Managing stress for better health
AN increasing number of people are beginning to understand the importance of actively taking charge of their dietary choices if they intend to increase their chances of a relatively healthy, pain-free and full life.
Generally, most people understand what is required. This includes consistently avoiding overly refined foods, eating a balanced diet of natural foods in moderation, and maintaining physical activity. There are, however, other elements which will make or break your efforts, such as sleep, emotional factors, your environment, and stress.
Contrary to popular belief, stress can be good for you. This form of stress is termed eustress and can improve immunity, cognitive brain function, reflex, instinct, build motivation, increase problem solving, and more. A single speech, an amusement ride, scary movie, exercise, moving, travel and more are all examples of good stressors.
Bad stress, termed distress, is well known to play a role in illness, but it is lesser - known that in many cases stress also plays a role in weight gain. The presence of stress — be it chronic, a consistent unyielding condition, or acute, based on a single event — leads to reduced levels of serotonin and dopamine, which may lead to depression.
Stress will result in elevated levels of cortisol, our “stress hormone”. Our system will be pushed out of balance when cortisol levels are too high for too long. This will be observed in chronic stress cases and biological functions, including sleep, sex drive, energy, appetite, and mood, can be adversely affected.
This imbalance can lead to a loss of appetite, which can be quite damaging or can trigger overeating in your body's attempt to recreate a balance. The reactions are conceptually straightforward. simply put, your body does not understand modern stress and believes you must either be having a difficult hunt or you are fighting for your life. To counter that, it is attempting to replenish your caloric stores, and, since your feel-good hormone (dopamine) levels are suppressed, your body will crave dopamine releasers, and there enters the fatty sugary foods.
Naturally this dangerous eating, left alone, will easily become a habit, dictating and damaging your future.
Sadly, much of our stress will seem unavoidable, such as working conditions, home environment, relationship issues, and national level stressors such as noise pollution, insufficient green/open spaces, your daily commute, inactivity and more. Having said that, you must always find and embrace ways to manage your stressors. Do your research, find techniques which may help you on your reduced stress journey and actively, consistently work at de-stressing.
One or more of the following recommendations may be a good place for you to start:
• Eat a proper diet: A healthy lifestyle will feel completely counter-intuitive when you are under stress, but indulge yourself in what is healthy and tasty. Weight loss should not even be the issue at this time. Stress-motivated eating is a sure way to compound your problems, not unlike taking heroine in a foolish attempt to wash away the sadness.
• Exercise: Stress from exercise is something your body can understand. Exercise will trigger all your internal stress management systems, releasing endorphins and improving your mood — just don't overdo it.
• Laugh: Watch a comedy, go to a play, listen to a humorous podcast or YouTube video, or hang with friends. Laughter releases endorphins, which are your brain's painkillers.
• Listen to music: Calm and soothing music reduces cortisol and lowers blood pressure.
• No negative self-talk: Talk to yourself in the same manner as you would to a loved one who you are encouraging. The health benefits of positive thinking range from reduced depression, less distress, improved immune responses, and better coping skills.
• Plan your sleep: Sleep well. this is such an enormously important point that enough can't be said here. The one point which must be made can be paraphrased from a NASA research paper: Anyone who believes they can do well with less than six to eight hours of sleep is deluding themselves.
• Get emotional support: Make use of healthy friends, family or professional support. Reach out and touch base. spend time relating to another person, especially in trying times. The more you don't feel to, the more you probably should. Even spending time with your pets have been proven to be helpful.
• Have tea, regularly: Green tea and herbal teas have been shown to alleviate the effects of stress, as they calm the nervous system. Being filled with beneficial antioxidants is also a great benefit.
• Meditate: Be mindful, as “new-agey” as this sounds, it has actually been the subject of several research papers, and the benefits are clear and significant. Find a method which is convenient and sustainable for you and give it a fair chance. Even the use of soothing scents may be a great start.
• Reduce caffeine: If you have little to no chronic stress in your life and you really love coffee then, perhaps, leave it alone. But if you are distressed, understand that caffeine is a stimulant which may increase your stress responses.
• Write: Write down everything in a journal. recording and focusing your thoughts has been used to help many people manage their reactions.
• Deep breathing: This is simplicity itself and may seem pointless to some but deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your relaxation pathways.
The importance of actively regulating your stress-based biological reactions cannot be overstated. It is the difference between contentment and distress, health and illness, optimal and non-optimal fat levels, and even life or death. You may not be able to choose the stressors in your life, but you can consciously choose your balances.
Fitz-George Rattray is the director of Intekai Academy, which is focused on helping people live a healthy lifestyle through nutrition and weight management. If you are interested in losing weight or living a healthier lifestyle, give them a call at 968-8238, or visit their website at intekaiacademy.org .