National Stress Awareness Day
Without a doubt, almost everyone has experienced some level of stress this year, and with the second lockdown set to begin tomorrow, it’s likely that on some level, this will continue.
What is stress?
‘Stress can be defined as ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances’
We all have daily pressures placed on us, this pressure then becomes stress when we feel unable to cope which is why a situation that feels stressful to one person may be motivating to someone else.
The stress response triggers high levels of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, we call this the ‘fight or flight’ response. In short, these stress hormones signal to your body that you are in an emergency situation. This induces a temporary increase in energy production at the expense of processes that are not required for immediate survival. This can have deleterious effects on weight, immune function, and chronic disease risk.
One effect of excess cortisol levels is that it keeps the body in a catabolic state, which interferes with tissue repair and can result in the loss of muscle tissue.
Cortisol and adrenaline also use up significant amounts of vitamin C, B-vitamins, magnesium and zinc, because your body perceives this as an ‘emergency’ situation and directs the hormones to take priority over the body’s normal use for these nutrients.
Some of the effects of this include; reduced vitamin C and zinc available for collagen production which has a role in keeping skin clear and the production of white blood cells to fend off infections. Reduction in availability of B-vitamins for energy production and mental function, as well as depleted magnesium levels which increase the likelihood of headaches and raises blood pressure.
‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’- Hippocrates.
This famous quote rings true on this topic, adequate nutrition can be used to prevent and manage stress.
Foods to eat to help manage your stress levels
- Whole grains (complex carbohydrates) as well as being rich sources of B-vitamins, carbohydrate sources prompt the brain to produce serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ hormone, which leads to a boosted mood, which can negate the effects of a stressful situation.
- Citrus fruits, as well as berries and kiwifruit which are rich in Vitamin C can support the immune system, as well as help cortisol levels return to normal more quickly after a stressful situation.
- Green leafy veg, such as spinach and kale will help build up magnesium stores, too little of which can trigger headaches and fatigue compounding the effects of stress.
- Lean meat, seafood and dairy, contribute zinc to the diet which has been shown to contribute to healthy immune function.
Other ways of reducing stress
- Sleep. A growing body of research supports the links between sleep, immune function and inflammation. Lack of sleep is thought to detrimentally affect host defence mechanisms and heighten susceptibility to pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms) and increased inflammation. Sleep deprivation causes interference with many of the body’s biological processes and systems – all, in turn, will have a negative effect on your health. So whilst you have the time, make sure you get those hours in!
- Gentle Exercise. Gentle exercise can be great at helping us to reduce stress, as it releases endorphins and improves our sense of self-efficacy. No matter how much you’re dreading going for that run, or doing that online class, you always feel better afterwards.
- Fresh Air. Research has shown that getting outside into green spaces whenever possible is great for our mental health. Go for a walk or a run. Whilst obviously keeping your distance from others, do whatever you enjoy.
- Do what makes YOU feel good. Undoubtedly 2020 has thrown us some curveballs, that none of us have ever had to experience before. Everyone will respond differently, and everyone will find different ways to manage the situation. That’s ok, we are all individuals, and what works for some might not work for others. So, whether you want to curl up with a book, go for a long run everyday, start a new side hustle, or simply cozy up to Netflix with an entire tub of ice cream - don’t stress about it and just make sure you enjoy it to the best of your ability!
The Take Home Message.
We can’t always avoid stress in our lives, but by eating foods and instilling habits which can help us to manage our stress reaction, we can reduce the negative effects of stress on the body, giving us one less thing to worry about!
Fresh Fitness Food provides personalised meals plans delivered straight to your door, ensuring not only that you have the nutrients you need to manage your stress levels, but also that you have the time usually spent shopping, cooking and washing up, to engage in your favourite stress reducing activity. To discuss which nutrition plan is right for you, book a call with our in-house nutrition team here.