Coping with stress requires conscious decisions and actions, including optimal lifestyle and nutrition choices.
No matter the source of stress, your response to that stress will determine its long-term effects.
Begin by identifying your major stressors. Is it….
- A physical stress such as nutrient insufficiencies, hormone imbalances, sleep deprivation, toxin exposure, physical abuse
- A situational or psychological stress such as interpersonal conflicts, relationship difficulties, isolation, financial or legal problems, feeling overwhelmed
- A life event such as catastrophic events, accident, divorce, loss of a loved one
Below are eight actions that you can use daily to help manage and decrease your body’s response to the stress
- Deep breathing, box breathing, meditation, progressive relaxation, mindfulness, music
- Social support,
- Time management
- Healthy diet
- Balanced sleep routine
- Regular exercise, walking, yoga
- Grounding, connecting with nature, walking in the bush or beach
- Slow deep breaths before each meal to help facilitate the “rest and digest” response
Box breathing can activate the ‘’rest and digest’’ relaxation response and help reverse the stress response.
With one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest, breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose for the count of 4, pushing the stomach out and filling up the lungs as you breathe in, pause for 4 counts, then exhale completely through the mouth for the count of 4 or more. If possible, hold the breath out for a count of 4 as well, and then start again.
The practical technique of grounding involves direct contact of the body with the ground.
It can be as simple as standing or walking barefoot outside.
Grounding not only connects us with our natural surroundings but helps reduce swelling, pain, and loss of function caused by inflammation.
This practice can also improve sleep and increase tolerance to stress.
Nutrition and Stress
The stress response quickly burns up macronutrients and micronutrients. Therefore, this is an especially important time to consume nutrient-dense foods and minimize highly processed foods.
A healthy diet should be based on fresh unprocessed whole foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices.
High-quality sources of protein include cold-water fish, seafood, organic meats and poultry, and eggs.
High quality sources of fat include extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocado, coconut, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and nuts.
Foods should be minimally processed to maximize nutrition density
Processed and deep-fried foods should be eliminated or minimized.
Food choices to balance the stress response
* Dark chocolate
* Flax seeds
* Kiwi fruit
* Brazil nuts
Vitamin C and the Stress Response
Vitamin C plays a role in regulation of the stress response. It is stored to some extent in the adrenal gland and is released when cortisol levels increase.
An increase in circulating vitamin C can “put the brakes” on hyperactivation of the stress response.
Vitamin C also acts as a neuromodulator and may have an antidepressant effect. Supplementation was found to improve depressive symptoms and reduce psychological stress in hospitalized patients.
Unlike other mammals, humans have lost the ability to produce their own vitamin C and are completely dependent on dietary intake. When under stress, other mammals increase production which supports immune and adrenal function, and protection from oxidative stress.
Stress and the gut microbiome
Ongoing research suggests that optimisation of the gut microbiota through pre- and pro-biotic supplementation may favourably modify cortisol levels, and an individual’s response to acute and chronic stress.
Stress may contribute to increased intestinal permeability or “leaky gut syndrome,” which in turn may contribute to inflammation, immune activation, and gastrointestinal distress.
Research also suggests that stress may increase the permeability of the blood brain barrier (BBB). An increase in BBB permeability can increase neuroinflammation, further amplifying the negative effects of chronic stress.
Supplements that may help balance the stress response
Ashwagandha, Siberian Ginseng, Kava, Passionflower, Rhodiola, Ziziphus spinosa
Essential Oils to balance the stress response
cedarwood, clary sage, chamomile, ginseng, lavender, jasmine, neroli, rose, sandalwood, ylang ylang
Do whatever you need to increase your resilience to stress.
For more information on your specific health condition and how Functional Medicine can improve your health, book a FREE 20-minute appointment with Dr. Shelley Cavezza, PhD.