Stress is an unavoidable part of modern life. Yet for many, it can have a damaging impact on emotional, mental and physical health.
20% of absenteeism is due to stress
A survey of 2050 adults carried out by Mind, the mental health charity, found that one in five working people take time off for stress and one in ten have sought professional help to deal with stress.1 Many of us also perceive that stress is becoming more prevalent, with 59% of British adults saying their life is more stressful than it was five years ago.
Modern stressors are widespread
Of course, our in-built stress response is key to our survival. Without it, we would have become some predator’s lunch thousands of years ago. The problem is that although most of us are far safer than our cave-dwelling ancestors, we still face challenges that trigger the same ‘fight or flight’ response many times each day. Workplace politics, traffic jams, disagreements at home, money worries, having too much to do and too little time to do it – all of these problems activate the same stress response with the same release of adrenalin. So too does a dip in our fuel levels (blood sugar).
Diet contributes to the burden of stress
Unfortunately, today’s high-carb, stimulant-loaded diets create a rollercoaster ride of fuel highs followed by lows, so adding to your body’s stress burden and making you feel more stressed, tired and hungry.
Increased risk of disease
As well as reducing your enjoyment of life, ongoing stress is bad news for your health. Each month, more research reveals yet more harmful effects of too much stress. For example, studies have shown that those of us who experience regular stress have a five-fold increased risk of dying from heart-related problems and double the risk of developing diabetes.3,4
This is because, as well as generating unpleasant emotional sensations, stress triggers a cascade of hormones and chemicals that, over time, accelerate ageing, encourage inflammation and degeneration, and increase the risk of disease.
Nutrition and Stress; what works
Here are several ways you can build greater resilience to stress and an integrated approach works best. Diet is key, as eating the right foods and boosting your intake of certain nutrients can help you dramatically increase your energy reserves, so you feel better equipped to deal with life’s challenges. Getting enough sleep is also important. Adopting a more positive mindset can also change the way you perceive stressful events.
Eat for stable energy
• Eat three meals a day and never skip breakfast – This helps you keep your blood sugar even. Blood sugar dips either from not eating or as a rebound after eating something too sweet or starchy. This triggers adrenalin release, and hence stress.
• Eat protein with every meal – For example, eggs, yoghurt, smoked salmon or kippers with your breakfast; and meat, fish, dairy foods, soya or grains combined with pulses for your lunch and supper. This will help to sustain your energy levels.
• Choose slow-releasing carbohydrates rather than refined foods – So opt for brown rice, wholegrain bread, quinoa and oatcakes (avoid processed and white equivalents).
• Reduce your dependence on stimulants – ie coffee, tea, colas, energy drinks and cigarettes. Rather than giving you energy, these deplete energy over time, and contribute to blood sugar imbalances.
• Snack pre-emptively – if you know you have an energy dip before lunch and around 4pm, have a snack mid-morning and again mid-afternoon. Avoid sugar-loaded treats and instead opt for energy-sustaining fresh fruit and nuts, an oatcake with some cheese, nut butter, paté or hummus, a natural yoghurt and berries, or a sugar-free protein bar.
Get a good night’s sleep
• Prioritise relaxing activities in the few hours before you go to bed, so you reduce your stress levels and get your body into a calm state ready for sleeping.
• Avoid alcohol before bed, and limit any caffeine intake after midday (or preferably avoid it completely).
• Aim to follow a soothing bedtime routine, such as having a warm bath with Epsom salts and lavender oil or listening to relaxing music.
• If you have difficulty sleeping, supplement 400mg of magnesium before bed.
• Follow a good sleep hygiene routine, ensuring your bedroom is quiet and dark and you are comfortable. Also turn off mobile phones and wi-fi connections at night.
Transform stress with a more positive mindset
• Find ways that work for you to deal more positively with stressors. It is impossible to remove all stressors from our lives, so it is important we learn to deal wth stress more proactively.
• Learn and use techniques to help manage stress. There are a number of coaching and emotional techniques that can help with our ability to manage our stress response. We advocate the scientifically-validated technique from the HeartMath® system, which can help you learn how to transform stress in the moment and reset your emotional baseline from negative to positive. So effective is the HeartMath® approach to transforming stress and building resilience that it is adopted by the US military, the NHS, Olympic athletes, police forces, universities and many businesses, as well as by thousands of individuals around the world.
• Use tools that are available to help control and calm your stress levels. There are books, CDs and even apps that can aim to help you manage stress, de-stress and stay calm.
How stressed are you? Take our simple test to get an idea of your stress levels.
- Is your energy less now than it used to be?
- Do you feel guilty when relaxing?
- Do you have a persistent need for achievement?
- Are you unclear about your goals in life?
- Are you especially competitive?
- Do you work harder than most people?
- Do you become angry easily?
- Do challenging situations trigger anxiety or panic?
- Do you find it hard to think straight under pressure?
- Do you often try to do two or three tasks simultaneously?
- Do you find it hard to relax or switch off?
- Do you avoid exercise because you feel too tired?
- Do you get impatient if people or situations hold you up?
- Do you have difficulty getting to sleep, or staying asleep?
- Do you wake up feeling tired?
If you answer yes to five or more, that’s a fair indication you’re highly stressed. The higher your score, the greater the negative impact of stress on your life.