Doing More Now… And Enjoying It Less?
You’ll Feel Much Better When You Reduce The Stress.
- Why Is Stress Reduction So Important?
- What Does Stress Do To Our Bodies?
- How Do Nutrients Help Us De-Stress?
- How Can You Induce “The Relaxation Response”?
Look inside and find support for a more relaxed and balanced life….
TOPIC: STRESS REDUCTION
Our minds are like a lake. When they are still, they reflect reality more accurately. When they are not clouded, we are able to ‘see’ the depths of our own awareness. But most of the time, our minds are disturbed with activities of daily living which disrupt the clarity of our awareness. They are filled with emotional disruption which clouds our perceptions. Lloyd J. Thomas, PhD, in Stress Relief & Relaxation Techniques by Judith Lazarus (Keats 2000)
Doing More Now… And Enjoying It Less?
You’ll Feel Much Better When You Reduce The Stress.
• Why Is Stress Reduction So Important?
• What Does Stress Do To Our Bodies?
• How Do Nutrients Help Us De-Stress?
• How Can You Induce “The Relaxation Response”?
Look inside and find support
for a more relaxed and balanced life….
Regardless of the specific cause, stress always harms us most when we’re off balance – when one or more aspects of our being (body, mind, spirit) is not getting the attention it deserves. From Chill by Deborah Reber, 2008
Stress is largely the result of the continuous demands we feel on our time. These demands come from work, family, and lifestyle. Plus, we make further demands on ourselves through our desire to feel productive or accomplished. There is a price for this constant pressure.
Because of the biochemical changes brought about by chronic stress, our health is put at risk. Some experts believe that as much as 85 percent of all illness is stress-induced. Consider that. Now consider this: Successful stress management is as fundamental to our health as eating right and exercising.
Hundreds of studies confirm the disastrous effects of out-of-control stress. To evaluate, take the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, a reference for predicting an illness or accident two years into the future. (Search: Holme and Rahe stress scale.) The scale consists of 41 rated items, ranging from “death of a spouse” at 100 points to “minor violations of the law” at 11. Ranges over 300 indicate an 80 percent probability of illness or accident.
Elson M. Haas, MD, healer-physician, categorizes stress this way: physical (hard labor, birth, extreme weather); chemical (pollution and drug and/or alcohol use); mental (long hours, perfectionism); emotional (betrayal, frustration); nutritional (deficiencies and excesses); trauma (injury, surgery); psycho-spiritual (relationship pressures, general state of happiness); child rearing; family changes; work demands; and life changes (adolescence, aging).
Unexpectedly, even good things cause stress. These include engagements, weddings, births, new homes or cars, awards and recognition, praises, and raises.
What Is The Stress Response?
lthough it’s easy to believe that stress only happens in our heads, it just starts there. Whenever we perceive an event as stressful, the stress response is activated, resulting in a series of over 1400 physio-chemical reactions. The brain and body go on hyper-alert. Together these reactions are commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” syndrome.
The nervous and endocrine (i.e., glandular) systems are most actively involved in the stress response. The nervous system provides immediate feedback, signaling the endocrine system. Through the release of certain hormones (including the adrenal hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol) our body gears up for battle. This is the physical combination which underlies heroic acts and feats of legendary strength. We’ve all heard of small persons raising cars off injured beings.
It Is Important To Understand That This Happens To You No Matter What The Stress. This means it happens if the phone rings and you’re in the shower; if you see traffic backed up; you’re running late for an appointment; your computer crashes; you forget to stop for milk; the children are too quiet; the sink stops up; it’s a bad hair day; and a myriad of other circumstances common to everyday life. Potentially, all these examples could happen on any one day.
The bad news is, if you do nothing about the stress, the effects of hassles and upsets are cumulative. Over time, you don’t just feel worn out – you are worn out. Read “Stress-Related Symptoms And Diseases” below. The good news is you can protect your body and your mind on a daily basis.
The behaviors and skills for coping with stress are tried and true: eat right, get regular exercise, make time for quiet relaxation, get enough sleep, and don’t forget to have at least one good belly laugh every day.1 Bring these elements into your life and experience a greater sense of well being, meet tricky situations with more calm, and improve your health all at the same time.
Eat Right To Stay Well
ell-nourished individuals are better equipped to cope with stress. In fact, the lack of any nutrient is itself a stress factor. A carefully chosen diet along with nutritional supplements can significantly enhance your ability to manage the stress in your life.
In general, eat foods which are as wholesome and chemical free as possible. Stay away from heavy foods, except when you are in a relaxing situation. Reduce your intake of animal fat, processed carbohydrates (read sugar and white flour), caffeine, and salt. All of these foods are stressors and add to the problem. Make your menu fish, lean meats, bean dishes, eggs occasionally, whole grains, salads, steamed vegetables, fresh fruits in season, raw nuts and seeds, decaffeinated, unsweetened beverages, and lots of water. Both what you eat and how you eat can improve your experience. When you know you are in for a stressful time, eat light foods and eat slowly.
The following questions help you evaluate your eating habits:2
1. Do you eat at least 5 portions of fresh fruits and vegetables daily?
2. Do you always look for low-fat options for milk, mayonnaise, sauces, etc.
3. Do you use olive oil or another pure oil for sauteeing?
4. Do you avoid deep-fried foods?
5. Do you try to eat more fish and white meat rather than red meat?
6.Do you consume biscuits, cakes, pastries, creamy desserts once a week or less?
7. Do you choose whole wheat pasta, bread, and brown rice?
8. Do you eat beans regularly?
9. Do you use herbs rather than salt to flavor your food?
10. Do you eat breakfast? (People who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight.)
Food should revitalize – not devitalize.
Supplements vs Stress
tress depletes a number of nutrients. Replenishing ourselves on food alone – even the most wholesome food – is not realistic. Everybody needs a fundamental supplement program.
Begin with a potent multivitamin-mineral formula from the natural products store. Vitamins and minerals help our bodies energize and utilize the food we eat. Good formulas contain sufficient vitamin A, B vitamins, zinc, selenium, iron, and molybdenum, all of which support the stress resposnse.
The B complex vitamins and vitamin C are major anti-stress nutrients. Among other functions, they support the work of the adrenal glands. B complex and most forms of vitamin C are water-soluble. This means that they are not stored. When unused, they leave the body in the urine.3
During periods of unusual stress, it is a good idea to reinforce your B complex beyond what is provided in your multi formula. Purchase a bottle of B complex, which usually contains the Bs in quantities of 25-50 mg (except folic acid at 400 mcg). Take a serving in the afternoon. Only if you need to work in the evening, take another. Otherwise, they can keep you awake. Always take your B vitamins and your multis with food. Alone they can cause stomach upset.
The minerals calcium and magnesium and vitamins C and E need to be taken in addition to your multi. Just the normal requirements for these nutrients make it inconvenient to package them within the capsules or tablets of a multi formula. (Some powder formulations in serving packets supply plenty. Read the labels.)
When blood levels of calcium are inadequate, it is stolen from the bones to meet the needs of the stress response. Calcium is vital to the nervous system, to heart function, and to immune response. You may be getting enough. Many foods are fortified with calcium, plus it is among the most popular of individual supplements. Amounts of 600-1000 mg are recommended.
Magnesium, unlike its partner calcium, continues to be under emphasized in public education campaigns. Consequently, many people do not get enough either in their diets or through supplementation. Stress rapidly commandeers magnesium from our cells, leaving us feeling anxious. Very important to heart health and the nervous system, it also contributes to sound sleep, relaxed muscles, and a sense of calmness. Caffeine, sugar, high fat foods and alcohol all leech magnesium from the body. It is found in leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Supplement with 350-600 mg every day.
During the physical agitation of the stress response, the body produces an overabundance of rogue molecules called “free radicals”. Free radicals are actually produced as a part of the body’s normal functioning and are basic to the immune response and metabolism. In this case, they are kept in check by the body’s own super antioxidants. The free radicals produced by stress destroy healthy cells, disrupt cellular processes, interfere with immunity, and cause inflammation. This over-production of free radicals is thought to generate many diseases and the onset of premature aging.4
Antioxidants combine with the reactive molecules, neutralizing them. Vitamins C and E are essential nutrients and wonderful antioxidants. Normally, 400 IU of vitamin E should be taken and up to 1200 under stressful conditions. Take at least one gram (1000 mg) of vitamin C in divided doses daily. Amounts of eight grams and more have been recommended during stress.
There are a number of effective antioxidants available. One of the most powerful is alpha lipoic acid (the same as lipoic acid). Alpha lipoic is produced by the body and used to meet many cellular needs. However, supplementation provides enough additional alpha lipoic that the body has the opportunity to utilize it more fully as an antioxidant. Alpha lipoic has the additional advantage of scavenging both fat and water soluble types of free radicals. Take 50-100 mg daily.
Other important antioxidants include selenium (affects the body’s antioxidant network), acetyl-L-carnitine, carnosine, coenzyme Q10, DMAE, N-acetyl-cysteine, and the hormones DHEA and melatonin. (For more info, see Nutrition News, “Dancing With Antioxidants”.) Recently many plant-based antioxidant supplements have been introduced. These include the carontentoids, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, astaxanthin, and zeaxanthin. Others of this ilk are chocolate, olive leaf, bilberry, green tea extract, grape seed and pine bark (the PCOs), elderberry, scotch broom, rosemary, oregano, hawthorn, ginkgo, and milk thistle. (See Nutrition News, “Whole, Fresh And Lively”.)
Of these, milk thistle (Silybum marianum), the great protector of the liver, is highly recommended. All external and internal pollutants are processed by the liver. Studies of milk thistle extract show that it helps regenerate and strengthen this organ, enabling it to eliminate toxins. Purchase a standardized extract and follow the recommendations on the label.
Other useful supplements include digestive enzymes (particularly pancreatic enzymes and possibly hydrochloric acid), adrenal glandulars, and omega-3 fish oils (enhance brain function). Rescue Remedy is a stress-relieving flower remedy5 and the homeopathic remedy nux vomica can be helpful for chronic over-achievers and useful for over indulging in food and drink.
Take a Chill Pill
Adaptogens are primarily stress-fighting nutrients. They have an overall beneficial effect, helping us to withstand stress and bringing support to the immune system. In his Stress & Natural Healing, herbalist Christopher Hobbs, LAc, writes that a major criteria of adaptogens is “the restoration of balance to all bodily systems while placing additional burdens on none.” Ginseng is the best known of the adaptogen family. Others include ashwaganda, reishi, schisandra, rehmannia, Holy Basil, and gotu cola. (See Nutrition News, “Adaptogens: Balance In A Bottle”.)
Add An Amino Acid
Several amino acids can help your body/mind deal with stress. L-theanine, a rare amino acid, is found abundently in tea leaves. A number of EEG studies show that theanine relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness, producing a state of relaxed alertness. Counter-intuitive, it is believed to be most effective with anxious people. Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. If you are flagging, do what billions of others do and brew a “cuppa”.
Tryptophan is needed to produce serotonin. This is the neurotransmitter that calms, improves sleep, boosts mood, decreases irritability, curbs your carbohydrate cravings, and increases your tolerance to pain. Although tryptophan is available in supplement form (usually used to insure sleep), it is found in all animal proteins, plus soybeans, almonds, cashews, peanuts, and sunflower seeds. Eat these foods with a healthy carbohydrate (a whole grain or fruit) to insure serotonin production.
Tyrosine is involved with the brain’s production of norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine. These neuro-transmitters make you alert, vigilant, and better able to concentrate under both stress and normal conditions. Sources include beef, chicken liver, game, fish, avocados, bananas, tofu, soybeans, red plums, raisins, sauerkraut, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, garbanzos, potatoes, brown rice, oats, nuts, beer, red wine, port, vermouth, and distilled spirits.
1 Exercise neutralizes the dangerous chemicals produced in your body during stress.
2 Adapted from So Stressed by Stephanie McClellan, MD, and Beth Hamilton, MD.
3 It is the B vitamins that make urine bright yellow. During stress, when the body is using the vitamins rapidly, this may not happen.
4 One such process outside the body is rusting, the effect of oxygen on unprotected metal. Another is oil becoming rancid or an apple turning brown. Within the body, nutrients must be oxidized to provide energy.
5 Rescue Remedy is a combination of calming flower essences. Since its small bottle is easily carried on the person, it can be taken on the spot.
Chill. Deborah Reber. NewYork: Simon & Schuster (2008).
Girl In A Funk. Tanya Napier and Jen Kollmer. San Francisco: Zest Books (2007).
Relaxation – An Illustrated Program of Exercises, Techniques, and Meditations. Chrissie Gallagher-Mundy. North Dighton, MA: JG Press (1995).
So Stressed. Stephanie McClellan, MD, and Beth Hamilton, MD. New York: Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster (2010).
The Healing Force of Serenity. Diane Lau Cordrey, PhD. Thomaston, Maine: Century Press (2004). The title says it all, doesn’t it?
Stress Reduction: If you think you don’t have time for it, go back to page 2 and read the list of stress-related symptoms and diseases over again. —Siri
Stress-Related Symptoms and Diseases
Colds and flu
High blood pressure
Loss of appetite
Neck and back pains
Invoke The Relaxation Response
Here are two ways this is easily accomplished:
#1) Passive and can be done for 10 minutes first thing in the morning and 10 minutes just before bed; #2) Active and can be done nearly everywhere.
#1) Sit somewhere quiet and keep your spine straight and relaxed. (Don’t lie down, you’ll fall asleep.) Close your eyes. Focus on your breathing and take deep, slow breaths. Count your breaths to ten on the exhale and then start again. You can say a word that is meaningful to you, maybe that’s “God” or maybe your own name. In this case, inhale and exhale repeating the word or mantra. Repeat until a state of calm (or beyond) is experienced.
#2) Keep your eyes open and relaxed. Think “soft eyes”. You see everything and you are calm yet aware of your surroundings. Then breathe deeply and calmly, continuing your activity while also attending to your breath. This is easily done while driving, sitting at your desk, while standing in line, or any time you’re not in conversation or direct focus is not needed.
A Gift From Your Right Brain
This technique comes from Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Lusser Rico (1983). It brings forth your “right brain”. The right hemisphere operates the left side of the body. In most individuals, it is associated with intuitive, nonlinear, and creative thinking. (Sometimes this is reversed with the left brain doing the work usually associated with the right.)
Although developed for writing poetry, the technique is a great way to release stress. In particular, I have used it to teach meditation and to empty my own brain when I am in overwhelm. (It works equally well for organizing projects, general to dos, emotional issues, looking for lost thoughts, etc.)
1. Take a piece of 8.5×11 paper with one clean side. It doesn’t matter if it has lines and with time any paper of any size will serve.
2. Somewhere on the page write the topic you want to explore. For example, “What’s on my mind…” or “Current hassles in my life” or “I’m worried about…”. Use your own words to create your dumping ground.
3. Circle your statement.
4. Now simply begin to write whatever words come into your mind. Put them anywhere on the sheet, in any way. Don’t think about them or try to organize them. Just scribble away.
5. Continue to write until nothing more comes forth. Once you are complete you can read your work, prioritize your concerns, organize them, or just wad them up and put them into the trash.
My stand is that many of you will find this technique as helpful as I have found it. Plus, you can always use it to write poetry, another form of release and expression.
Nutrition News 2010 VOL XXXIV, No. 11