In a society that glorifies business, it is no surprise that a majority of people now report feeling stressed and having trouble sleeping on a daily basis.
Our bodies are simply not designed to keep up with the constant bombardment of stress triggers that we are exposed to, whether that be a work email, an overdue bill or an argument. This poses an issue as the body struggles to differentiate between the various forms of stress. Consequently, it produces the same response each time, regardless of whether you are in a life-threatening situation or just struggling to meet a looming work deadline. While the body's stress response is incredibly valuable in survival situations where it provides quick energy and focus, it is not designed to be consistently triggered. You can now see why the chronic stress we experience today is causing such a large burden on our health.
Stress can be defined as any demand on the body to adjust, which may be caused by physical trauma, emotional reactions or chemical toxins. When we perceive a situation as stressful, the body triggers its stress response and goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode. When this is triggered, the adrenals glands release adrenaline and various other stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones then trigger the release of stored glucose back into the bloodstream to give us a quick burst of energy. They also dilate our pupils to broaden vision and increase heart rate and blood pressure to pump blood to our muscles allowing for a fast escape. At the same time, our non-essential functions like digestion and reproduction are suppressed. While this response is incredibly helpful when in real physical danger, prolonged stress is detrimental to our health. It often results in sleep abnormalities and, long term, increases the risk of certain diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.
Although stress is often unavoidable, there are a number of natural remedies which can help to reduce the impact that stress has on our health.
What we perceive as stressful varies dramatically between individuals. It may be triggered by any of the following: work, financial situation, family or relationship troubles, emotional trauma, health issues, extreme exercise, dangerous situations or environmental toxicity. Other impacting factors include nutrient deficiencies, excessive caffeine intake, obesity or hormonal imbalances.
- Inability to sleep (insomnia)
- Disturbed sleep - constantly tossing and turning
- Wake up feeling tired
- Reliance on caffeine for energy and brain function
- Feeling tired but wired
- Craving sugar, particularly around the 3:00 p.m. slump
- Regular fatigue
- Poor concentration or brain fog
- Tension headaches
- Weight gain, even if your diet remains the same
- Loss of libido
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Short, shallow breathing
- Crave alcohol at night to ‘wind down’
Nutritional Guidelines for Healing
- Keep Sugar Cravings At Bay - Often, when we are stressed, we crave sweets and treats, especially mid-afternoon. You can avoid this by balancing your blood sugar levels throughout the day. To do this, simply include quality whole food sources of fat, protein and fiber in your meals. Here are a few examples of food sources that contain these compounds:
--- Quality protein sources such as tempeh, free-range eggs, grass-fed poultry, nuts and plant-based protein powders.
--- Good fat sources such as avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, olive oil and grass-fed butter.
--- High fiber food sources such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Having a wholefood diet also helps to correct any nutrient deficiencies which may be present. If this seems a bit overwhelming and you’re unsure how to get started, let us guide you with our 21 Day Food Matters Clean Eating Program.
- Antioxidant Superfoods - Drink green tea daily and enjoy berries regularly as snacks. These foods are rich in antioxidants, which help to counteract free radicals in the body. This is important as stress releases free radicals in the body which can damage cells and, if left unchecked, can contribute to the formation of certain diseases.
- Cut Caffeine - Take a break from coffee, black tea and soda for 8 weeks. Caffeine triggers adrenaline to be released into the body, eliciting a ‘fight or flight’ response. This can have huge long term health effects, particularly if you are consuming multiple caffeinated beverages a day. Try a dandelion root latte. This is a beautiful alternative to coffee that has a similar flavor profile but actually supports liver detoxification rather than placing a burden on it (1).
- Take a break from alcohol - Alcohol has a detrimental effect on the liver, brain, and glucose regulation, and interferes with normal sleep cycles. Alcohol also increases oxidative stress and causes the depletion of glutathione, which is a powerful antioxidant. Although many people think that alcohol has a calming effect on the body, studies have shown that the consumption of alcohol significantly increases feelings of anxiety and disturbs sleep cycles by causing us to wake when our blood-alcohol levels start to fall. (2).
Herbal, Superfood & Supplement Therapy
- Magnesium - Take 500 mg of magnesium chelate before bed each night. Magnesium is vital for energy production and stress regulation. It is also involved in over 300 processes in the body, many of which relate to the brain. As such, deficiencies are associated with mental disorders such as fatigue, loss of concentration, headaches, depression, insomnia and irritability (3). As it is often deficient from our food supply, it is good to utilize a good quality supplement (4).
- B vitamins - Take an activated B Vitamin complex with meals, specifically B5 (150 - 300 mg/day), B6 (20 - 100 mg/day) and B12 (500 - 2000 mcg/day). B vitamins are essential in times of stress, as it depletes the body of these vitamins. In particular vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid, is essential for the production of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and therefore is needed in higher amounts during stressful periods. Also, Vitamin B6 and B12 help to reduce stress levels by regulating mood and sleep (5).
- Vitamin C - Take 150 mg of a wholefood Vitamin C powder daily. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps support the immune system and combats free radical damage. Studies suggest that high doses of vitamin C can reduce physical and emotional stress by inhibiting the release of stress hormones (6).
- Essential Fatty Acids - Take 1 g of DHA in a combined formula daily. Research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids are effective in regulating mood and in the prevention of stress (7). It also has an adaptogenic and anti-inflammatory effect during times of stress (8)
- Adrenal Herbs - With the guidance of a herbalist, take some adrenal support herbs like Siberian Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, Rhodiola and Withania. They have long been used in naturopathic medicine for their adaptive capabilities through modulation of hormones and neurotransmitters. Adaptogenic herbs provide support and nourishment for the adrenals when the body is under stress. Rhodiola rosea has been found to decrease cortisol response in stressed patients and improve mental, physical and emotional fatigue (9). Experimental studies have also confirmed traditional knowledge that Korean Ginseng can increase the body’s resistance to a number of stressors (10).
- Take time out daily - Practice yoga, meditation or deep breathing for at least 30 minutes each day.It is important that we consciously slow down on a daily basis and allow our body the chance to switch to ‘rest & digest’ mode, which has the exact opposite effect within the body to the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is when the body focuses on restorative functions like sleep, digestion and reproduction.
- Practice Gratitude - When we are ‘busy’ it is easy for us to get bogged down, complain a lot and feel sorry for ourselves. Being grateful can put us in a very different state of mind. Taking some time out to be mindful of things we are grateful for (big or small) can really help us appreciate what we have. Start a new ritual of writing down or saying out loud each day three things you are grateful for and watch your perspective change.
- Sleep in a darkened room - This supports the body’s natural hormonal patterns to send you off to sleep and to keep you that way.
- Avoid bright lights before bed - Avoid bright lights for at least 2 hours before bed, where possible. This includes the lights on your phone, ipad, computer or television. Bright light can alter your circadian rhythm, which is essentially our body clock that determines when we go to sleep and wake up. This rhythm is determined by melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. Levels of this hormone are determined by the amount of light entering the retina - when it is dark, production commences and when it is light, it ceases.
- Find a way to relax before bed - Often a bath, a cup of herbal tea, a book, some light stretching or even some slow deep breaths can help to clear your mind and enable you to fall into a deeper sleep.
- Get to sleep by 10:00 pm - Most of the body’s repair work is done prior to 3:00 am so the more sleep you can get before this time, the fresher and more vital you will feel on waking.
- Check your sleep hygiene - If your bed is over 10 years old or pillows are over 2 years old, consider replacing them. Dust and mold can accumulate in this time and seriously impact your health and sleep quality. You can read more about this here.
- Keep the temperature in the bedroom at a comfortable level - Don’t overheat with piles of blankets and keep some fresh air coming into the room during the night.
- Acupuncture - Acupuncture is a procedure that involves the stimulation of specific points along the body’s meridians by inserting fine metallic needles into the skin. Along with other complementary medicines, acupuncture aims to balance the body, mind and spirit and encourages the body’s self-healing capabilities. Acupuncture can bring about a sense of relaxation and is recommended in times of stress (11).
Sleep is often the first thing to go when we are stressed and busy. You think you can just ‘get by’ with five hours sleep and you’ll be fine, right? WRONG! We need sleep to function well. It is absolutely vital for our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. Getting good-quality sleep (and enough of it) should be as high on your priority list as regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Today we know more about the science of sleep than ever before and how important it is to every aspect of our wellbeing. However, getting enough sleep seems harder and harder. It’s also the delusion that overwork, stress and burnout are the inevitable prices we must pay in order to succeed.
It is so important to schedule maximum quality sleep time for yourself if you want to start feeling amazing from the inside out. Rather than trudging through your day, wake up feeling calm, clear, joyful, focused, productive and happy. There is a new kind of normal.
Ready to make a change but not sure where to start? Take your pick from a range of inspiring programs tailored to your specific goals. Our guided programs include everything from meal plans, guided meditations, sleep, cleansing and more. They'll support and empower you to improve your health and be the best you can be!
The Food Matters Clean Eating Program
Our in-house nutritionists have designed this program to help you regain your confidence in the kitchen, take the overwhelm out of cooking, and help you reset your mind and body over 21 days. Learn how to prepare nutrient-dense meals that the whole family can enjoy with meal plans, shopping lists, helpful nutrition tips, and more.Find Out More
At Food Matters we believe that education is an essential aspect to any healing process. The more we know, the more we are empowered to make change and understand how to decode the messages our bodies are telling us. Here are some suggested resources for you to check out to support you on this journey.
Hungry for Change
Your Health is in Your Hands
Hungry For Change exposes shocking secrets the diet, weight loss, and food industry don't want you to know about; deceptive strategies designed to keep you coming back for more. Find out what's keeping you from having the body and health you deserve, and how to escape the diet trap forever.Read More
1. West J Med. 1992 Nov; 157(5): 544–553.
2. Alcohol Res. 2012; 34(4): 414–431.
3. Cuciureanu, Magda & Vink, Robert. Magnesium and stress. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System. 2011; 251-268.
4. Cuciureanu, Magda & Vink, Robert. Magnesium and stress. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System. 2011; 251-268.
5. Nutrients. 2016 Feb; 8(2): 68.
6. University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). 2014.
7. J Nutr Health Aging. 2005;9(1):31-8.
8. Nutrition Journal. 2004; 3: 20.
9. Planta Med. 2009 Feb;75(2):105-12.
10. Fitoterapia. 2000; 71: S1-S5.
11. J Altern Complement Med. 2007 Oct; 13(8): 807–815.
This article is provided for your general information only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional advice, particularly medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek medical advice from a qualified health practitioner which takes into account your personal circumstances, general health and medical conditions.