This is a topic that absolutely fascinates me as we hear it so much in our every day lives that people are “Stressed”. We also have a lot of external factors that can contribute to stress. I’ve done a LOT of reading about this, purely because I find it so interesting. My favourite author about stress when it comes to nutrition and fitness is Brendan Brazier and his THRIVE books. If you are interested in plant based nutrition for peak sport performance I cannot recommend his books enough… but for those of you who just want the information summed up so it’s easy to digest (haha) then this post is for you.
“Stress is like fire, when controlled and used for a purpose it serves us well. When left unbridled, it can consume us”
Brendan Brazier THRIVE
Many people complain about being “stressed”. The symptoms can include: not sleeping well, having low energy, being irritable, having trouble making minor decisions… the list goes on. Typically we are told to slow down if we are feeling stressed, which is one way to handle it but naturally this also reduces productivity so how can we better handle stress without putting our life on hold?
The first thing to realise is that there are three categories of ‘stressors’ in life:
UNCOMPLIMENTARY STRESS - This is anything that causes anxiety without any benefit. Sources of this type of stress are generally Environmental (Air pollution for example, our bodies have to fight the toxins we inhale every day), Psychological (Some are more prone to this type than others but this is generally to do with fears and concerns within us) and Nutritional (This is the stress that unhealthy food puts our bodies under, when we don’t provide our bodies with the nutrients it need it struggles to perform the way we need it to).
COMPLIMENTARY STRESS - This is the right amount of stress to stimulate renewal and growth. Exercise is a form of complimentary stress. You put your body under pressure, the ‘stress’ breaks down the muscle tissue and it builds back stronger. Complimentary stress is when positive change is the outcome.
PRODUCTIVE STRESS -This is when stress is created to achieve a specific goal. This can range from an athlete training for an important race, to a student studying for an exam, to you trying to get that report in for work on time. Often referred to as the ‘high achiever syndrome’ it can be viewed as simply ‘achieving’ but ultimately it is a stress we put ourselves under… although the result is good.
So how does our body respond to stress…The body’s adrenal glands kick into action, regardless of the type of stress and release cortisol into the blood stream. Cortisol is often referred to as the STRESS HORMONE. The initial body response is that we become more alert, we gain more energy… I guess we are drawing on our ancient bodily instincts, assuming that we must be in danger so we must act. Our adrenal glands were not designed to be used as much as they are today, so although in the short term you have energy, it’s not sustainable, leaving your body feeling constantly fatigued.
If cortisol levels stay high, the body responds by shifting fuel sources. Instead of burning fat for fuel, a stressed person’s body will burn carbohydrates in the form of sugar, and your body begins to store fat instead of using it for energy. Then in turn your body starts to crave carbohydrates and sugars for energy… you can see the cycle here, and maybe relate… what do you feel like eating after a long and stressful day?
What can we do…?
Recognise what the different stresses in your life are… then you can start to address them. Positive and negative. According to the THRIVE studies 70% of our stress in actually nutritional and we don’t even realise it. Our bodies were never designed to have to deal with the refined and processed rubbish that we pour into it today.
Living with a whole food, healthy, balanced diet is just one way that you can reduce stress in your world. Maybe that feels like a long shot for you if you hate to cook or just don’t know how to incorporate healthy food into your world. It is my hope that with my goodness, we can make this as easy as possible for you. If you have a full life and are feeling the stress of every day life, make sure that you are taking the time to look after your self. Your mind, your spirit and your body. You need all three to do what you do!
This is really scratching the surface. It's such a huge topic and I will write more on it soon... but hopefully this will help you look at the different areas in your life and see where you can help your body... give it some love!