Many of us experience stress regularly. After all, stress is a normal part of life as it allows us to react to situations and get all of our tasks done (think of the fight or flight response), however when it becomes excessive and prolonged over some time, it can reap havoc on the body.
Some of the common signs of stress include low energy, fatigue, upset stomach, chest pain and rapid heartbeat, colds and infections, weight issues, hormone imbalances and more. The good news is it’s not all doom and gloom as there are several things you can do to help manage your stress naturally. Here are a few of my key tips.
Clean Up Your Diet Cleaning up your diet is important for anyone, but when you are stressed it can help to reduce the inflammation caused by that stress. You should aim to eat a diet that is rich in whole foods with lots of protein, healthy fats and antioxidants in the form of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables. Often the brighter the colour, the richer they are in antioxidants. The different colours reflect also reflect the varying nutritional profiles and nutritional diversity is key. Aiming to consume foods in their most natural state (or close to a natural state as possible) is a good way to achieve a healthy balanced diet. Some great herbs may help to minimise stress and they include lavender, chamomile, turmeric and lemon balm, which is one of my favourites at the moment. Melissa officinalis is the lemon balm extract used in a new ingredient called Bluenesse®. The interest in this ingredient stems from preliminary research out of Germany, which has indicated that Bluenesse may help provide beneficial physiological effects for mental health while simultaneously having calming and improved alertness effects.
Stabilise your blood glucose control While the food we eat has the biggest impact on our blood glucose control, our stress levels also impact our blood sugar levels and can make them unstable. Combine elevated stress with an average diet, overtraining and a lack of sleep and this may lead to chronically elevated blood sugar levels that may result in excess insulin secretion. Insulin is the hormone that moves glucose from your bloodstream to your muscle or fat cells. If you find that you often have sugar cravings or you are starving between meals your overall intake and blood sugar levels may be poorly controlled. Large intakes of carbohydrates, or consumption of poor quality, fast-digesting carbohydrates, may elevate your insulin levels. Insulin is known as the storage hormone as it moves glucose out of your blood and stores it in your muscles and fat cells. When insulin is present in the bloodstream it makes it very difficult to lose weight as it is programmed to help store. Unstable and frequently high sugar levels can also lead to inflammation in the body, which can, in turn, elevate irritability, anxiety, bloating, digestive issues and more. If this is you, reduce your intake of artificial or overly processed ingredients such as sugary drinks and foods high in refined sugar and instead eat a diet high in vegetables, lean proteins, slow-release grains and healthy fats. Also eat foods that are high in fibre to help you manage your sugar levels, keep you feeling fuller for longer and help keep your hormones balanced.
Get enough sleep Being stressed at work, over-exercising, living on caffeine, finishing the day with a sugary cocktail or wine are all habits which can lead to burning out and therefore stress. While it’s all well and good to be busy and social, over-scheduling yourself can lead to less sleep and ultimately burn out. Having a good sleep is one of the most important things for all aspects of your health, including both physical and mental health. It’s also very important for your weight as studies have shown that poor sleep is one of the single biggest risk factors for obesity. Adults and children with poor sleep have a 55% and 89% greater risk of becoming obese, respectively.
Address your gut health has been a trending topic for a while now and when you are stressed often-digestive issues can occur either directly by making ongoing poor dietary choices, from inflammation or as a result of the gut-brain connection. The gastrointestinal tract is highly sensitive to emotion and is often known as the second brain. An inflamed or troubled intestine can send messages to the brain, just as a stressed and troubled brain can send signals to the gut. This means gastrointestinal distress may be the cause of anxiety, stress or depression. Inversely, in periods of stress and anxiety, this can heighten the response and stress in the gastrointestinal tract. As we established before when the body is under stress it can be the reason you are struggling to lose weight, so minimizing that stress is key. A poorly functioning gut can also disrupt your delicate hormone balance. It can also affect your blood sugar levels and your immune system. If you are struggling with your gut health seek the help of an expert to help to optimise your overall diet including increasing your intake of probiotics and prebiotic-rich foods. Having a healthy functioning gut is important for reducing the risk of high inflammation. It is also important for good sleep, energy levels and more.
Jessica Spendlove from Health and Performance Collective Athletic Performance Dietitian for GWS Giants, Cronulla Sharks and Giants Netball