Life is a series of peaks and troughs, and it’s important to note that taking the good with the bad is all a part of the journey, but one thing many people can potentially avoid is unnecessary stress.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or the inability to cope with mental or emotional pressure. In aid of Stress Awareness month, Nutrigums registered consultant nutritionist, Shona Wilkinson, explains how proper nutrition and a healthy routine can be the secret weapon to combat it.
Stress can often help us deal with everyday problems, keeping us on high alert to help cope with daily challenges and assisting us with acting fast at a moment’s notice. Although this might come as news to some, small doses of stress are considered healthy for the brain.
In recent years though, the rate of self-reported work-related stress has increased. With the added impact of other health concerns, lockdowns and limitations to travel – not to mention world politics – many people claim to be suffering from longer-lasting stress symptoms.
So what happens when you experience high amounts of stress for long periods, with months going by without taking time to rejuvenate and relax?
Well, it can impact both our mental and physical function, including; lack of productivity and a reduction in problem-solving skills along with increased chances of headaches and dizziness, as well as muscular tension and stress leading to insomnia. In more extreme circumstances, it can lead to depression and high blood pressure and raises the chances of a heart attack.
It can portray itself in a variety of ways, with those suffering less likely to exercise and more likely to undereat or overeat, often referred to as ’emotional eating’, which can increase our intake of harmful foods such as sugar and fats, possibly causing a number of further issues such as digestive problems, obesity and diabetes.
Dealing with stress is mainly about mindset and turning the coping mechanism from a negative one into a positive one. If you get into a negative cycle of eating a poor diet, sleeping in, or overworking, the stress grows.
There are many stress management strategies that you can explore to help impart a positive mindset and allow you to feel revitalised:
- Get regular physical activity and get out in nature
- Practice relaxation techniques: such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga
- Spend time with family and friends
- Keep to a balanced diet filled with brain-boosting vitamins
- Setting aside time for hobbies, including reading a book or listening to music
- Getting a balanced diet
It is vital to include foods with the essential vitamins and nutrients in your diet. Here are just a few that are beneficial for reduced stress levels:
- B Vitamins
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
B vitamins become depleted during times of stress, so it may be beneficial to get these in your diet or via supplementation. They help the body convert food into energy, create new blood cells, and maintain healthy skin and brain cells.
Magnesium is known as ‘natures relaxant’, assisting with the physical signs of stress. It can ease the cramping of muscles and increases Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical made in the brain, which encourages relaxation and sleep. Vegetables such as broccoli include magnesium, vitamin C, and folate, all proven to help beat stress.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent carb choice that helps lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They are packed with nutrients necessary for the stress response; sweet potatoes include vitamin C and potassium.
Eggs are another food packed with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants, all needed for a healthy stress response. They are often referred to as nature’s multivitamins and are rich in choline, which plays a vital role in brain health and can boost our mood.
Foods rich in Omega-3 and vitamin D, such as fatty fish, are also beneficial to our mood and brain function as our brain is mostly made up of fat. Vitamin D helps our mental health and can reduce stress levels.
Almost anyone and everyone can suffer from it, so it’s important that we can recognise the signs among each demographic:
Children and Teens
Adults are often more able to recognise why they are stressed and can put things in place to avoid or combat it. Children, unfortunately, do not yet have this skill.
Children undergo stress due to external factors such as academics, falling out with friends, and even not meeting their parents’ expectations. This problem can often be much worse in teenagers due to consistent access to social media, peer pressure, cyber-bullying, body image issues, relationship issues, and identity formation at play.
A common problem experienced in young people is the inability to differentiate between stress and generalised anxiety. This is a problem as young people often mistake it with an undiagnosed medical condition. This is why education on the subject is so important.
Young adults and university students often feel it because of dramatic changes in lifestyle that accompany the coming of age. It is borne from the pressures of getting a higher education to planning their first job. Although this can be an exciting time, it is often mounted with anxiety and overwhelming feelings.
The Working Class
For the working class (21-60), their reasons for stress can vary often. Loss in business, time-management issues, workload and duration, low salary, partiality and discrimination, and lack of recognition or appreciation from seniors can all affect an individual in a work capacity. Between the ages of 21 and 60, people may also experience the bulk of grief as they begin the natural process of losing friends and, eventually, parents.
A deeply troubling fact of life is that the elderly are often forgotten about when it comes to stress. Sadly, it seems to be an everyday occurrence for those in their later years. There are a whole host of reasons why the elderly can become easily stressed.
- Change of lifestyle
- Financial status after retiring
- Being lonely after losing a spouse
- Losing friends/relative
- Worries about not being able to live independently
It is incredibly important to note that you should seek help from a medical professional if you’re struggling with it regularly. As stated previously, a little bit is fine, but if it is impacting your life regularly, it may require help from an external source.
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