain cells. If the calories consumed during times of stress do not come from nutritious foods, the vitamins will run out even faster. Even a slight vitamin B deficiency due to a few days of consuming empty calories such as potato chips and soda can upset the nervous system and compound stress, according to Elizabeth Somer, RD, an Oregon-based nutritionist. During times of stress, try to consume bananas, fish, baked potatoes, avocados, chicken and dark green leafy vegetables which are all excellent sources of B vitamins.
Vitamins of complex B. – B vitamins have been shown to directly affect neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Evidence suggests that B vitamins are important for the balance and metabolism of neuro-toxic chemicals that have been linked to anxiety and depression conditions. B vitamins maintain the adrenal glands and get used to the “fight or flight” response and the conversion of food into energy for the body. We like Natural Factors’ Hi Factor B complex capsules.
glutamine – the most abundant amino acid in muscle cells, preserves the muscles by reducing cortisol levels.
Insolitol – has been shown to help reduce cortisol in people with mental illness such as anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.
L Thianine – an amino acid derivative commonly present in tea, theanine is able to cross the blood-brain barrier. Theanine has psychoactive properties and has been shown to reduce mental and physical stress. L-theanine can help the body’s immune response to infections by increasing the ability to fight gamma delta T cell diseases.
Magnesium – is found in cells and bones and is particularly vital for protecting arteries from blood pressure caused by stress. Food sources include dark green foods, whole grains such as brown rice and brown bread, garlic, lemons, avocado, chamomile, melon, black beans, seeds in particular pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate. When you are chronically stressed, you can become magnesium deficient even if you eat these foods regularly.
If stressed for any reason, the body’s hormonal response causes an outburst of magnesium from cells in the blood. The higher the stress level, the greater the loss of magnesium. The lower the magnesium level initially, the more responsive the stress will be (the higher the level of adrenaline and cortisol hormones in stressful situations), which causes greater loss of magnesium from the cells.
Soaking in an Epsom salt bath can help. The best food supplements are magnesium acid salts such as magnesium chloride, citrate, gluconate or glycinate. We like the natural factors calcium and magnesium citrate Plus D.
Omega-3 fatty acids – thought to have a calming effect on the central nervous system. We like Nordic Naturals DHA with a strawberry flavor.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) – is a cortisol blocker that pushes nutrients and removes toxins from cells. It can be helpful in preventing short-term memory loss, age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
C vitamin – prolonged stress depletes vitamin C in the adrenal glands and decreases blood levels. We recommend 1-2 grams 3 times a day with food. In January 2007, “Psychology Today” reported that vitamin C exerts a subtle cortisol-reducing effect on the human body. Vitamin C is soluble in water, so there is little risk in taking large doses.
The following can be helpful in reducing cortisol levels:
Before bedtime – try to be in bed by 22:00, inadequate sleep is a stressor that causes excess cortisol. Melatonin is a natural sleep aid that can be effective for jet lag and to restore the sleep cycle. Hypnosis can also be very effective in inducing sleep and a sense of well-being.
Eat often – Cortisol levels increase after 5 hours without food and your body’s combat or flight response mechanism will experience the “famine” and enter conservation mode when you eat. A good way to avoid excessive fat storage is to consume small meals throughout the day.
Eat breakfast containing protein – proteins help to rebuild the glycogen stores needed to feed the brain. Your brain is particularly depleted after sleeping.
Eliminate sugar and processed foods – eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to make sure you have vitamins to increase your resistance to stress. Vitamin C, B1 and B2 are particularly important, see below.
Eliminate caffeine completely – Caffeine directly stimulates the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Caffeine is a diuretic; depletes your body of water and vitamins, contributing to bone loss. Caffeine can also interfere with the quality of your sleep.
Drink water – dehydration causes a stress response that increases cortisol levels. Drink water before going to bed and when you wake up.
Minimize prolonged intense physical activity – after an hour of exercise, testosterone levels in your body drop and cortisol starts to rise. Keep your workouts under an hour and don’t train for more than 2 consecutive days.
Practice relaxing activities such as massage therapy, having sex and laughing.
Scientists began to discover the mechanisms underlying the link between mind and body in the 1980s and early 1990s. According to a NY Times article, nerves that connect the brain with the spleen and thymus, organs used in immune responses, were found and it was established that nerve cells could affect the activity of white blood cells that fight infections. Today I don’t think the mind-body link can be disputed. Consider how well you feel both physically and mentally after an hour of yoga, a run in the park or a few days in the sun.
Here are some other tips to help you increase your sense of well-being:
Fresh air – give your mind and body a break by sitting and staring at your computer screen. Make an effort to go out at least once during the work day.
Exercise – low impact activities such as walking or skating are sufficient to stimulate endorphins without inducing stress on the body.
Reduce your morning commute – studies show higher cortisol levels in people with longer morning shifts. The use of public transport instead of driving can reduce the stress induced by traffic jams. Other habits that can help make your daily ride more fun include carpooling, music and choosing a slightly longer but less congested route.
Hypnosis and self-hypnosis – stress hypnosis can be very effective in inducing a state of relaxation and can also be used as a natural way to induce sleep.
Deep breathing – superficial or irregular breathing caused by stress can compromise the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. During the stressful period, you can help expel excess carbon dioxide by exhaling for 5 long seconds and then let the lungs fill up naturally (do not inhale consciously). Do this for 5 breaths in a row with your mouth closed and you should feel a sense of calm. Regular deep breathing can prevent disease, as the more stale air you breathe out, the more fresh air you can inhale, which becomes deeper in your lungs and doesn’t give all creepy little crawling crawls a humid and humid environment in which to multiply.
Surround yourself with love and positivity – you are who surrounds you. When it comes to friendships, choose quality over quantity and surround yourself with people who inspire you. The effects of drama and gossip can be a great source of stress for some.
Retrain your thought patterns – this goes beyond trying to always see the positive side of things. The mind can exert a direct influence on the immune system. “The brain has the ability to modulate peripheral physiology,” says Dr. Richard J. Davidson, director of the University of Wisconsin Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience, “and modulates it in ways that could be health consequences.” Books such as Stillness Speaks and the Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle discuss new ways of thinking that can mess up the mind and encourage stillness, peace and what it calls “the joy of Being”.