Give Stress a Rest
Stress can become such a part of daily life, that most of us don’t even realize how much it is affecting us. Stress is the underlying mechanism of almost all disease. Constant stress causes blood flow to hasten and become turbulent, damaging blood vessels and instigating heart disease. It keeps your body in “flight or fight” mode where it is prepared to escape the threat. When this is triggered, digestion is sub-optimal, leading to tons of gastroenterological discomfort such as heartburn, bloating and constipation. Stress causes cortisol to be pumped at high levels. Originally intended to help us with times of disease or famine, cortisol is not meant to be surging on a constant basis. Long term elevation of this hormone leads to obesity, decreased immune function, and insulin resistance not to mention that being stressed just doesn’t plain feel good. How many people have gotten to the point where life is just about the grind: constant worry about finances, jobs, etc.?
The big message here is that living a healthier, happier life will take some change on a daily level. The occasional mani pedi or massage is not going to reset all the stress your body is under. It is about living a healthier lifestyle on a daily basis; prioritizing time to include self- care, rest, food, and play. It doesn’t matter what the current situation is, there’s always something you can do to help support yourself. Here are some tips of things you can do at home:
1. You are what you eat. Your body makes itself from the nutrients you put into it. Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates all go towards making bones, blood, brain chemicals, and energy. When you eat like crap you feel like crap, plain and simple. Eat real food and limit the carbohydrates that spike blood sugar and cortisol. Give food the time it deserves! Take a moment to sit, slow down, eat a meal, and connect with your loved ones. Nourish yourself.
2. High stress levels will deplete your vitamins and minerals more quickly, so adding more to your regimen will help benefit your health.
Vitamin C: We are one of only a few mammals that doesn’t produce its own vitamin C. This is also a water soluble vitamin so it is not stored in the body for any length of time. It is found in fresh fruits and vegetables (cooking and storage reduces it), which is why the historic sailors would die of scurvy after too long at sea. It is important in the formation of collagen, keeping our bones, skin, joints, and eyes strong. It is integral in keeping our bodies healthy by taking care of destructive free radicals that are produced throughout the day. Vitamin C also is essential in the production of many neurotransmitters and hormones. It gets used up when we are stressed and exposed to a lot of toxins (like cigarettes or chemicals) which is why these things make us look older much faster.
Magnesium: well known for calming the mind and the muscles. We generally don’t get enough in our diet because food processing removes much of this mineral and low intake has been associated with depression and anxiety. It is important in a wide variety of functions in the body, including the action of vitamin D, bone strength, and insulin secretion. Magnesium is fairly safe to take if you are relatively healthy, but it can interact with some medications, so check with your doctor to be sure. It can also be found in topical applications and this is a great way to relax tense muscles ensuring a more comfortable night’s sleep.
3. Calm those nerves. The simple act of making a cup of tea at night will help you reconnect with yourself and unwind from the day’s activities. Chamomile, passionflower, and oat are some wonderful herbs that help relax the nervous system and are found in many common tea blends.
Adaptogenic herbs will help support your adrenal gland (the one that has been working overtime pumping out all those stress hormones). Ashwagandha is very calming and is helpful for those who are stressed and not sleeping well at night. Siberian ginseng helps with endurance and stamina. I think of it as a comforting warm blanket when you are worn out and run down.
4. Sleep. This is the time when your body fixes itself; it is essential to health. Burning the candle at both ends is going to result in a short candle very quickly and not do anybody any good. Schedule time to rest your body and your mind and have some fun.
5. Exercise. A walk in the woods, a yoga or dance class, whatever gets your body moving. Bodies are meant to move; and when they don’t, things get stuck, sluggish, sticky, and sick (and that goes for the mind too.)
6. Practice mindfulness. YOU have the power over your own mind! Not the other way around. YOU choose how you want to feel. It takes practice and the more you realize it, the easier it will get. It is perfectly acceptable to say: “Hey (insert emotion here), I appreciate your insights, but this is not how I want to feel right now. You are just one of many feelings I have and I am not letting you have the driver’s seat and upstage all the other emotions.” Reframe your reaction and pick another feeling to focus on. Rename those feelings; that fear? It’s exhilaration! Practice gratitude and spend your precious time thinking about the abundance and good things surrounding you. This creates a feedback loop of increasing positive energy. Change what you can, let go of what you can’t. Love yourself, and remember it takes practice to change these thought processes.
Sound overwhelming? You do not have to do this alone! We are all struggling to make this thing called life work. There are people out here who can help you with medicine, advice, or a quiet ear. Find the support you need and what works for you, whether it be acupuncture, counseling, physical training, etc.
Dr. Kimberly Zurich is a Naturopathic doctor and board-certified acupuncturist. She owns Infuse Health Clinic where she provides personalized healthcare using acupuncture, herbal medicine and nutrition. She helps people with emotional and physical pain feel at home in their body again. She also specializes in women’s health, helping women navigate menopause comfortably. Want to know more? Contact Dr. Zurich: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article contains general information about health and is not intended to be advice or directions for treatment. If you have a medical condition, contact your health provider.