Stress affects most of us one way or another. Stress can be good or bad; sometimes you can feel it when you’re stressed, sometimes you can’t feel it at all. If you suffer from anxiety though, you’ll usually feel it every time. Everybody reacts differently to stress and anxiety; it’s not so much about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond to it. Understanding how stress and anxiety affect your body can help you stress-less and feel more at ease.
Stress changes the way your body functions
Stress involves a response or change in your body’s balance and places an additional load on your body which can affect you physically, mentally, emotionally or environmentally eg: physical stress of being dehydrated, mental or emotional stress of a relationship breakup or environmental stress from heavy metal exposure. This helps to illustrate why sometimes you can feel stress and at other times you can’t.
Short term or acute stress signals your nervous system to release hormones from your adrenal glands, including adrenaline and cortisol, allowing you to react and respond quickly to a stressful event. Once you’ve dealt with short term stress, your body returns to normal, or a state of ‘ease’. Chronic or long term stress leads to elevated cortisol levels and increased nervous system activity which can have multiple ill-effects on your health. Cortisol also curbs any ‘non-essential’ stress related activities in your body by suppressing immune, digestive and reproductive functions, which means that chronically elevated cortisol levels can be amplified throughout your whole body.
Chronic stress increases your risk of chronic dis-eases
Chronic stress can leave you feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope. If stress persists, your body tries to compensate and maintain balance by increasing cortisol levels until finally you become resistant to the effects of cortisol and your adrenal glands become exhausted, leaving you unable to mount any stress response at all. Symptoms of prolonged elevated cortisol levels may include anxiety, low mood, insomnia, difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, thyroid dysfunction, dry hair, skin and nails, poor focus and inability to concentrate, low libido, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), learning and memory problems, and fatigue.
Anxiety - the big `what if`
Anxiety is often described as a psychological issue deeply-rooted in fear or dread about something that may or may not occur in the future; such as public speaking, a new social situation, flying, fear of spiders or ending a relationship - it’s the big ‘what if’. Anxiety, while recognised as a broad condition in its own right, predictably has some form of stress or mood component to it, especially when your normal coping mechanisms are depleted. Anxiety is often accompanied by a number of real physiological symptoms including heart palpitations, sweaty palms, shallow breathing, nervousness, chest pain, headache, dizziness, diarrhoea, dry mouth or hyperventilation. Long term anxiety can lead to problems with your health including poor immune, cardiovascular and respiratory function, digestive issues, metabolic changes and sleep and mood disturbances.
Anxiety may last for just a few seconds or over a number of years. The effects of anxiety can be very different for different people; some will only suffer transient effects while others will experience a major disruption to their life. Overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system mediates many of the physical symptoms associated with anxiety.
Contributing factors or possible causes of anxiety may include hyperthyroidism, hypoglycaemia, neurotransmitter imbalances (serotonin, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) or dopamine), hormonal imbalances, excessive caffeine, illicit drugs, and certain medications to mention a few.
When stress and anxiety collide
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether anxiety leads to stress or whether stress leads to anxiety – both scenarios are probable. If you’ve been stressed over a long period of time, it can lead to anxiety. If you’ve suffered from anxiety over a long period of time, it can lead to chronic stress. Managing stress and anxiety should be viewed and treated on a holistic basis.
There are a number of positive lifestyle choices you can make to help alleviate stress and anxiety, and with added support of specific herbs and nutrients, you’ll soon start to feel more relaxed and in control.
Top 5 herbs and nutrients for stress and anxiety
Withania - anxiety stress
Withania, in a full-spectrum extract known as KSM-66, provides the most extensive set of clinical trials documented to reduce anxiety and stress. Withania is an adaptogen herb that helps you ‘adapt’ while under stress and increases your body’s resistance to mental and physical stress. Withania promotes relaxation and helps to decrease elevated cortisol levels found in chronic stress.
Magnesium - relaxation energy
Magnesium is sometimes referred to as the ‘valium of the mineral world’ due to its ability to relax and support your whole nervous system, so helps relieve insomnia, calms your whole nervous system, reduces muscle aches and pains, relieves fatigue and exhaustion and helps to reduce high blood pressure.
Rehmannia - adrenal glands stress
Rehmannia supports your adrenal glands during all the phases of stress so supports a healthy stress response. High cortisol levels lead to decreased serotonin levels; serotonin is known as a happiness hormone because it contributes to feelings of wellbeing.
B vitamin complex - nervous system anxiety
B vitamins work well as a group and are important for nervous system health and energy production so helps relieve anxiety and low mood, fatigue and exhaustion. Vitamin B5 in particular is necessary for adrenal gland health.
Siberian Ginseng - feeling stressed out
Siberian Ginseng has a long traditional history of use as an adaptogen; helping you feel less stressed out and able to cope while you’re under stress, both physically and mentally and relieves fatigue and exhaustion.
Healthy lifestyle choices
• Regular exercise reduces stress and increase ‘feel good’ endorphins
• Relaxation techniques; meditation, yoga and deep diaphragm breathing
• Regular, relaxing massage
• Make time for things you enjoy
• Cognitive behavioural therapy or counselling
• Positive thoughts and affirmations
• Eat a healthy and varied diet including fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds
Written by Kay Bellingham
Kay Bellingham is a practicing Naturopath with over 14 years’ experience in natural medicine, with a special interest in herbs and nutrients for health and wellbeing.
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