The first Wednesday in November each year is National Stress Awareness Day in the UK. This coincides with International Stress Awareness week which runs from 2nd-6th November 2020 (1).
Everyone’s life has some stress in it. This is normal and we can usually cope. But being overwhelmed by stress, or experiencing long term low level stress, can cause, or exacerbate, mental health problems.
Stress and mental health problems are more prevalent than ever this year with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Almost one in five adults experienced some form of depression during the coronavirus pandemic in June 2020; this is almost double the number before the pandemic. Feeling stressed or anxious was the most common way adults experiencing some form of depression were affected (2).
Stress can be psychological, emotional or physical. It can be real or perceived. This means that just thinking about a potentially stressful situation can trigger the same reactions in the body as if the stress were actually happening.
The Fight or Flight Response
We are designed to react to stress by running away or staying to fight. This is an evolutionary response to the kind of stresses to which our ancient ancestors were exposed.
During a stressful event or thought process the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline (AKA epinephrine and norepinephrine) are released from the adrenal glands. These chemicals increase our alertness and speed up our reaction times. Physical signs of stress include raised blood pressure and heart beat and increased sweating. The blood flow to the digestive system is diverted to the muscles of the arms and legs ready for fight or flight. Fat and sugar stores are mobilised.
The things that cause stress in modern life are somewhat different from the stress triggers of our ancestors but the way the body reacts is the same. This means that even if we are sitting in a traffic jam or worrying about the future, our body reacts with the fight or flight response. Living under constant pressure means the body does not have time to return to a state of balance in which digestion can resume and the body can repair itself. It is this on-going, low level stress that can lead to health problems and burn out.
Stress and Disease
Stress can affect every aspect of health.
Immune Function – chronic stress suppresses the immune system making the sufferer more susceptible to illness. Stress also uses up nutrients leading to nutrient deficiencies.
Digestive Health – stress can lead to digestive symptoms including bloating, flatulence, malabsorption, indigestion and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Sleep Disruption – stress hormones are designed to keep us alert so any residual adrenaline and cortisol in the system can lead to insomnia or broken sleep.
Adrenal Fatigue – long term stress can lead to adrenal exhaustion, which can have a knock on effect on the sex hormones and thyroid hormones.
How to reduce the effects of stress
- Avoid foods and drinks that create stress in the These include stimulants such as tea, coffee, alcohol, energy drinks and colas.
- Avoid foods that upset blood sugar levels including sugar, artificial sweeteners and refined
- Include protein and fibre with meals to keep blood sugar levels stable.
- Avoid any foods to which you are
- Eat high nutrient foods to replenish depleted These include fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, whole grains, fish, eggs, herbs, spices and sea vegetables.
- Keep well hydrated with herbal teas, water, ginger tea and freshly pressed vegetable
- Eat in a relaxed
Nutrients that are depleted during times of stress include:
- B Vitamins – needed to convert food into Vitamin B5 plays a role in cortisol production. Vitamin B6 is needed to make neurotransmitters that can counteract the effects of adrenaline. Tom Oliver B Complex will cover your B vitamin needs including inositol which aids mental health, memory and cognitive function.
- Vitamin C – the adrenal glands have a high need for vitamin C, which can become depleted during stress. This can have consequences for the immune system and many other body processes that rely on adequate supplies of vitamin C. Tom Oliver Vitamin C provides 500mg of vitamin C per capsule.
- Vitamin D – needed for blood sugar balance and a healthy immune system. Tom Oliver Vitamin D Plus K2 provides both vitamin K2 and D3 which work together to support cardiovascular health, bone health, and the immune system.
- Magnesium – needed for energy production, the nervous system and relaxation of muscles and nerves. Chronic stress can deplete magnesium Tom Oliver Magnesium contains taurate which supports the immune system and the nervous system.
- Zinc – stress depletes zinc. Low zinc is linked to depression and anxiety. Tom Oliver Zinc picolinate provides a highly absorbable form of zinc.
- Essential Fats – important for the whole endocrine system including the adrenal glands, sex glands and Tom Oliver Omega 3 contains DHA, EPA, choline and phospholipids, all of which are needed for healthy cell membranes and brain health.
- Antioxidants – stress leads to the increased production of free radicals. Free radicals are responsible for many health problems. Antioxidants protect the body against free radical damage. Good sources include fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sea vegetables.
You may not be able to control what life throws at you but you can choose how you react to life's events. Here are some tips to help manage stress:
- Yoga, tai chi, meditation and mindfulness can all help to bring the body back into a state of
- Talking to friends and family is often helpful.
- Breathe – under stress breathing becomes shallow. The quickest way to tell your body that everything is OK is to breathe into the abdomen and to exhale fully. Do this a few times to reduce stress hormones.
- Moderate Daily Exercise – can dissipate stress hormones. It is best not exercise late in the evening as the body needs time to wind down in order to get a relaxing night’s sleep. Exercising outside is ideal.
- Spend time in nature – Being in nature is relaxing. Even if you live in a city try to visit the park or somewhere green every day.