Chronic stress can affect almost every aspect of life – from mind and mood, to appearance and overall wellbeing. Whilst there’s little we can do about exposure to stressors, the way in which we manage stress and the impact it has on our lives can help to protect our physical and mental health. Read on to discover six healthful habits that will help you cope with stress and minimise its impact on how you look and feel, for a happier and healthier you!
Balance your Biology with Adaptogens
Stress is always going to play a part in our lives, there’s little we can do about that! But remember, sometimes the things which cause us stress are also very rewarding and important – arranging a wedding, going for that big promotion and buying a house are all good examples. So, it’s unrealistic to think that anything will take stressors away – instead we need to make sure that our body is best equipped to deal with stress. What’s more, we need to make sure that stress is managed before it accumulates to become chronic stress. Using adaptogens is one way you can help to fine-tune your body and optimise your biology to cope better with the many effects of stress. Let’s explore…
1. What Are Adaptogens? – The clue is in the name! Adaptogens are powerful plants and functional foods which help to re-calibrate the body’s natural state – helping it to adapt to its environment. They are natural botanical medicines that have been shown to have therapeutic effects in relation to stress – directly influencing the adrenal glands which produce stress hormones. Adaptogens are used with the aim of achieving something called ‘homeostasis’ – our natural state of balance, stability and equilibrium.
Using adaptogens will work best for those who follow a healthy lifestyle – getting the right nutrition, rest and exercise – which leads us nicely into the remaining healthy habits!
Nourish to Flourish!
We all know the importance of diet for overall health and wellbeing, but what we eat can also directly influence how we respond to stress. Aside from functional botanicals such as adaptogens, there are also some changes you can make to your regular food intake to reduce stress. Optimising nutritional status is one way you can minimise the effects of stress on the body and mind, here’s how…1. Food for Thought – Many nutrients have been shown to have brain-boosting qualitites. Things like Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals all help to improve memory, cognition and focus – minimising the impact of stress on brain performance and preventing stress-related conditions such as brain fog. The right nutrition can also help to improve decision-making and problem-solving ability, something which often suffers at the hands of chronic stress.
Make Sleep a Priority
Think of sleep as your physical and emotional reset button! As you drift off into the world of nod, your body begins to banish stress hormones, rest and rejuvenate. In the modern world sleep deprivation has become the norm, with many an Instagram influencer proudly proclaiming, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” In fact, around 60% of women regularly fall short of the recommended 7-9 hours’ sleep per night. Stress has been shown to decrease both sleep duration and quality of sleep; and lack of sleep has been found to be the most prominent symptom of stress. So, it’s clear that stress and sleep go hand-in-hand! Here’s what you can do to live a life with less stress and more sleep.1. Darken Down your Evenings – We are all guilty of checking our emails and social media accounts far more than is necessary. Using devices like phones and laptops after a certain time has been shown to keep us awake late into the night. That’s because they emit an artificial blue light which messes with our melatonin levels, the hormone which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Switching off your devices around two hours before bedtime will encourage a deeper sleep that is more effective at processing those pesky stress hormones.
Maximise your Movement
There’s no denying the many benefits of exercise for reducing stress levels. Studies have shown that exercise is correlated with significantly lower perceived stress levels in women. The positive effects of moving more on physical and mental health can often outweigh and overcome the negative impacts of stress. But maximising your movement doesn’t have to mean 5am bootcamps or slogging it at the gym every day! Here are some simple suggestions to help you move more and stress less…1. Go Beyond the Gym – If you don’t love the gym then forcing yourself to go
may in fact raise stress levels, the opposite of what we are trying to achieve! Exercise doesn’t have to mean fitness classes and gym equipment – any way of incorporating more movement into your everyday is beneficial. Healthy hobbies have been shown to provide some vital me-time that can reduce stress and the impact it has on overall health. So, for a double-whammy stress busting effect why not find a hobby that involves exercise?
Optimise Gut Health
The gut is an intelligent organ that is in constant communication with the brain via something called the Gut-Brain Axis (GBA to you and me!) There are around 500 million neurons in the gut, all designed to process and transmit information to the brain. This communication is bidirectional, with the brain sending messages to the gut too – that explains some of the physical symptoms stress can cause – diarrhoea, stomach cramps and nausea to name a few! Looking after your gut health should be a priority for overall wellbeing but can specifically reduce the negative effects of stress too. Let’s take a look at what you can do to boost gut health and better manage stress.1. Focus on Fibre – In the UK most people do not get enough fibre from their diet, with women getting just over half the recommended amount. Studies have found that fibre helps to protect the gut from the negative impact of stress and can reduce stress and anxiety-related behaviours. That’s all down to Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) which are produced by gut bacteria when fibre is eaten and have a therapeutic effect on hormone secretion.
Harmonise your Hormones
At the heart of female health is hormonal balance. Hormones impact a woman’s physical, mental and emotional health. They dictate a wide range of health outcomes, both good and bad – and it is so often the case that a hormonal imbalance is the underlying cause of a problem mistakenly diagnosed as something else! Most of the negative effects of stress are the result of high circulating levels of stress hormones. So, it’s understandable that stress can affect hormones and vice versa! Here’s what you can do to restore the balance and harmonise your hormones!1. Lower your Cortisol Levels – Cortisol is an important hormone which is released by the adrenal glands to help manage stress. However, with chronic stress and that pesky problem of over-activating the stress response, levels of cortisol remain elevated for longer than is needed. This has been linked with negative health outcomes in women – including increased appetite, greater risk of obesity and greater fat mass. Things like meditation, yoga, massage and even listening to music have been shown to lower cortisol levels.
Stress is a multifaceted phenomenon that encompasses aspects of physical, mental and emotional health. It’s something which is hard to avoid and sometimes even harder to manage. Incorporating these five healthy habits into your everyday will help to minimise the effects of stress on your overall health and wellbeing, as well as avoid the many adverse effects stress can have on your health. As ever, prevention is better than cure and so it’s always ideal if you can identify and eliminate the root cause of stress. But in the modern world where our biology has not yet adapted to its surroundings, self-help with the above techniques could be your best chance to stay on top of stress and minimise its impact on your overall wellbeing!