Stress is part and parcel of life and in balance can actually be healthy. It keeps us motivated, helps us get out of bed in the morning and can be a good warning sign that things aren’t working for us in our current everyday lives, and encourages us to make positive changes.
However, what happens when we simply can’t turn that switch off and stress turns into something chronic?
Our body has a very efficient way of dealing with stress. We release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which raise our blood pressure and heart rate and shift glucose from the liver into our bloodstream, ready for our muscles to use. This is also known as the “flight or fight” response in our nervous system, which gears us up for exactly that: fight or flight. It’s the opposite to the “rest and digest”, which is associated with metabolising and assimilating the nutrients in the food we eat, as well as regenerating and repairing cells.
Despite this intelligent stress response, our prehistoric bodies are not used to being in a constant state of stress, which depletes our body of vital nutrients, such as B vitamins and magnesium, that are necessary for optimal health. The constant elevation of cortisol and adrenaline, our body’s stress hormones, can lead to prolonged levels of inflammation, as well as weakening of the immune system’s defences.
In addition, our nutrition and diet also contributes to increased stress levels and illness. While simple carbohydrates, sugar and caffeine give us energy in the short term, in the longer term they lead to constant adrenal overload, i.e stress. As a consequence of chronic stress and poor dietary choices, a growing number of people are suffering from anxiety disorders, panic attacks, low mood, insomnia, chronic fatigue and stress-related weight gain.
There are some key dietary strategies we recommend anyone undergoing chronic stress tries. But first, we have a simple test you can take for you to get an idea of your stress levels:
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.
We know that chronic stress has dire long-term health consequences, increasing risk for heart disease by five times and doubling the risk for obesity, dementia and diabetes.
So it’s not something we can ignore or let take over our lives.
There are also some simple dietary changes you can follow to support stress levels; of upmost importance is to eat correctly in order to keep blood sugar levels balanced, as dips can trigger production of stress hormones and lead to an energy deficit in the brain.
The human brain weighs just 2% of an average body’s weight, however it is the organ that demands the most energy in the human body. The brain’s preferred source of energy is glucose, a simple sugar that most of our food gets broken down into to create a sort of energy currency in our body.
A whole 20% of the glucose traveling round our body gets directed to the brain and its functions.
So now you can imagine why our brain is so sensitive to fluctuations in our blood sugar levels, and this gets even worse when chronic stress is in the picture.
Chronically elevated cortisol levels due to poorly managed stress, triggers an increase in blood sugar levels as our body prepares itself for “fight or flight”. This is why it’s even more important to stabilise our blood sugar levels when we are chronically stressed to avoid further anxiety and mood swings.
Below are a few top tips to eat for less stress and to balance blood sugar:
We hope you find these tips useful. However, if you’re experiencing frequent panic attacks, chronic anxiety and depression, it may be worth seeking some personalised support with an integrative mental health practitioner that can also advise you on your diet.
Please head to our ‘Seeking Help’ page for more information on organisations and networks you can reach out to.