I saw a quote recently that said “Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it”. Stress is now so ingrained in our culture but what is it? A stressor is defined as anything that causes stress to an organism. When faced with a stressor, our body reacts with a “fight or flight” response, causing a surge of chemicals and immune cells. This is perfect if we need to get out of the way of an oncoming car but excessive stress over long periods of time increases our immune system activity and eventually depletes our resources, impairing the function of the immune system. The aim is not to completely avoid pressure but to find a balance.
Common sense tells us to take a look at the causes of our stress and find ways to use the stressors in our lives that can boost productivity and efficiency and to minimize others. Professor Kerryn Phelps suggests a triage system as employed in hospitals. If you are under pressure and not managing stress well, your body is reacting to everything as a high level emergency. A personal triage system allows us to prioritise situations and give them the level of attention they need. She suggests asking the following questions:
- Is this situation a bona fide emergency?
- Will this problem matter in a year or two?
- Is this a battle I need to take on right now?
- Is this my problem or someone else’s responsibility?
- What is the most important task right now?
- What do I have to do, or what help do I need, to get this task done?
- Is the timeframe I have set realistic for what needs to be accomplished?
Once our priorities are in order, we can start to move forward. A positive lifestyle will support your progress. Practically any form of exercise helps you to manage stress, release endorphins and lift mood. Improved fitness will help you achieve your goals. Relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, tai chi and cognitive behaviour therapy can also be useful.
Our diet is crucial to performing at our best, so …
- Eat breakfast
- Eat regularly and often
- Stop eating foods you are sensitive to
- Drink plenty of water
- Increase protein, fruit, vegetables and fibre
- Reduce high GI carbohydrates and processed foods
A daily multi-vitamin can be helpful to boost your nutrient levels but other supplements may also be needed. Many people suffering from anxiety or long term stress will have low levels of magnesium. Magnesium is thought to support normal functioning of smooth muscle cells and deficiency affects the body's ability to carry oxygen in the blood and may lead to headaches, jitteriness and poor sleep. Our Hawke’s Bay soils are depleted of the mineral, adding to the problem.
Our need for Vitamin B increases in times of stress so supplementing with a complex can boost our energy levels. Co-enzyme Q10 and spirulina also help many people. My newest favourite herb is rhodiola, an adaptogen to boost energy and stamina.
Healthy sleep A good night’s sleep is vital for our health, energy levels and ability to perform. Sleep restores our body mentally and physically. So here are 10 tips to improve your sleep …
- Make your bedroom a sleep haven, lovely and dark, quiet, cool and comfy
- Practice relaxation techniques
- Have a good sleeping routine and if you do have to pinch back some sleep time in the week, pay it back at another time
- Watch the sunset for a beautiful way to stimulate melatonin levels
- Turn TVs and computers off an hour before bed
- Eat protein, keep up levels of vitamin Bs, eat smaller meals of non-spicy and non-acidic foods at night
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening
- Quit smoking
- Exercise for 20-30 minutes a day - yoga is a great option
- Write down your worries.
Tart cherry supplements can be useful to help getting off to sleep and/or staying asleep. They contain high levels of naturally occurring phytonutrients to help regulate and support a deep, restful sleep.