The affects of stress can be enormous, carrying both short term and long term consequences. Stress can affect eating habits and sleep cycles, and trigger depression which can lead to a low metabolism and inactivity. Stress can also increase bad habits such as smoking and drinking, which tend to lead to bigger health issues such as cancer and heart disease. Stress hormones such as cortisol actually deplete the body of vitamins B, C, A and magnesium, which get used up during stress responses as the tensing of muscles and the rise of blood pressure. During times of anxiety we are in special need of B vitamins, which help maintain our nerves and brain cells. If calories consumed during stressful times don’t come from nutritious foods, vitamins will be depleted even more quickly. Even a slight vitamin B deficiency from a few days of consuming empty calories such as chips and soda can upset the nervous system and compound stress, according to Elizabeth Somer, R.D., an Oregon-based nutritionist. During times of stress try to consume bananas, fish, baked potatoes, avocados, chicken and dark green leafy veggies which are all great sources of B vitamins.
B Complex Vitamins – B vitamins have been shown to directly affect neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Evidence suggests that B-vitamins are important in the balance and metabolism of neuro-toxic chemicals that have been linked to anxiety and depression related conditions. B vitamins maintains the adrenal glands and get used up during the “fight or flight” response and when converting food into energy for the body. We like Natural Factors Hi Potency B Complex Capsules.
Glutamine – the most abundant amino acid in muscle cells, it preserves muscle by reducing cortisol levels.
Insolitol – shown to possibly help reduce cortisol in people with mental illness such as anxiety and OCD.
L Thianine – an amino acid derivative commonly found in tea, theanine is able to cross the blood-brain barrier. Theanine has psychoactive properties and has been shown to reduce mental and physical stress. L-Theanine may help the body’s immune response to infection by boosting the disease-fighting capacity of gamma delta T cells.
Magnesium – is found in your cells and bones and is especially vital in protecting arteries from blood pressure that is caused by stress. Food sources include dark green foods, whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat bread, garlic, lemons, avocados, chamomile, cantaloupe, black beans, seeds especially pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate. When you are chronically stressed, you can become magnesium deficient even if you eat these foods regularly.
When stressed for any reason, the body’s hormonal response causes an outpouring of magnesium from cells into the blood. The higher the stress level, the greater the magnesium loss. The lower your magnesium level is initially, the more reactive you will be to stress (the higher your level of hormones adrenalin and cortisol in stressful situations), which causes greater loss of magnesium from cells.
Soaking in a bath of Epsom salts may help. The best dietary supplements are the acid salts of magnesium like magnesium chloride, citrate, gluconate or glycinate. We like Natural Factors Calcium & Magnesium Citrate Plus D.
Omega 3 fatty acids – thought to have a calming effect on the central nervous system. We like Nordic Naturals DHA in the Strawberry flavor.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) – is a cortisol blocker that drives nutrients into and remove toxins from your cells. May be useful in preventing short-term memory loss, age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin C – prolonged stress depletes Vitamin C in the adrenals and decreases blood levels. We recommend 1-2 grams 3x/day with food. In January 2007, “Psychology Today” reported that vitamin C exerts a subtle cortisol-reducing effect on the human body. Vitamin C is water soluble so there is little risk in taking large doses.
The following may be helpful in reducing cortisol levels:
Early bedtime – try to be in bed by 10pm, inadequate sleep is a stressor that causes excess cortisol. Melatonin is a natural sleep aid that can be effective for jet lag and re-setting your sleep cycle. Hypnosis can also be very effective at inducing sleep and a sense of well-being.
Eat frequently – your cortisol levels rise after 5 hours without food and your body’s fight or flight response mechanism will sense “famine” and going into storage mode when you do eat. A good way to avoid excessive fat storing is to eat small meals throughout the day.
Eat breakfast containing protein – protein helps to rebuild glycogen reserves, which are needed to feed your brain. Your brain is particularly depleted after sleeping.
Eliminate sugar and processed foods – eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to ensure you have vitamins to boost your stress resistance. Vitamin C, B1 and B2 are especially important, see below.
Eliminate caffeine completely – caffeine directly stimulates stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Caffeine is a diuretic; it depletes your body of water and vitamins, contributing to bone loss. Caffeine can also interfere with the quality of your sleep.
Drink water – dehydration induces a stress response which raises cortisol levels. Drink water before you go to bed and when you wake up.
Minimize prolonged intense physical activity – after an hour of exercise your body’s testosterone levels decline and cortisol begins to rise. Keep workouts to under an hour and do not train more than 2 days in a row.
Practice relaxing activities such as massage therapy, having sex, and laughter.
Scientists began to discover the mechanisms behind the mind and body link in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. According to an article in the NY Times, nerves were found that connect the brain with the spleen and thymus, organs used in immune responses, and it was established that nerve cells could affect the activity of infection-fighting white blood cells. Today I don’t think the mind-body link can be disputed. Take into account how great you feel both physically and mentally after an hour of yoga, a run in the park, or a few days in the sun.
Here are some other tips to help increase your sense of well-being:
Fresh Air – give your mind and body a break from sitting and staring at your computer screen. Make an effort to get outside at least once during the work day.
Exercise – low impact activities such as walking or rollerblading are enough to stimulate endorphins without inducing stress on the body.
Reduce your morning commute – studies show higher cortisol levels in people with longer morning commutes. Using public transportation instead of driving can reduce stress induced by traffic jams. Other habits that may help make your commute more fun include carpooling, music, and choosing a slightly longer but less congested route.
Hypnosis and self-hypnosis – stress hypnosis can be very effective at inducing a state of relaxation and can also be used as a natural way to induce sleep.
Deep breathing – a shallow or irregular breathing pattern caused by stress can disrupt the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. During time of stress, you can help to expel excess carbon dioxide by breathing out for 5 long seconds and then let your lungs refill naturally (do not consciously inhale). Do this for 5 breaths in a row with a closed mouth and you should feel a sense of calmness. Regular deep breathing may prevent illness, as the more stale air you exhale, the more fresh air you can inhale, which gets deeper into the lungs and does not give all the little creepy crawlies a moist, damp environment in which to multiply.
Surround Yourself With Love and Positivity – you are who you surround yourself with. When it comes to friendships choose quality over quantity and surround yourself with people who inspire you. The effects of drama and gossip can be a large source of stress for some.
Retrain your thought patterns – this goes beyond trying to always see the bright side of things. The mind can exert a direct influence on the immune system. “The brain has the capacity to modulate peripheral physiology,” says Dr. Richard J. Davidson, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience, “and it modulates it in ways that may be consequential for health.” Books such as Stillness Speaks and the Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle discuss new methods of thinking that can de-clutter the mind and encourage stillness, peace and what he calls “the joy of Being.”