by: Dr. Kate Rhéaume-Bleue, N.D
“Relax” – it’s easier said than done. Especially when the scales of work-life balance seem permanently tipped towards “work” and there just aren’t enough hours in a day. The stereotype of modern life – stressed to the max with never enough time for self-care or healthy meals – is too close to the truth for comfort. And stress isn’t just unpleasant in the moment: it can have serious immediate and long-term impacts on your health. While a little stress can be healthy, when stress is continuous, accumulated, or especially intense, it challenges your body’s ability to cope, leading to anxiety and eventually a burnt out feeling.
Burn out isn’t in your bucket list, you say? Our minds and bodies are resilient, and we have many coping mechanisms at our disposal. Meditation gets a lot of well-deserved credit for its ability to reduce stress. Even just a few minutes a day of calming breathing makes a big difference.
Exercise is the body’s natural outlet for stress. After all, the adrenaline released when you’re under stress is intended to give you a boost when it comes down to fight or flight. Whether you’re running, stretching, or taking a simple walk around the block, exercise releases endorphins that boost your mood and ease the symptoms of stress.
Social isolation makes a bad situation worse. Your plate probably seems too full for friends, but your social network is one of your best stress-busting tools. Talking through your stress with someone close to you is especially beneficial, but any face time will go a long way.
Eat to Beat Stress
While it’s often easy to feel the physical results of an unhealthy diet, many of us don’t connect the way we feel emotionally with what we’re eating. Stress triggers the release of cortisol, which in turn causes cravings for so called comfort foods – say, ice cream, cookies, or pizza – that are high in carbs and refined sugars.
Unfortunately, these foods have the opposite effect, leaving you feeling drained and down. Instead, eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, lean protein, and whole grains – with a little quality dark chocolate for indulgence.
Supplements for Stress Relief
If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, extensive changes to your lifestyle might seem out of reach. Certain nutrients and supplements can give your body a helping hand to create a little breathing room. Once the pressure’s off, you can focus on things like meditation, exercise, and healthy eating without getting even more stressed!
The brain naturally makes chemicals that help cope with stress, such as the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is the brain’s “braking system.” Typically, when stress becomes overwhelming, the brain responds by producing more GABA, which in turn calms signals in the brain that can lead to anxiety, insomnia, and other physical or emotional symptoms of stress.
Unfortunately, if you’re prone to stress, or find you have a hard time coping, your brain may not be making enough GABA. Supplementing with GABA may help achieve a sense calmness and clarity similar to the state of relaxation found in meditation.
Certain amino acids are also helpful for fighting stress. L-theanine, the “feel-good” amino acid in green tea, calms the brain by boosting certain neurotransmitters, such as GABA, and increasing alpha brain waves associated with a state of relaxation. L-theanine helps diminish feelings of stress, worry, and anxiety, and, in turn, can actually help you improve focus and concentration.
While green tea is arguably a delicious and pleasant way to consume L-theanine, a person who drinks 6–8 cups of green tea a day may consume between 200–400 mg. L-theanine supplements save you from having to drink pots of green tea to get the benefits of this relaxing amino acid.
Herbal remedies are another safe, effective way to relieve stress. Kava kava (Piper methysticum) has a long history of use in South Pacific Island cultural rituals as a natural mood enhancer. Kava kava is known to promote tranquility and decrease anxiety. The benefits of this powdered root extract come from kavalactones, compounds that have a calming effect, helping to decrease the physical impact of stress, increase happy feelings, and encourage restful sleep.
Stress is inevitable, but your reaction to it isn’t. With a few adjustments to your lifestyle, and a little help from diet and supplements, you’ll soon find yourself able to catch whatever life throws at you.
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach.