According to the Mental Health Foundation, 13.3 million working days are lost per year due to stress, depression and anxiety in the UK.
Nutritionist Cassandra Barns and Dr Marilyn Glenville PHD, one of the UK’s leading Nutritionists, (www.marilynglenville.co.uk) discuss how we can look after ourselves and put our health first in times of stress…
Have a laugh
Believe it or not, there is truth to the phrase ‘laughter is the best medicine.’ Marilyn explains, “Having a laugh is one of the best remedies for stress – it triggers healthy changes in our body. Many studies show that laughter boosts our energy, decreases stress hormones, improves immunity and diminishes pain. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the natural feel-good chemicals that make us happier and relaxed.”
When we experience stressful situations in our lives whether it be at work or at home, we can develop a tendency to skip meals or reach for sugary, comfort food. However, at these times it can be more important than ever to make sure we take care of ourselves and eat the right foods.
Keep it small
Marilyn explains, “Balancing blood sugar is essential in lowering stress because the crashes in sugar levels which happen through the day (due to go long periods without food and not eating the right foods) stimulates the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol to be released. So ensure you have a small meal every 2-3 hours that contains protein (eat breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a snack mid morning and one mid afternoon). For example, a hard-boiled egg, 10-12 almonds, a small can of tuna and brown rice. This will help in stopping those roller-coaster highs and cravings for sweet foods.
Ditch the caffeine
“There’s no denying that caffeine can give you a boost of energy. But caffeine actually has a stress-like effect on the body, including raising your levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline. This means that if you’re already stressed or anxious, it can make things worse. So cutting down will likely be helpful.
Making sure your supplement savvy can help get your smile shining. Marilyn explains, “Certain nutrients can be very helpful in reducing stress levels, such as B vitamins, especially B5 for stress relief and energy, chromium for blood sugar balance, L-theanine for reducing anxiety and finally Siberian Ginseng, which acts as a tonic to the adrenal glands.
If you feel like you can’t escape from your mounting worries, it might be worth lacing up and leaving the house for a 20-minute run?
If you choose to get active here are Cassandra’s tips, “Getting the balance right is important when it comes to exercise. Exercise stimulates release of endorphins, which make us feel happy and relaxed afterwards. Getting enough exercise can also help us sleep better, which then helps us to cope with stress.
However, if you’re very stressed, take care with the types and duration of exercise you choose. It may be best to avoid endurance exercise such as long-distance running, or very high intensity exercise such as spinning classes – unless these involve short intervals of high intensity with longer periods of rest. Intense exercise can have a negative effect of raising your levels of stress hormones and making you more anxious, stressed and tired.
Another element that can elude us when we’re stressed but is immensely important for our health is sleep. Cassandra explains, “A good night’s sleep can be a great stress-reliever. Unfortunately, of course, sleeping well can be easier said than done when you’re already stressed or anxious. Do what you can to get to bed early enough to get seven to eight hours’ sleep, make sure your bedroom is a calming environment, and set up a good wind-down routine in the evening, such as taking a warm bath.
One of the most common feelings associated with stress is lack of control, and sometimes even that stress is managing you rather than you having any control over it. Often, even the smallest exercise like sitting down and making a list of your priorities, and how you can manage them, can help clear your mind. Marilyn reminds us, “If you feel the symptoms of stress coming on, learn to get your priorities right. There is nothing in your life right now more important than your health. Learn to say no if you feel that you have taken on too much. Being assertive is invigorating and empowering. It also helps to make lists of what is or is not a priority and to tackle the priority tasks first. This will help give you a sense of control over your life.”