Stressors will always be in our lives. That won’t ever change. But, how we deal with them can change. Those small, day-to-day ups and downs, plus the big life changes – both positive and negative – create stress on our body and mind. Some stress is okay and can be good, in fact! Our body is perfectly capable of managing many of these waves of change. I’m not just referring to our fight-or-flight adrenaline response, although that’s part of our makeup too.
We can absolutely use stress to our advantage to become more productive and conquer desired change in our lives. Unfortunately, however, most of the seemingly uncontrollable stress we experience is chronic and take its toll, wreaking havoc on our physical and mental-emotional health.
Why? There are a few reasons. When we live constantly in a heightened fight-or-flight state, we simply cannot maintain health without our body breaking down. This is called adrenal fatigue. Our adrenals are small glands located on top of the kidneys that regulate adrenaline. When they get tired, we get tired. They are meant to be on “standby” for truly stressful conditions and not firing adrenaline on a daily basis.
On that note…Happy Stress Awareness Month! April brings this topic to the forefront so we can come together offering guidance on navigating effects of stress. I wanted to touch on various ways in which stress effects each part of our lives and then offer remedies that, when applied consistently, will truly make a difference!
How Chronic Stress Manifests
Digestion: Stress hormones effect the absorption of vitamins and minerals from our food and supplements. Eating a beautiful green salad does little for your body if eating during a frazzled state. In fact, in Ayurveda they say that any food eaten while experiencing negative emotions turns to poison in the body.
Skin: Our skin cells go through a monthly turnover process where the dead cells shed to bring the fresh cells to the surface. Over-production of adrenaline and cortisol from unmanaged stress slows down this process. These excess stress hormones produce extra oil causing breakouts and blotchiness and over time our complexion becomes dull. Not to mention the tightness in our jaw, furrowed brow and overall appearance of hardness. Completely opposite of what we all want which is soft, radiant glowing skin!
Sleep: Most of us don’t realize the effect stress has on our sleep. Often we work late shaving off an hour of sleep here and there. Add to that light from electronic devices which disrupts our natural urge to wind down. A minimum of 7-8 hours of restorative sleep is crucial to give our body the opportunity to repair itself on a cellular level. This goes way beyond our outward appearance. This includes our brain! As we age, we become less resilient and able to bounce back after a night of little sleep. Over time, this creates plaque buildup in our brain and could cause things like depression and early mental decline.
Immunity: There is no question that stress compromises our immune system. The increase of stress hormones over a period of time weaken our body’s ability to fight infection. That is why after an extended period of stress we often find ourselves getting sick and feeling depleted. If we are not able to recognize this imbalance soon enough and fortify ourselves often the imbalance creates disease. If you break down the word disease into dis–ease, you’ll see that is exactly what is happening in the body.
The good news? There are simple remedies and lifestyle choices that can build up our physical and emotional resilience, all at your fingertips! It’s just a matter of prioritizing and adding them to daily rituals:
Simple but Powerful Remedies for Stress
Nutrition and Supplements:
- Magnesium: Also known as the ‘relaxing’ macro-mineral, magnesium (Mg) is essential to all cells in the body and is required by hundreds of enzymes in the body. Stress, alcohol, and even sex dump Mg, which should then be replaced. Nature’s best sources of Mg is chlorophyll-rich green, leafy vegetables, many seeds and nuts, avocados, oatmeal, bananas. As a supplement, look for magnesium lactate in liquid form, which is best absorbed;
- Undamaged essential omega-3 and -6 fatty acids: Like magnesium, both omega fatty acids are categorized as ‘essential’ nutrients because the body requires them for health but cannot synthesize them from any other nutrient and therefore must get them directly from the diet. The foundation of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which produces ‘feel-good’ molecules, is made from essential fatty acids (EFAs). Nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, ‘clean’ fish (increasingly difficult to find because of extensive ocean pollution), krill oil (less polluted and less damaged by processing than fish oils), algae and algae oil (plant-based); and Udo’s Oil are all good sources of EFAs;
- Probiotics: There’s been much talk recently about the gut–brain axis, the biochemical connection between the GI tract and the central nervous system. A diminished number of friendly bacteria living in our gut negatively affects our overall health, including our mental health (depression, anxiety, and our ability to handle stress). Prevent toxic bacteria from creating chemicals that stress the body and mind by taking a probiotic supplement. Human-adapted probiotics are the most effective;
- A diet rich in mostly plant-based, fresh, organic foods: Pesticides in the body are a source of physical stress, so buy organic where possible. In general, there are less toxins in organic plant foods than in animal-based foods. Plant foods are a rich source of the prebiotic fiber that feeds probiotics. Go for the more alkaline foods since an alkaline diet is less stress-producing than an acidic diet, which leads to increased inflammation, pain, swelling, and tissue degeneration;
- Digestive enzymes: Foods which are not properly broken down and digested cause all sorts of health problems. Taking a load off the digestive process frees the immune system to deal with other stresses in the body, like infection, allergies, and autoimmune conditions.
Sleep: Creating a consistent evening routine is the best way to signal to our body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Aim for your bedroom to be a single purpose space and not a shared work space. Also, keep it dark (cover distracting lights from electronics) and keep the temperature cool. Think of sleep as fuel for your body instead of something else you have to do. Restorative sleep is one of the key ingredients to energy, radiance, and vitality inside and out.
Meditation: There is no question that meditation reverses the effects of stress and premature aging. In fact, it makes your cells younger! Begin with as little as 5 minutes a day with eyes closed observing your breath. The effects are cumulative and one day you will notice how a certain situation that would normally upset you seems not so bad. You will notice over time your expression will soften and you will have an inner glow.
Yoga: Yoga relieves stress through gentle but powerful stretches and postures. It allows your body to release tightness and stiffness in your muscles allowing both body and mind to relax…release…breathe. The more you practice, the easier it will be to tap into this awareness during other times in your day. Don’t limit yourself to just yoga though: Other forms of exercise can also help to de-stress.
Let go: One common root cause of stress is the attempt to gain control of everything. Not only is this unrealistic, but it’s unnecessary to be your best self. Making progress toward goals while letting go of our perceived ideas of perfection is freedom!
Sarah Brown is a certified yoga instructor, licensed esthetician, wellness columnist and Crossfit junkie. She is the wellness coordinator at Live Young Studio and lives in Thomasville, GA, with her husband Wesley and daughter Phoebe. www.thebeautybroad.com