Foundations of Health Part 1: Stress
Stress. We hear that word thrown around daily, but what does stress really mean? For one person it can be trying to hit a deadline, for another person it can be an environmental trigger such as mold, and for another it can be a family member with failing health. Stress is different for each person and what matters almost as much as the stressor itself, is the perception of stress in your life. I’ve reviewed some ways to combat stress both from a physiological standpoint but also through perception.
What Happens When Stress Arises?
Immune system: In a study of students that looked at the physiological impacts of perceived stress, they found there was a vast increase in inflammatory markers (TNF-α, IL-6, IL-1Ra and IFN-γ) compared to the group who had low perceived stress. All of this really means stress negatively impacts immune function (do you get sick frequently?) and increases inflammation throughout that body (by the way, inflammation = ageing). Each person’s body handles stress differently but some changes that can arise include bowel changes (either too loose or constipation), increased blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, and of course anxiety/depression.
How to Combat Stress
Re-framing the mind: This can be done through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), gratitude journaling, or surrounding yourself with positivity (people and things). One tip a supervisor taught me was to get paint swatches that appeal to you and write positive, inspirational quotes on them. Put them up around your home where you’ll see them daily. Practice forms habit and this includes your brain and beliefs!
Engage the PARASYMPATHETIC nervous system: The sympathetic nervous system is your fight or flight response (there's a bear chasing me) and parasympathetic is rest and digest (there's no threat, I can relax). Both cannot be functioning at the same time, so doing something like breathing exercises switches your nervous system into a slower paced ( through stimulation of the vagus nerve if you want to be geeky). Check out this article of Margot's favourite meditation apps to help guide you.
Adaptogens: These are a class of botanicals (my favourite!) that help the adrenal glands to modulate their response. These glands that sit atop our kidneys are responsible for the synthesis and release of hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline to name a few which are all involved in our stress response. Some of my favourites include Schisandra, Withania and Rhodiola.
DIET & EXERCISE: So, throughout my teenage and some of my University years, my diet was not great and definitely not substantial enough. I was under-eating and not taking care of myself properly (lack of sleep, water and nutrients). This led to anxiety, low mood and poor memory, which meant I was in this vicious cycle of stress-->Stress-->STRESS! Getting your B vitamins, magnesium, appropriate cholesterol and omegas (ideally from food) will help build those hormones and have them function properly.
7 DAY CHALLENGE TO DECREASE STRESS
Use the Headspace app for a free 10 day (I'm only asking you to do 7) trial of 3-5 minute guided breathing exercises and meditations. See what difference it makes in how you feel at the beginning of the week compared to the end of the week. Let us know how it goes as I will also be partaking in this challenge!
Disclaimer: This is not meant to replace medical advice. Please speak to your healthcare practitioner before making any adjustments.
Maes, Michael, et al. "The effects of psychological stress on humans: increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and Th1-like response in stress-induced anxiety." Cytokine10.4 (1998): 313-318.
T cell deficiency leads to cognitive dysfunction: implications for therapeutic vaccination for schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions. (PMID:15141078) Kipnis J, Cohen H, Cardon M, Ziv Y, Schwartz M. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.