Modern-day lifestyles often dictate a more hectic and faster-paced way of living, which can often result in raised stress levels; but what is the definition of stress? The classic definition of stress is ‘any real or imagined threat, and your body’s response to it’. Stress is often considered a mind-altering state and the causes of stress produce a physical reaction in the body.
When a person feels overwhelmed by a situation, they throw their bodies into a ‘fight or flight’ response. This response physically increases the heart rate, increasing blood pressure, and blood is moved from your mid-section of the body to the legs, arms and head, for quick thinking and for fighting or fleeing.
Some stress is unavoidable and can actually be of benefit such as the adrenaline rush for needing to meet deadlines, however stress becomes a problem under the following circumstances:
- If you are continuously in an overwhelming mode.
- When your response to that mode is negative.
- When your emotions and reactions are inappropriate to the stressor.
Prolonged stress can be linked to heart disease, muscle pain, chronic headaches, insomnia, weight loss and some digestive disorders; it is also considered to be the single biggest killer of the 21st century.
How stress effects your health and digestion
When your body is under stress, the digestive system shuts down completely. Since large numbers of the adult population are under some kind of stress on a daily basis, this often creates a problem. You may be eating the healthiest food, yet your body will not be able to digest food efficiently and subsequently will be unable to burn food for energy.
Detrimental effects of stress include:
- Reduced digestive enzyme production leading to improper breakdown of food and bloating.
- Greatly reduced nutrient absorption.
- Reduced oxygenation of the gut.
- Reduced metabolism since blood flow is greatly reduced.
Additionally, many nutrients are excreted or utilised heavily at times of stress and include water soluble vitamins especially B vitamins, minerals, and in particular calcium. In most cases cholesterol and triglyceride levels go up, levels of the beneficial bacteria in your gut diminish and some may experience heartburn, reflux or sensitivities to food.
To make matters worse, when your body is under stress, cortisol and insulin levels increase. These two hormones work in synergy and increased cortisol levels, due to stress, can result in increased insulin production. Insulin is the fat depositing hormone and therefore under stressful conditions it is difficult to lose weight. Scientists have acknowledged that visceral fat, the fat around your midriff, is a contributory factor to developing diabetes as well as other health concerns.
When you are under stress the body is unable to digest efficiently, absorb vital nutrients or burn calories. Stress may also contribute to reduced immunity, elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, elevated blood sugar levels, hormonal disturbances and the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Whilst you cannot eliminate stress entirely, you can take control by managing it effectively.
How to manage your stress
I have outlined some of the strategies that could be of benefit to make you feel better when stressed:
Calm down – Before anything else, calm down. Close your eyes and take a deep breath.
Be positive – Remember the good things in life. When you are stressed, it is easy to fall into a cycle of negative thoughts.
Look at the big picture – If you are affected by a single stressor, put that into context.
Take action – Think of what you can do to solve the problem and try to action it.
Exercise – Numerous studies indicate that exercise releases endorphins, the relaxing chemicals, which may help to relieve the symptoms of anxiety.
Sleep – A good night’s sleep is absolutely essential to health.
Meditate – Whether you meditate daily or just spend the odd hour in the week, you may find this a useful tool.
Consider the use of a supplement – There are many good supplements that can help to lower stress hormones.
The best supplements to help reduce stress
There are many vitamin and herbal remedies available that are marketed for stress and anxiety; notable examples include St John’s Wort, 5-Hydroxy-tryptophan and B vitamins, however some of these take a long time to work and some contra-indicate with prescribed medication.
If you are suffering from stress and would like to try something natural, I always recommend Magnolia Rhodiola Complex, which has helped many people to cope with the symptoms of stress.
Magnolia Rhodiola Complex contains:
Magnolia and Phellodendron – Magnolia bark extracts have been extensively studied and found to help physically relax muscles and nerves as well as helping to reduce excess levels of stress hormones, notably cortisol. Phellodendron is one of the 50 most important herbs in Chinese medicine. It contains numerous compounds with a variety of benefits including some phytonutrients that have natural mood elevating properties helping to support emotional well being. This combination of herbal extracts may be invaluable to help control stress-related symptoms such as irritability, emotional ups and downs, restlessness, tense muscles, poor sleep and concentration difficulties.
Rhodiola Rosea – Also known as Golden Root, this plant thrives in the cold climates. It is termed an ‘adaptogen‘, which means that it helps to achieve balance within the body. Rhodiola contains active compounds that enhance the transport of serotonin precursors, notably tryptophan and 5-HTP, into the brain and additionally it helps reduce the degradation of mood boosting neurotransmitters. Additional benefits include energy production and immunity support, both of which may be compromised under stress.
L-Theanine – The benefits of green tea are well documented and many people drink green tea for its relaxation effect. This relaxing property can be directly traced to a unique amino acid called ‘L-theanine’, found almost exclusively in tea plants. Research has demonstrated that L-theanine can create a sense of relaxation within 30 minutes of ingestion. It does so by enhancing the formation of another amino acid, which influences levels of dopamine and serotonin. Additionally, this amino acid stimulates the production of alpha waves in the brain which helps create a deep state of relaxation and conversely can aid concentration.
Stress can absolutely devastate your health. If you are dedicated to relieving your stress, improving life, and living longer without stress-related diseases, I believe a ‘big picture approach’ should be taken. Try to address the removal of the stressors if you can, and slowly integrate some of the strategies mentioned above; finally consider the use of Magnolia Rhodiola Complex, a supplement that works to physically relax the body, reduce tension, elevate mood, aid concentration and counter sleep disturbances without any drowsiness.
Caution: Magnolia Rhodiola Complex should not be taken with any mood modifying drugs and is not suitable for use during pregnancy or whilst breast feeding.