Your brain interprets an emotion as a message to act. Feeling angry, anxious, fear, guilt, sadness, jealousy or any negative emotion can signal the brain to trigger an emotional response that can put your body into overdrive. The intensity of what you feel dictates the degree of your response, this is where stress enters the picture.
Your body can react to emotional or work related stress as if it’s a physical threat ‘the fight or flight response’. Reacting to the perceived threat producing cortisol ( the stress hormone) and adrenaline ( epinephrine) which turns up the power in your nervous system.
Cortisol constricts blood vessels and your blood pressure rises as the body attempts to get more oxygen to the muscles. Cortisol also blocks insulin, so blood sugar levels rise to provide the body with a quick energy source.
A sustained high level or cortisol results in inflammation within your body which breaks up collagen and elastin and can lead to premature aging and various diseases. Being chronically stressed out ages you permanently, increases your risk of obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s , diabetes, depression, asthma & gastrointestinal problems .
Can Stress Be A Good Thing?
Lets not forget that stress can be a good thing – our stress hormone “Cortisol” pops up to help us in a fight or flight situation and leaves us with a sense of relief afterwards. But when faced with too much stress, our coping mechanisms break down and our hormone levels become completely out of control. This encourages the body to cling on to fat around the stomach, or you can develop a stress belly. Stressed tummies will generally be fairly hard to the touch rather than wobbly, you may also feel bloated.
The stress hormone is certainly public health enemy number one. Scientists have recognised for years that elevated cortisol levels will interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease…the list goes on.
When we get a cortisol overload our happy hormone (serotonin) dips and triggers our appetite and cravings for carbohydrates and sugary treats – hitting our dopamine reward pathways to make us feel better. Are you consistently stressed and living with poor habits? do you skip meals, abuse your adrenal system with too much caffeine and grab junk / processed food for convenience, and to provide an short term energy boost?
How To Combat Stress – Up the Serotonin – Down the Cortisol!
- Avoid stimulants such as coffee and alcohol – drink herbal teas
- Avoid the quick fix – sweet sugar things – keep your blood sugar stable
- Eat frequent meals and snacks- containing unprocessed fresh foods
- Eat lots of good carbohydrates – vegetables, oats and fruits or legumes
- Add avocado, nuts, flaxseed and olive oil to your diet, to provide good fats
- Eat lots of salmon, mackerel and tuna
- Take a Vitamin B Complex supplement – great for anti-stress
- Take an Omega 3 fish oil supplement – great for mood regulation
- Think herbs – ginseng, astragalus, eleuthero, schizandra, rhodiola
- And Keep well hydrated, drinking at least 2 liters of water a day
Firstly get an early night. When we are stressed we often sleep badly, which disrupts the production of leptin, the hormone which helps regulate appetite and metabolism. This is why we eat more when we are tired and crave fat-depositing sugary snacks for an instant energy boost.
Combat exhaustion with a relaxation strategy of deep-breathing, meditation and long baths before bed to encourage a good night’s sleep and limit coffee consumption to no more than two cups a day.
Excessive cardio increases cortisol levels. Instead include yoga, long walks and resistance work with weights in your weekly workouts, these activities are perfect for sculpting and building up strength while calming the system.
Magnesium is a calming mineral to help soothe a stressed belly. It is advised eating lots of magnesium-rich foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, Brazil nuts and seeds, or try a magnesium packed ZMA supplement before bed.