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Stress Awareness Month - April

Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992 to raise awareness of the causes and cures for our modern-day stress epidemic. It is a time dedicated to removing...

Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992 to raise awareness of the causes and cures for our modern-day stress epidemic. It is a time dedicated to removing the guilt, shame, and stigma around mental health; it’s a time to talk about stress, and its effects, and open up about our mental and emotional state with friends, families, colleagues, and professionals.

There's probably not an adult in the western world who has not felt stressed at some point in their lives. Stress can be psychological, emotional or physical. It can be real or perceived. This means that just thinking about a potential stressful situation can trigger the same reactions in the body as if the stress were actually happening. Here we’ll look at some dietary and lifestyle hacks to help you manage stress. First we’ll look at what happens in the body when we feel stressed.

Fight, Flight, Freeze – the 3 faces of stress

When you face a threat, a signal is sent to your amygdala - a part of the brain that plays an important role in processing fear and other emotions. The amygdala then alerts the sympathetic nervous system which controls the body’s involuntary responses. The adrenal glands may release adrenaline – the fight or flight hormone, into the bloodstream. Adrenaline triggers the release of sugar and fat from storage sites around the body to give a boost of energy. Adrenaline also raises heart rate and blood pressure so that more blood reaches the vital organs and muscles in case you need to run, jump or fight. Adrenaline also increases alertness and speeds up reaction times. Breathing rate may increase as more oxygen increases alertness and makes the senses sharper. You may not feel pain during a high stress event as the immune system is suppressed.

There is also a freeze response where the body goes still and cannot move. Blood pressure and pulse rate may drop and the body may feel cold.

The stress response should only be triggered when confronting life threatening situations. If the body is constantly being called upon to produce adrenaline and cortisol this can affect sleep, weight, cardiovascular health, digestive function, the immune system, sex drive, focus and memory.

Anxiety disorders

If you have an anxiety disorder, you’re more likely to feel threatened by typically nonthreatening situations such as waiting in traffic or shopping in a supermarket. You could also have anticipatory anxiety and feel anxious about being anxious. These intrusive thoughts may be enough to trigger the stress response with heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and hyper-vigilance.

The things that cause stress in modern life are generally different from the stressors that our bodies evolved to deal with. We are also living under constant pressure meaning 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 stress, even if it is low level, that ultimately leads 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.

Digestive Health – during stress digestive processes are put on hold. This can lead to bloating, flatulence, malabsorption and indigestion. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common outcome.

Sleep Disruption – the stress hormones are designed to keep us alert and awake so any residual adrenaline and cortisol in the system can lead to insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns.

Adrenal Fatigue – ongoing stress depletes the adrenal glands. As well as producing the stress hormones the adrenal glands produce some sex hormones. However, in chronic stress the reserves available to produce sex hormones may be inadequate leading to imbalances in oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Depleted adrenal glands also have a knock on effect on the thyroid gland which is responsible for our metabolism.

Dietary Advice

  • Avoid foods and drinks that create stress in the These include stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, energy drinks and colas.
  • Avoid foods that upset blood sugar levels including sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined carbohydrates and processed foods.
  • Avoid any foods to which you are intolerant; wheat and dairy products are common
  • Eat high nutrient foods to replenish depleted These include fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, whole grains, fish, eggs, herbs, spices and sea vegetables.
  • Drink herbal teas, water, ginger tea and freshly pressed vegetable
  • Eat in a relaxed Take some deep breaths and full exhalations before eating.

The Tom Oliver Nutrition range has several nutrients that may be beneficial in times of stress. These include:

  • Tom Oliver’s B Complex – the B vitamins are needed to make neurotransmitters and
  • Tom Oliver’s MagnesiumMagnesium is vital for the nervous system and energy production. Chronic stress can deplete magnesium
  • Tom Oliver’s Vitamin CThe adrenal glands have a high need for vitamin C and stress often depletes this
  • Tom Oliver’s Omega 3 The omega 3 essential fats are needed by every part of the endocrine system including the adrenal glands, sex glands and
  • Tom Oliver’s Probiotics - the gut microbiota helps to regulate brain function through the gut-brain axis. Recent research suggests that mental disorders could be treated by regulating the intestinal microbiota (1).


You may not be able to control what life throws at you but you have some choice over how you react to it. Here are some ideas that may help:

  • Stress management techniques such as yoga, tai chi, meditation and mindfulness can all help to bring the body back into a state of balance as well as changing your perspective on what is Talking to friends and family is also therapeutic.
  • Breathe – When we are 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 and notice how much better you feel.
  • Reset your circadian rhythm – getting to bed by 11pm and getting up at the same time each day can help to reset your daily rhythms. Spending time outside in daylight is also recommended.
  • Switch off the gadgets – especially in the evening a couple of hours before you go to bed. The light emitted by gadgets suppresses the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
  • Take a look at your life – Review your life and see which aspects of it are causing stress. Whatever it is take steps to do something about it. Talking things through can help to get things into perspective.
  • Take moderate daily exercise – Exercise can dissipate stress hormones. However, do not overdo it as this can create stress in the body. It is best not exercise in the evening as the body needs time to wind down in order to get a relaxing night’s sleep.
  • Spend time in nature – Being in green places or by natural water is relaxing on a deep level.




  1. General Psychiatry, 2019; 32: e100056. Effects of regulating intestinal microbiota on anxiety symptoms: A systematic review. Yang B et al.


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