Stress can manifest itself in different ways. While our bodies have systems in place to cope with stress, constantly feeling stressed can cause problems. Do you ever:
- Wake up after a restless night’s sleep feeling groggy and tired?
- Feel overwhelmed by all the things on your to-do list – school drop-offs, work, grocery shopping – and feel your heart racing?
- Get home after a hectic day at work, a trip to the gym and the busy supermarket, and fall onto the couch with a glass of wine in one hand and some chocolate in the other?
- Go to bed exhausted but still wired, struggling to turn your brain off?
- Feel like you just can’t escape the feeling of busyness and stress?
If the above sounds familiar and you’re constantly feeling stressed, it could indicate an imbalance in the body. To understand what this means and how stress affects our body, we first need to look at the part of our body that controls our response to stress – our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). Watch this video for a simple crash course explanation on our ANS:
In summary your ANS runs all the involuntary mechanisms of the body not under your conscious control, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, respiration and body temperature. There are 2 branches of the ANS; the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Our sympathetic nervous system encompasses the adrenaline-fueled ‘fight or flight’ system that gets triggered by any type of stress, whether emotional or physical. Whereas your parasympathetic nervous system is your ‘rest and digest’ system that controls relaxation, comfort and rest.
So stress activates the sympathetic nervous system and the ‘fight or flight’ response. If your body is constantly stressed it is said to be in a ‘Sympathetic Dominant’ state. This state can lead to some of the following mental, emotional and physical challenges:
- Chronic digestive issues such as bloating, stomach pain, diarrhoea, constipation, not digesting food properly, etc.
- Feeling wired but tired
- Experiencing anxiety or panic attacks
- Unable to mentally slow down
- Feeling constantly ‘rushed’
- Feeling like you have to constantly be doing something
- Dilated pupils
- Fast pulse
- Lowered immunity
- Increased blood pressure and blood sugar
- Increased sweating
- Shoulder and neck muscle tightness
- Constant fatigue
Christmas can be particularly stressful – social calendars start to overflow with invitations to end of year concerts and parties, school holidays are upon us, relatives are making plans to visit and there are things to sort out at work before the new year. We all respond to stress differently and you may feel as though there’s nothing you can do about it. But there are steps you can take to relieve the pressure and help reduce the harmful effects of stress. Consider these 10 tips to get you started:
- Know your limits and learn to say ‘No’. Don’t say yes to commitments or projects you know you can’t handle or feel obliged to take on board. Remember you can’t please everyone.
- Make stress management a priority – think diet, sleep, exercise, meditation, time alone, and time with family and pets. Make time to do something you love every single day.
- Aim to get 15 minutes of sunshine each day and immerse yourself in nature as much as you can.
- Reduce your exposure to negative marketing, media and news by limiting your use of TV, radio, newspapers and social media. If you’re following people on Instagram or Facebook that don’t make you feel good about yourself, unfollow them as they could be adding to the negativity and stress you feel.
- Try and stop worrying so much! Many things in life are beyond our control. Focus on life’s positives by cultivating gratitude, empathy and acceptance.
- Learn to express your feelings instead of bottling them up before they explode. You could also try keeping a journal so you can start pinpointing your stressors.
- Take an Epsom salt or magnesium salt bath with a couple of drops of lavender essential oil. This helps to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
- Put on your favourite music and dance, or put on some headphones, zone out and listen to some relaxing music or a guided meditation.
- Get enough good quality sleep. Feeling tired increases your stress levels, can make you feel irritable and snappy and may make you think and behave irrationally.
- Nourish your body well. What we eat also plays a huge part in how we feel physically and mentally, so make sure to choose wisely. For example, instead of reaching for that chocolate bar, try a real chocolate fix instead.
The following blogs will provide you with additional tips on how you can manage your stress levels and get back into the parasympathetic (rest and digest) state:
- 8 De-stressing Techniques That Aren’t Meditation
- Adaptogen Herbs – Nature’s Stress & Fatigue Fighters
How do you cope with stress? Do you have any tips you’d like to share?
Nutritionist & GAPS Practitioner