Stress less and enjoy a calmer life

I am sure at some point in your life you have felt stressed or know someone who has. In this fast paced life we all lead these days it is rare to come across someone who has not experienced feeling stressed. Stress affects people differently; your lifestyle and attitude will play a big role in how you cope with stress.

What is Stress?

Stress is a natural human response to pressure when faced with challenging and sometimes dangerous situations. That pressure is not only about whatís happening around us, but often also about demands we place on ourselves. Experiencing stress is part of being alive and some stress helps increase our alertness and energy to meet challenging situations. If stress lasts a long time or overwhelms our ability to cope, it can have a negative effect on our health, wellbeing, relationships, work and general enjoyment of life.

Stress doesnít have to control our lives. We can improve our knowledge about stress and increase our resources to become more resilient.

Stress can be short term (acute) or long term (chronic) and it is important not to ignore the symptoms of stress and to seek the help of your health care professional as soon as you recognise symptoms or feel like you are not coping with your day to day activities.

Some of the symptoms of stress include

migraine or tension-induced headaches

insomnia, fitful sleeping or nightmares

anxiety, anger or irritability

low or unstable mood

memory lapses

shoulder, neck or back pain

chronic fatigue

rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations

skin eruptions and worsening of conditions such as eczema

heartburn, diarrhoea or constipation

dizziness and shortness of breath

Now you know what to look out for letís explore what you can do to help reduce your stress levels.

Nutritionals to help your stress response

B Vitamins and B complex

B vitamins are probably one of the most important vitamins to be taking when you are under stress. B vitamins are involved many functions in the body from energy production and nervous system regulation to carbohydrate metabolism and cholesterol regulation.

The specific B vitamins helpful for stress are;

  • Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is important in keeping the nervous system healthy and plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy mental attitude.

  • Vitamin B3 supports the functions of the nervous and digestive system.  A deficiency in B3 can cause depression, irritability, stress and mood disturbances.

  • Vitamin B6 can help the body manufacture neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which aids in the bodyís ability to cope with depression, stress and anxiety. Vitamin B6 may also help boost the immune system during times of anxiety.

  • Vitamin B5, pantothenic acid, enhances the activity of the immune system and, with this improvement, the body can use its natural ability to withstand stressful conditions

The B vitamins work very closely together and rely on one another to function efficiently so it is best for B vitamins to be taken as a B complex, that is a combination of all 11 B vitamins. I would recommend taking a B complex that has at least 50mg of each of the B Vitamins.

Magnesium

Magnesium used to be an abundant mineral found in numerous foods. But over time, food processing practices essentially stripped magnesium out of most diets, causing numerous people to be magnesium deficient.

Magnesium plays a role in over 300 different chemical reactions in the body, and many studies (1, 2, 3, 4) have shown that a deficiency in magnesium contributes to several mental health problems, including stress and anxiety. Magnesium helps to relax the nervous system and muscles, helping one to feel calmer.

The more stressed you are the more magnesium you need. If you are not supplementing with magnesium you become more deficient leading to more stress. This is a viscous cycle that can be remedied by taking magnesium supplement. Adults require 300-400 mg of magnesium a day.

There are many different forms out on the market some of the better absorbed forms of magnesium include; magnesium gycinate, magnesium amino acid chelate, magnesium citrate and magnesium aspartate.

Herbal Medicines to combat stress

Chamomile

Chamomile is a nervous system relaxant and is a great remedy for mild anxiety. Chamomile is used to calm nervousness, both in the mind and in the stomach. It can reduce digestive discomforts and improve appetite in those with a great deal of stress.

Passionflower

Passionflower is a nervous system sedative and relaxant. Passionflower is considered best for mild to moderate anxiety, although it may still be valuable for severe anxiety. It works by reducing muscle tension and insomnia, calming the nerves to prevent agitation, mood swings, headaches, and hot flushes from anxiety

Skullcap

Scullcap is a nervous system sedative and relaxant but is also a nervous system tropho restorative, meaning it helps to restore the nervous system to normal function. Many people use the natural sedative properties of skullcap to fight insomnia, restlessness, rapid heartbeat, and even depression.

Licorice

Licorice is an adaptogen herb which helps the adrenal glands to function more effectively. Licorice is very useful during long moderate to long term stress. Please note licorice can interact with some medications so check with your health care professional before using it.

Kava

Kava is possibly the most effective herbal supplement for moderate and severe anxiety. The Kava root has been extensively researched for its effects on stress, anxiety, and insomnia. Unlike other herbal anxiety supplements, kava is not only effective for anxiety symptoms - it`s effective for anxious thoughts as well. Kava is not recommended for everyone and can interact with prescription medications so please check with your health care professional before using it.

Ginseng

There are several different types of ginsengs; Panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng and Indian ginseng. They are all collectively known as adaptogen herbs, helping the adrenal glands to function more effectively and are great for long term stress. Talk to your healthcare professional about which ginseng is best for you.

St Johnís Wort

St Johnís Wort is a nervous system tropho restorative, helping the nervous system to maintain normal function in times of stress. St Johnís Wort has long been known for its use in mild depression but recently it has shown to be very effective for anxiety as well. Best results are seen after 3 weeks of continued use and do be aware that St Johns Wort can interact with several medications so check with your healthcare professional before using it.

Lifestyle interventions for stress

Relaxation techniques

When I ask people what they do to relax I am often faced with a blank stare. So many people do not know how to relax. You might think watching television or reading a book is relaxing but when you are doing these activities your brain is still very active. Meditation and diaphragmatic breathing are great relaxations techniques to start with. Even starting with 5 minutes a day will give you good results.

Exercise

All forms of exercise from yoga to walking can ease depression and anxiety by helping the brain release feel-good chemicals and by giving your body a chance to practice dealing with stress. You can go for a quick walk around the block, take the stairs up and down a few flights, or do some stretching exercises like head rolls and shoulder shrugs

Diet

People who suffer from stress and anxiety need to support their bodies with good nutrition. Reducing processed foods, caffeine and alcohol are probably the most important recommendations. Having a fresh diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins will provide your body with nutrients needed at times of stress.

If you are feeling stressed out why not try including a B complex, a magnesium supplement and a maybe even a herbal preparation including some of the above mentioned herbs and you will be amazed how a few changes can make you feel so much better.

Written by Lea McIntyre - Naturopath - ND BHSc

Lea has had many years of professional experience as a naturopath working with her patients and clients both in her clinic and as a senior retail naturopathic adviser. When Lea is not helping people stay well and enjoy a healthy lifestyle, she is busy caring for and nurturing her two young children.

References

1. Nutrition status of primary care patients with depression and anxiety. Forsyth AK, Williams PG, Deane FP. Aust J Prim Health. 2012;18(2):172-6. doi: 10.1071/PY11023

2. Nutrient intakes and the common mental disorders in women. Jacka FN, Maes M, Pasco JA, Williams LJ, Berk M. J Affect Disord. 2012 Dec 1;141(1):79-85. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.02.018. Epub 2012 Mar 6.

3. Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. Sartori SB, Whittle N, Hetzenauer A, Singewald N. Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jan;62(1):304-12. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.07.027. Epub 2011 Aug 4.

4. Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review. Lakhan SE, Vieira KF. Nutr J. 2010 Oct 7;9:42. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-9-42. Review

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