Stress is a common experience. We may feel stressed when we are very busy, have important deadlines to meet, or have too little time to finish all of our tasks.
Whether they are aware of it or not many people develop a pattern for coping with stress. Unfortunately, most people have found patterns and methods that ultimately do not support good health.
Stress is inherent in our way of life and is part of the human condition. What is important is how we react to it. Some people handle stress well. Others are very negatively influenced by it.
The biological stress response is meant to protect and support us. It’s what helped our stone age ancestors survive the life-or-death situations they commonly faced. But in the modern world, most of the stress we feel is in response to psychological rather than physical threats.
Under the same environmental challenges everyone responds uniquely. Some people suffer from fatigue and lack of motivation. Others react with aggression and anger. Some become obsessively worried and anxious.
Information overload often creates stress and anxiety. People find it ever more difficult to cope with all the new information they receive, the explosive development of the internet and related information and communication technologies which has brought into focus the problems of information overload.
Anyone who does not get enough rest and relaxation, who drives themselves constantly, who is never satisfied or is a perfectionist, who is under constant pressure, who feels trapped or helpless, who feels overwhelmed by repeated or continuous difficulties, or who has experienced severe or chronic emotional or physical trauma or illness is probably already suffering from some degree of stress.
If stress continues, however, our bodies launch an adaptive, long term response to increase our capacity to deal with future stress. Common expressions of this state are altered function of the HPA axis – hyperactive or hypoactive, heightened sympathetic nervous system arousal and the beginning of symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
The function of the endocrine and nervous system is further dysregulated until the changes in function are no longer beneficial, but maladaptive. This marks the progression from a state of coping with stress to a state of pathology.
Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress - a negative stress reaction. Distress can lead to changes in mood, stress, chronic diseases such as cardiovascular and autoimmune disease, headaches or upset stomach.
Sleep is another area in which the stress response can be aided or hindered. Sleep deprivation increases sympathetic nervous system activity, leaving the body more vulnerable to the damaging effects of stress. Sleep deprivation also results in elevated cortisol the next evening. Abdominal fat deposition and cardiovascular disease are later consequences of this scenario when carried to the extreme.
Chronic stress can lead to the exhaustion stage, or commonly referred to as adrenal exhaustion. In this stage, the body actually begins to break down, and the risk of chronic disease increases dramatically. Adrenal exhaustion can lead to being burned out mentally, physically, and emotionally. As adrenal function is impaired, every organ and system in the body is affected.
Furthermore, increased adrenaline production causes the body to step up its metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to quickly produce energy for the body to use. This response causes the body to excrete amino acids, potassium, and phosphorus; to deplete magnesium stored in muscle tissue; and to store less calcium. Further, the body does not absorb ingested nutrients well when under stress.
The result is that, especially with prolonged or recurrent stress, the body becomes at once deficient in many nutrients and unable to replace them adequately. Deficiencies of the B-complex vitamins, which are very important for proper functioning of the nervous system, and of certain electrolytes, are depleted by the body’s stress response. Stress also promotes the formation of free radicals that can become oxidised and damage body tissues, especially cell membranes.
Preventing stress requires a combination of things. The person’s lifestyle, how they spend their energy, how they conserve their energy, and how they create energy as well as what they eat and drink, the thoughts they feed their mind and the beliefs they base their life on.
People who suffer from stress need to support the biochemistry of the body by following some important dietary guidelines. Specifically; eliminating or restricting the intake of caffeine and alcohol, reducing refined carbohydrates from the diet and eating regular planned healthy meals in a relaxed environment.
There are also specific nutrients that are particularly important for maintaining a tolerance to stress, as follows:
B complex: The B-vitamins are often called the "stress" vitamins. When our bodies are forced to withstand the demands of physical or emotional stress, the B-vitamins and other key nutrients are the first to be depleted. The body not only needs specific nutrients to combat stress, but it must also replace the nutrients that stress directly uses up. Therefore, a multi-vitamin/B complex supplement would be helpful.
Vitamin C: A daily supplement of a high-dose of vitamin C is also essential for proper adrenal functioning as well as for its detoxifying and antioxidant properties.
Magnesium: Magnesium is an important mineral required by the body for healthy function of the nervous system. Magnesium is necessary for over 350 different bodily processes, including digestion, energy production, muscle function, bone formation, creation of new cells, activation of B vitamins, relaxation of muscles, as well as assisting in the functions of the heart, kidneys, adrenals, brain and nervous system. Lack of sufficient available magnesium in the body can interfere with any or all of these processes.
Herbs can be used to restore the nervous system in debility, they have a nourishing function and build up, tonify and strengthen the system. Herbs help the body to cope with and adapt to internal and external pressures. Herbs used will depend on the symptoms experienced. Some of the herbs used for stress include: Licorice, Withania, Rhodiola, Oats, Siberian ginseng, Pulsatilla, Passionflower, Hops, St. Johns Wort, Scullcap, Chamomile, Valerian, and many more!
Other supplements that may help include – L-theanine, GABA, inositol, glycine, taurine and 5HTP. At Synergy we compound a formula called Amino Calm which is formulated to help with calming the nervous system. And, it also has highly effective sleep enhancing effects as well.
For a double whammy stress-busting supplement, pair with our compounded Magnesium Glycinate and you’ll be floating in the clouds of relaxation before you know it!
Foods to avoid are processed foods, artificial sweeteners, carbonated soft drinks, chocolate, fried food, sugar, white flour products, preservatives and additives.
Aerobic exercise-such as running, walking and bike riding can help keep stress levels down. People who feel stressed need to make sure that they create some time for themselves to do things that they really love and are passionate about. It can be anything from fishing to seeing a movie. If they do not have a favourite pastime then they need to make some regular time to start trying things they have never done before.
The way to treat stress therefore is to treat the underlying cause of illness rather than temporarily alleviating the symptoms. The cause of stress will ultimately depend on many factors including fatigue, bad eating habits and nutritional deficiencies, digestion, depression, allergies, unfavourable lifestyle habits and other stress related illnesses.
In order to help a patient overcome stress and its affects they must first understand what stress is and what causes it. A variety of treatments may be needed to restore normal body function and to enhance the body’s own inherent healing ability. This may include incorporating food plans into the patient’s lifestyle, nutrition and supplementation, herbal medicine including addressing the mind, body and spirit.