Stress. It’s a common event but just how much do you know about it, and how can you boost your resilience?
Our bodies are well adapted to dealing with short-term (acute) stress, it’s the medium/long-term (chronic) stress which can lead to health complications.
Stress can be real or a perceived threat. The threat triggers a “fight or flight” response which triggers a cascade of hormones (including adrenalin) resulting in quickened heart rate, and increased mental alertness.
Cortisol is another hormone that is triggered when stress continues. Cortisol stimulates the release of glucose into the blood to fuel the “fight or flight” response.
When stress becomes too much
Chronic stress can lead to a greater risk of health problems:
- Anxiety, depression
- High blood pressure
- Lowered immunity
- Weight gain
- IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
- Stress and nutrition
The utilisation and excretion of nutrients are greater during stress but often during stress, we don’t eat as well which exaggerates the problem. Ultra-processed foods appear more attractive and a quick solution, but many are devoid of nutrients and are high in fat and sugar.
You may also find stress is disrupting your sleep, which again impacts your food choice. Reduced sleep results in 28% increase in ghrelin (appetite stimulant hormone) and 18% reduction in leptin (appetitive suppressant hormone). The reduced sleep response is one which actively seeks high-energy foods to compensate for the lack of sleep. It is hard to resist.
Poor quality sleep may indeed be a stressor, which also increases cortisol levels.
Good health requires a balance of nutrients and we have reason to believe some nutrients are depleted during chronic stress:
- B vitamins – a variety of nutrients that synergistically work together to support the nervous system response to “fight and flight”, balance neurotransmitters, and also energy to fuel the response. Sources of B vitamins include: eggs, meat, fish, chickpeas, grains, leafy green vegetables.
- Magnesium – known as the relaxing mineral and excreted in urine during stress. A good source of magnesium is Epsom salts which can be added to bath water or soak hands/feet. It is absorbed through the skin. Magnesium sprays and creams are also available.
- Omega-3 – transportation of neurotransmitters. The greatest amounts of omega-3 are found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring) or algal oil.
One more thing to boost resilience
Protein is essential in reducing the glucose highs and lows and can help boost your resilience. These highs and lows can also exacerbate the stress response. Where possible try to include a source of protein with each meal. This will also help you feeling fuller for longer and keep a healthier weight.
I haven’t mentioned caffeine here. Caffeine will trigger the stress response but rather than eliminate it, perhaps moderation is the key. You can find out more about caffeine and the stress response, and how stress can also impact your immunity in my Improving Resilience webinar. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about boosting your employee’s/colleague’s resilience and improve their stress management. Details about the webinars can be found here.