Stress Awareness Month
April is Stress Awareness Month in the UK. Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992 to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic.
Despite this running for 20 years there’s still a LONG way to go. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Although stress is a perfectly normal and natural response to our modern lives, unmanaged it can take a heavy toll on your physical and mental health.
“No matter what diet you follow, how much you exercise and what supplements you take, if you’re not managing your stress you will still be at risk for modern degenerative conditions like heart disease, diabetes, hypothyroidism and autoimmunity”
We need to recognise two things:
- Stress kills
- The stress that we are dealing today is a million miles away from that of our fore-fathers’ back in the day (not many of us are chased by bears on the way to work!)
Day-in and day-out we endure:
- Psychological/emotional stress from lack of purpose; dysfunctional relationships; money worries; unfulfilling jobs; disconnection from family and community
- Physical/environmental stress from heat/cold; altitude; pollution; the side effects of toxic pharmaceuticals; personal and home care products. The physiology of chronic stress not only promotes and underpins disease, but actually prevents the process healing itself.
And if we do nothing else – we need recognise the truth in the wisdom “we are what we eat” (and digest and absorb) and avoid the foods that stress our body – processed, chemically ‘enriched’ and ‘fake’ foods, vegetable and seed oils and fluoridated, contaminated tap water.
How does ‘stress’ hurt us?
When our body is in a state of chronic stress (short-lived acute stress is an adaptive and necessary part of life) it’s flooded with catabolic hormones, which breakdown muscle for energy, reduce our thyroid function and slow, or shut down, important metabolic processes. These hormones also provoke systemic inflammation, which predisposes us to developing chronic illness.
What can we do to combat stress?
Stress management techniques are forms of self-care: you’re taking the time to connect with your feelings and nurture yourself so you can let go of tensions and fears and build resilience.
Reviewing where we stand against the key elements of holistic well-being can help us to create our own personal self-care tool-box and to establish a non-negotiable, daily routine to prevent serious, stress-related physical and mental health issues down-stream:
When we’re overwhelmed and stressed, we make poor food decisions by reaching out for processed foods and unhealthy snacks AND to compound the issue, we’re prone to overeating too. Our less-than-healthy food that can have long term implications for our stress levels: not only do we worry about the negative impact of poor food choices on our overall health, but we deny our mighty gut microbes the nutrients they need to keep us well and happy. They thrive on fibre-rich fruits and vegetables that prompt them to produce the short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) to bolster our intestinal tract defences against the damage caused by stress hormones.
We need to eat for two – for our gut microbes and for ourselves! So, it’s back to ‘granny knew best’ and choosing more healthful, traditional real foods – fresh unsprayed fruit for snacking (with a few nuts), colourful organic veggies for their polyphenols, grass-fed and finished organic meats, wild caught fish and good quality organic dairy and eggs for an all-important protein hit. This will keep blood sugar stable and our emotions under control as well. Do a happy dance.
And don’t forget to keep hydrated with good quality, no-fluoride water and herbal teas. High-water content organic fruits and slowly-sipped diluted fresh, organic fruit juices (have a finger of cheese or a couple of nuts too) are energy-rich and nutrient-dense. Water carries nutrients to our cells – so if you’re eating right, make sure to drink right too – and remember that alcohol de-hydrates and high sugar drinks are inflammatory!
When you’re stressed, exercise may be the last thing on your mind, but moving your body can have powerful effects in combatting stress. you don’t need a gym membership in order to meet your body’s requirements for exercise!
Although many of us think of exercising as something we do at the gym, the great news is there are all sorts of ways that we can incorporate activity into our daily life – walking in nature, with friends, family, the dog or even mindfully on your own; walk instead of driving for shorter journeys; take the stairs instead of the escalator.
Sweat the daily ‘small stuff’ – cleaning the house, doing the gardening, cleaning the car – as long as you’re being active, you’re moving! Just do it all with a little extra vigour for improved results.
And when you go for a relaxing stroll after a meal, you’ll not only benefit from getting yourself outside into nature, but you’ll be helping to reduce your blood sugar levels too!
Being is all about our sense of self - about stress, purpose and contribution. Learning to BE more and DO less makes for a happier, healthier and more connected you.
- Breathe to de-stress
Breathing is a powerful tool in our anti-stress tool box and can be our quickest win in the stress-reduction stakes. Taking deep breaths can slow the heart rate and stabilise blood pressure (both of which tend to accelerate at times of high stress) and can help you to control your physical stress response to enable you to become more mentally and emotionally aware.
‘Breathfulness’ is touted as the new mindfulness - but conscious controlled breathing has been central plank in ancient medicine for millennia, fundamental to meditation, yoga and mindfulness practices. Try this excellent Kundalini breathing technique.
- Find a purpose
In his book The Stress Solution Dr Rangan Chatterjee writes:
“When we consider stress, we don’t usually think of meaning and purpose. But I’d go as far as to say that the single best way of living a calmer, happier life is to do it with strong sense of purpose.”
Unless we make time to get to know and reflect on who ‘we’ really are and to develop our sense of purpose, how can we exercise any real sense of agency and control?
- Make a contribution
Quantum science is showing us that the universe is inextricably connected – that energetically, we are intimately both in and of the universe. What we do to and for the planet, what we do to and for each other, we do to ourselves.
A fundamental element of our ‘be-ing’, therefore has to include our contribution and whether we see this from a faith, spiritual or ‘universal’ standpoint, we cannot escape our responsibility to be in service to others as well as creating a strong sense of self.
When we overlook connection, contribution, service and kindness it’s at great detriment to our health.
Unplug for better sleep
Our modern-day obsession with our phones, tablets, social media accounts and more contribute to our stress levels, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and, in some cases, increasing our chances of becoming depressed.
In addition, the blue light emitted from tablets and smartphones acts to disrupt our natural sleep patterns. So taking time away from technology – particularly before bed – is vital in helping us to clear our minds and relax properly before we fall asleep, allowing us to better cope and feel less stressed
Stress and SLEEP are toxic bed-fellows. Without quality sleep our body can’t repair from the daily toils of living, nor can it heal from disorder and disease. Chronic stress disrupts our hormones and sleep physiology making restful, restorative sleep impossible.
“Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to the well-being of your mind and body. For a better night’s sleep, consider taking a tech break. Ditch the tech at least an hour before bed.”
Neil Shah, Founder and director of the Stress Management Society
Surprisingly, we need a LOT of energy for quality sleep – our body works damned hard on over-night repairs! If we don’t eat enough energy-rich foods during the day, our body runs out of energy (glucose) during the night enters ‘stress mode’ - releasing cortisol to free-up stored glucose in an effort to re-fuel our body.
This dysfunctional state of affairs is not only damaging, but makes us restless and results in the all-too-familiar night-time wakefulness. And because our hormones are disrupted, we can’t get back to sleep. And so it goes on.
Creating a supportive sleep routine (and committing to it) is SO important to our overall well-being - take a moment to review your sleep habits and check you are doing the basics.
Nurture your nest
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs is a fundamental theory in psychology.
Starting with the very basic needs of survival and safety, through to higher levels needs of social belonging, esteem and self-actualisation, it’s not difficult to see how our home environment may help or hinder us in satisfying these needs at every level.
Creating a physically and emotionally supportive home environment isn’t only important for renewing our energy and resting from stresses and strains of daily life; it’s also a special place for us to strengthen the family ties between partners, spouses, parents, children and communities.
The demands and environment of our daily lives often lead us to neglect our homes… and the people we love most.
“Home is a safe base of operations; a reference point we need in life as the starting point of our personal and family growth. The psychological sciences emphasize the importance of emotional security. A home doesn’t necessarily offer that, but it can and should if we create the right conditions to spend time together with people we love — especially our family — doing things we enjoy. We can see the effect of the privation of these things in people who are homeless and live in conditions of extreme poverty.” (Alvarez 2017)