Is stress stopping your recovery or making you ill?
I love this story explaining what happens when your body is under stress. Is this you?
IMAGINE you are a caveman out innocently picking berries when suddenly you come nose to nose with a sabre-tooth tiger. While you were simply gathering, the tiger was actually hunting, and the sight of you makes his mouth water.
Luckily for you, millions of years of evolution have endowed you with a set of automatic weapons that take over in the event of an emergency. At the sight of the tiger, your hypothalamus sends a message to your adrenal glands and within seconds, you can run faster, hit harder, see better, hear more acutely, think faster, and jump higher than you could only seconds earlier.
Your heart is pumping at two to three times the normal speed, sending nutrient rich blood to the major muscles in your arms and legs. The tiny blood vessels (called capillaries) under the surface of your skin close down (which consequently sends your blood pressure soaring) so you can sustain a surface wound and not bleed to death. Even your eyes dilate so you can see better.
All functions of your body not needed for the struggle about to commence are shut down. Digestion stops, sexual function stops, even your immune system is temporarily turned off. If necessary, excess waste is eliminated to make you light on your feet.
Your suddenly supercharged body is designed to help level the odds between you and your attacker. Consequently, you narrowly escape death by leaping higher and running faster than you ever could before. With the danger now over, you find a safe place to lie down and rest your exhausted body.
FLASH FORWARD to the present day. Despite the huge amount of technological change in the ensuing 25,000 years, you are walking around with essentially the same set of internal body parts as that of the caveman. At this very moment you’re in the break room at work, hunting for coffee and gathering donuts. Your boss is out hunting too. But guess what? He’s hunting for you.
As you gulp down your third cup of coffee you hear your boss say those dreaded words: “Could I see you for a moment in my office, please?” At the sight of the tiger, er, uh…your boss…your hypothalamus sends a message to your adrenal glands and within seconds your body summons all the same powers that your stone-age ancestor needed to fight a sabre tooth tiger.
You can almost feel your blood pressure soar as you take the long walk down the hall to your boss’s office. You remember a rumour you heard about an upcoming round of layoffs. Now your mind is racing, your heart is pumping, your blood pressure is soaring, your mouth dries up, your hands feel cold and clammy, your forehead is perspiring and you may even feel a sudden urge to go (to the bathroom). As you imagine your boss firing you, the caveman inside of you wants to come out. Maybe you’d like to run and hide or maybe you’d like to punch your boss in the nose, but you can’t do either. Welcome to the modern era.
As your boss ushers you into his office and closes the door, you’re experiencing a full-blown episode of the fight or flight response. But since you can’t fight and you can’t flee, all of that energy is pent-up inside of you with no place to go. You feel like you’re going to explode. Your boss begins to speak. “Here it comes,” you think to yourself. But you’re so shocked by what you hear you can’t believe you heard it right. “What did you say?” you ask your boss. “We are considering you for a promotion,” he repeats.
Every time your body triggers the fight or flight response, for situations that are not truly life-threatening, you are experiencing, in effect, a false alarm. Too many false alarms can lead to stress-related disorders like:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- immune system disorders
- migraine headaches
- sexual dysfunction
The above example from the modern era was doubly false since the fight or flight response was in anticipation of an event (getting fired) that never materialised.
How Can you Manage Stress?
As you can appreciate keeping stress under control is rather important. There are ways to help your body handle stress better. Below are some tips to manage stress.
- Your diet – by reducing the foods that stress the body (i.e. sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods) and increasing the foods that nourish you (i.e. complex carbs, fruits and vegetables, water). By eating little and often so your blood sugars remain as even as possible throughout the day. Your adrenal glands, in particular, need support when under stress so foods high in vitamin C and B5 will help (e.g. fruits, avocado, eggs, sweet potato).
- Exercise – exercise is a great way to disperse the hormones produced when under stress. Since your muscles have got prepared to fight or flight you may as well use this to your advantage and exercise.
- Sleep – it is not rocket science that a good night’s sleep can help you cope with stress. You know how you react when you are tired and it’s never a pretty sight!
- Therapies – therapies such as reflexology, craniosacral therapy, massage, hypnotherapy to name a few can really help to combat stress. When do you ever get a chance to really relax and take time out?
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At Spring Nutrition, I often work with a number of experts to help my clients combine food with therapy to get well. Here is what they have to say about stress……
Georgina Strickland from Lifespan Reflexology
“The antidote to the state of alert generated by the stress response is relaxation, and reflexology is the key to relaxation. A relaxed and balanced body allows the body to heal itself and reflexology also instils confidence and the knowledge that you can cope with stress and stressful situations. Treatments not only relax the body, but also help compose the mind and re-energize and balance the biological systems on which health depends. Reflexology relieves stress and helps to prevent effects such as headaches, high blood pressure, colds, eyestrain, digestive issues, aches and pains and other minor ailments. Reflexology treatments also aid relaxation, improve mood, aid sleep, help relieve tension and improves a sense of well-being, and that has to have a positive effect on mind, body and spirit.”
For more information see www.lifespanreflexology.co.uk
Emma Goodman from Pre and Post Natal Exercise
“Monday morning, alarm goes off, perhaps you press snooze a couple of time to gain just a few more minutes in bed. When you finally surface from your slumber its all systems go, pack husband/children off to work/school, get yourself a healthy breakfast making sure you give yourself the very best start to the day. Nursery run complete, school run complete, work run complete – just a few minutes to catch your breath and prepare yourself for the day ahead. Once your day at work is done, the treadmill starts again with school pick-up, after school clubs, tea, bath, bed – the list goes on. It may be nearly 9pm before you finally get a chance to sit down and relax, or maybe this is when you find the time to fit in some exercise, but are you choosing the right form of exercise?
Do you realise that over-exercising can be every bit as bad as not exercising enough and if you are already stressed, placing more stress on your body in the form of movement and exercise (physical stress) can cause burn-out, illness or injury. Therefore it is important that you plan time in your week to build energy and vitality into your body, through any kind of mind/body class (stretch & relax, yoga, Pilates).
“He who is of calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden” Plato, The Republic
Take time out for yourself, even if it is just 15 mins a week, or even 30mins….
Make this week the week you allow yourself some “me time”
For more information see www.preandpostnatalexercise.co.uk
Sarah Johnson from Cranio Kent
“Craniosacral Therapy supports your body’s innate ability to balance, restore and heal itself. It helps to reduce stress and builds your underlying energy. During or after a session you may feel calm and energised, with increased clarity of mind and a feeling of well-being”
For more information see www.craniokent.co.uk
Thank you for reading.
Registered Nutritionist at Spring Nutrition