Whether you’re battling work deadlines, fretting over money troubles or dealing with family dramas, stress can play havoc with your health and wellbeing. These days, many of us live under chronic stress and statistics show that 9.9 million working days were lost due to this condition in 2014/15. Symptoms of stress range from anxiety, sleeping problems, heart palpitations and hypertension to fatigue and digestive disorders such as IBS.
As part of the stress response, the body’s adrenal glands release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol to prepare the body for a ‘fight or flight’ situation. Whilst this can help to sharpen our senses and keep us alert, if it occurs on a regular basis this can lead the body to become imbalanced, creating ill health.
So what can we do to tackle chronic stress?
Support your adrenal glands
First of all, a balanced diet of complex carbohydrates, good quality protein, healthy fats plus vitamins and minerals will help to nourish the body and keep you strong and healthy. During times of stress, foods rich in B vitamins are increasingly important to support the adrenal glands. These can be found in whole grains, pulses and vegetables as well as unprocessed protein-rich foods, such as fresh meat, fish and beans. A.Vogel’s nutritional therapist, Alison Cullen, adds: “In addition to B vitamins, eat foods rich in zinc, vitamin C and magnesium for their stress-combating effect. Spinach, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, fish, nuts, beans and whole grains are all deliciously helpful.”
Balance your blood sugar
Often when we feel stressed it can be tempting to reach for sugary and fatty foods that give us a quick burst of energy. However, this is quickly followed by a crash in our blood sugar levels, leaving us feeling worse than before. Nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville says: “Avoid any foods that make your blood sugar rise quickly because as your blood sugar drops again your body releases adrenaline and cortisol to stabilise it once more and you end up in a catch 22 situation.” Dr Glenville recommends eliminating or reducing all added sugar and refined carbohydrates and swapping to whole grain alternatives that release energy slowly. Also, cut out all caffeine and sugary drinks and significantly reduce your alcohol intake. “If you can’t live without your latte make sure you don’t drink it on an empty stomach as it gets straight into the bloodstream and triggers cortisol release,” she adds.
If you feel your stress levels rising, try the following breathing technique suggested by yoga teacher Kirsty Gallagher. “Lie comfortably on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor about hip-distance apart,” says Kirsty. “Place the palm of one hand on your abdomen and breathe comfortably for a few moments. Gradually begin to breathe into your hand, feeling your belly rise with each inhale and release with each exhale. Make the breath as deep, relaxed and smooth as possible, introducing a slight pause after each in-breath and out-breath.” Kirsty recommends continuing in this way for around 10 breaths.