Is feeling depleted, run down, dog-tired, or even jittery, and sleep eluding you altogether, condemning you to a Groundhog Day of symptoms? Today, I want to help you and give you some ways to help beat it.
You have two separate protective systems to ensure your survival: the stress response and the immune system.
The stress response - your fight-or-flight mechanism - is designed to protect you against external dangers. It is governed by the HPA Axis (hypothalamus – pituitary – adrenal axis). The HPA axis is activated only when you’re under threat. When there is no danger, it is inactive.
While the HPA axis is activated, stress hormones are produced all the time. However, cell growth requires that the stress response is switched off. Constant cell growth is crucial because, inside our body, cells reach the end of their life all the time and must be replaced. Within a cell community of 50 trillion cells, each cell has a job to do, and we need them to renew.
The other protective system, the immune system, protects us by fighting outside invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. The stress hormones released by the HPA axis block the immune system.
Knowing this, it is easy to see how something that seems minor at first glance – stress – could be messing with your health in different ways and in different areas of your body. If you’re feeling below par all the time, perhaps it is time to give your HPA some TLC.
Managing stress levels is so, so important for your health in the long term because stress is implicated in so many different chronic diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma.
Am I really stressed though?
If you’re thinking you don’t fall into the ‘I’m stressed enough to be making myself ill’ category, don’t be fooled. The drip-drip-drip of everyday stress can be as damaging as major life incident-related stress (such as death and divorce), so don’t wait to take action. It’s also worth considering that stress makes it very hard to lose weight, and you’re much more likely to store it around the middle. This is because the human body hasn’t evolved much since caveman times when the extra energy was stored where it was most easily accessed, so it could be used to run away from the sabre-toothed tiger.
Here are my top 6 ways to keep stress under control:
1. The 10-minute mind trick: Set aside 10 minutes a day for meditation. Simply sit down in a quiet room with your back supported and eyes closed. Try to clear your mind of all worries. Don’t worry if thoughts bubble to the surface, as this is completely normal! The more you resist the more it will persist. Simply bring your attention back to your breath and continue until the time is up. If you’re new to meditation or need more support, find a guided meditation app to lead you through the process.
2. Eat regularly: Erratic eating times and skipping meals can lead to a dip in blood sugar levels, which leads to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s difficult when routines go out the window, but try to stick to three meals (with two optional snacks) a day and your digestion will thank you for it. Base all your meals and snacks on protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and seeds), fruit and vegetables and smaller amounts of complex carbs (brown rice, wholemeal bread or pasta).
3. Cut back on alcohol and caffeine: I know it’s hard, but try ditching (or significantly reducing) your alcohol and caffeine intake. Caffeine causes a release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands - the last thing you want if you are already stressed! At first, alcohol might help to relax you when you’re stressed out (by promoting the release of GABA, the calming neurotransmitter), but it is quickly metabolised to sugar which can lead to a restless sleep, which leads me to my next tip.
4. Prioritise sleep: Get into a sleep routine that includes relaxing practices such as taking a warm bath with Epsom salts, light reading or stretching. Introduce a digital detox at least an hour before bed (that means no phones, no TV, no laptops or tablets), so as not to disrupt melatonin production (the sleepy hormone). A light snack such as an oatcake with almond butter or a banana may help to support undisturbed sleep.
5. Eat magnesium-rich meals: Magnesium relaxes the nervous system and muscles so eating foods rich in this mineral, such as leafy greens, avocados, sesame seeds and spinach can help reduce stress.
6. Get to the cause: Look at the root cause to any stress in your life, and think about how you respond to it. If the effect of stress or just general busyness gets in the way of your efforts to stay healthy and you’d like to do something about it, I warmly invite you to book a free 30-minute consultation to help