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The word stress has many different connotations and definitions. In Eastern philosophies, stress is considered to the absence of inner peace. In Western culture, stress can be described as the loss of emotional control. Psychologically speaking, stress is defined as a state of anxiety produced when events and responsibilities exceed one’s coping abilities.

Not all stress is bad for you…How can stress be good?
When stress serves as a positive motivation it is considered beneficial e.g. the stress an athlete experiences before a race. However, distress is bad for you. There are two types. One is acute stress which is intense and disappears quickly, e.g. being pulled over by a police officer for speeding. Two is chronic stress which may not appear to be so intense but lingers for periods of time, e.g. a boss who makes your job unbearable.
Common Origins of Stress
We experience stress on four levels: physical, environmental, mental/emotional, and spiritual.1 Our perceptions of stimuli that we create through our mental processes make up the greatest percentage of stress.  These involve our thoughts, values, beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and perceptions that we use to defend our identity or ego.For this reason, it is important to intercept the stress response in the mind before it causes a rush of stress hormones to cascade into the body and causes damage.6

 

6 Top Stressful Event 2

  1. Illness or disease.
  2. Death of a loved one.
  3. Problems with work.
  4. Life changes and transitions.
  5. Family events and issues.
  6. Problems with personal relationships.

 

Effects of Stress

Stress has an effect on or digestive health, hormones, and immunity.

  • Stress enlarges the adrenal cortex – a gland that produces stress hormones.
  • Cortisol (our stress hormone) steals pregnenolone which affects the balance of our sex hormones.
  • Stress affects the stomach and colon and causes bloating, diarrhoea, cramps, dysbiosis, IBS, and bleeding ulcers.
  • Stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) mobilize glucose and fats into the blood.
  • Stress significantly decreases white blood cell count which impairs immunity.

 

Lifestyle Habits to Manage Stress

  • Reframing: Creating a positive mindset. cultivate an ‘attitude of gratitude’
  • Comic relief: laughing is good for your health and mental wellbeing.
  • Simple assertiveness and healthy boundaries – saying no
  • Managing time and money resources
  • Expressive art therapy
  • The art of breathing
  • The art of meditation
  • The power of mental imagery and visualization
  • Massage therapy
  • Yoga
  • Ecotherapy: the healing power of nature

 

Dietary Recommendations

Under stress, the body’s requirement for energy and nutrients increases. The metabolic reactions to stress deplete both macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Try to remove triggers like caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. Coffee releases neurotransmitters that increase the heart rate and blood pressure and affect blood sugar control. Refined sugars and flour have similar effects on the nervous system. Eat whole grains like brown rice, oats, and nuts which are a good source of vitamin Bs. Include more green leafy vegetables which are rich in magnesium and calcium and antioxidants like green tea and colorful vegetables. Lastly, add fermented foods and drinks like sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha to your diet because they are a good source of probiotics. Probiotics have been reported to synthesize neurotransmitters that affect mood.

 

Sources:

  1. Lipski, E. (2011) Digestive wellness: Strengthen the immune system and prevent disease through healthy digestion. (4th Ed.). New York: McGraw Hill Education.
  2. Lopez, G. (2014). 7 Charts that explain American stress problems. Vox. Retrieved from: https://www.vox.com/2014/7/11/5889537/stress-america-charts-work-life-health-illness
  3. Panacea Research (2017). General adaptation syndrome is not selective… Don’t let it get you down, ’cause we all have it! Strictly stress management. Retrieved from: http://www.strictly-stress-management.com/general_adaptation_syndrome.html
  4. McGuire, M. & Beerman, K.A. (2013). Nutritional Science: From fundamentals to food. (3rd ed).  Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
  5. Murray, M. J. & Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. New York, N.Y. Atria Books
  6. Seaward, B.L. (2016). Essentials of managing stress (4th ed.). Burlington, MA: Bartlett & James Learning.