Stressed about how stressed you are

It’s Stress Awareness Month. Erm…..I’m pretty sure we’re all aware of the existence of stress. I bet you’re stressed right now, just because I brought further awareness to your awareness of being totally stressed. What IS useful about stress awareness month though, is a reminder to think about coping mechanisms and self-care. There are a few less radical options to consider before you quit your job, shave your head, and sail for Koh Phangang.

First things first, what IS stress and why does it have such a tangible effect on the body when we feel like it’s coming from the mind? Understanding more about stress means we can look at long-term strategies to protect our health, and short term quick fixes to better cope with stressful situations such as exams, public speaking, or whatever else gives you the willies.

A brief explanation: what your nervous system’s up to

Your body’s a funny thing: regardless of the stressor, be it physical (like an injury, being starved, too hot or too cold, in mortal peril), or mental (psychological stress) you turn on the same stress response. A calm body is under the control of the parasympathetic nervous system - “rest and digest”. Your heart rate’s slow, you’re happily eating and digesting, and your immune system is busily looking after you. But when the brain perceives a stressor, the sympathetic nervous system gets switched on for “fight or flight”. Adrenaline gets you pumped - heart rate rises to send energy stores and oxygen to muscles. Digestion, reproduction and immune function are off because they’re less important than running really fast.

Other animals go into fight or flight because of immediate physical stressors, like being hungry or being chased by something hungry. But we humans look forward, we worry and anticipate stress… and our brains react as though the danger is happening right now! Imagine then an average sort of day: alarm clock sounds = stress. Travel by tube and hate everyone = stress. Read work emails = stress. Nervously prepare for a big meeting = stress. You’re not in immediate physical danger, yet your body responds as though you are. Under chronic stress, essential maintenance work carried out under “rest and digest” mode gets neglected. In the short term, you can see immediate effects such as getting indigestion after you ate too quickly working at your desk. But in the long term, it puts us at increased risk of health problems. Reproduction hasn’t been prioritised so fertility problems could result; suppressing immune function too regularly could make us more vulnerable to infectious disease; the strain of high blood pressure could cause damage to the cardiovascular system.

Stress and energy

Being stressed and anxious all the time is terrible for our energy levels! Look at these vicious circles:

  • Stress depletes B Vitamins and Magnesium - the very nutrients needed to create energy! In turn, having low B vitamins or magnesium is associated with anxiety.

  • It has a negative impact on sleep. As well as impacting your energy the next day, sleep deprivation is itself a stressor! More stressed = less sleep, less sleep = more stressed, and so on.

One thing we can do to support the normal function of the nervous system is ensure plentiful intake of Magnesium and Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12 and Vitamin C….more about food and supplements below.

Food for energy...eating or NOT eating for stress

Being tired and stressed makes us reach for snacks with processed carbs & sugar (cakes, sweets, sugary drinks) but because they’re really quickly digested, you get a quick hit of energy followed by a horrible crash…. this causes tiredness & more cravings for sweet and carbohydrate-rich foods! Hangry-stress roller-coaster. Better to eat for level energy: meals and snacks that have plenty of veg and fruit and include protein and fat to slow down their digestion*. Plus, the more wholesome foods naturally give you more nutrients for energy and adrenal glands (which produce your stress hormones) whereas sugary foods and excess caffeine are a further strain.

But also remember NOT to eat when stressed! I don’t mean go hungry. But, my digestion system shuts down if I’m in a state of anxiety and eating in such a state causes bloating and painful trapped wind.

So: no desk eating! Get into a calm mindset by taking a walk, listening to music or a meditation, maybe some gentle exercise - whatever works for you. I also take calming supplements or herbal tea (matcha or tulsi are helpful) if needed. Also, while some people struggle to eat at all when stressed/anxious, others overeat because they’re not focused on the meal and shovel it in too quickly. Simplest trick here is again don’t eat at your desk and also put your cutlery/sandwich down between each mouthful.

Supplements

City Survivor Pollution Protection provides Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, Biotin and Vitamin C as well as Copper and Iodine - all of which are important for normal nervous system function. I take this every day with breakfast or lunch.

Magnesium is also important for maintaining your nervous system’s function and Vital Minerals Magnesium contains two types for improved absorption, avoiding upset tummies that result from poor quality supplements. I take this before bed, or a lot of the time I take Night Support instead which also has Magnesium alongside Theanine and Taurine. I take it in the daytime if I need to chill out and concentrate too (it doesn’t contain sedatives!) e.g. preparing for important meetings or public speaking.


How do you currently switch off an anxious brain or take time away from work/life stress? Share your thoughts below and here are some ideas:

  • Exercise

  • Breathing techniques

  • Proper breaks: take time to make a cup of tea and have a snack, without looking at screens

  • Detach from travel stress with an enthralling novel (Careful - I’ve gone 20 minutes in the wrong direction by having too good a book before now!). Even better - walk to work.

I’m trying to increase my positive stress management things: exercise, cooking and reading. And decrease my bad-habit-forming ones: wine and TV-binging!!!

Thanks for being here! I wish you a stress-free and fun weekend ahead. Daisy x


*Some ideas for meals & snacks for stable energy, instead of hangry blood sugar crashes

Snacks: instead of cake or chocolate, combine fruit with nuts/seeds/whole yoghurt for protein and fat. You could still have the chocolate alongside!! Or try hummus or guac with crudites and nice bread or oatcakes.

Meals: instead of simple vegetable soup, pasta with tomato sauce, or a basic salad, make sure to include protein sources such as beans, lentils, tofu, eggs, dairy, fish and meat.

The same applies to breakfast: instead of toast with jam, try eggs or peanut butter. Instead of sugary cereal such as corn flakes, try oats with fruit, nuts and seeds.


Further reading about stress, if you’re so inclined: Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, by Robert Sapolsky

Photo: Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Daisy ConnorComment