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16 May 2022

Healthy Living: Stress – how does it affect our body and how can we cope better?

Healthy Living:  Stress – how does it affect our body and how can we cope better?

statistics show that Ireland loses around 40 million working days annually due to stress related illnesses, and it costs us a whopping €10-12 billion each year! Picture: Pexels

IN THE midst of these uncertain, frightening times, we need to step back and have a look at what stress is doing to our body, and find a way to cope better.
Statistics show that Ireland loses around 40 million working days annually due to stress related illnesses, and it costs us a whopping €10-12 billion each year!
Stress has been described as the pressure we experience in situations that threaten our well-being or tax our resources. It is any stimulus that upsets the body’s natural balance, may it be external or internal.
The stress response is designed to enable us to deal with difficult challenges or to prompt us to get out of a dangerous situation – therefore it is needed and short term it is good.
Prolonged exposure to stress becomes a problem and inevitably leaves you feeling overwhelmed. Overwork, lack of sleep, physical illness, hormonal imbalances, medications, excessive alcohol and stimulants (tea, coffee, smoking and social drugs) are all common physical factors that contribute to ongoing stress whilst psychological issues including depression and anxiety are also contributing factors. Interpretation of stress is very individual. What may be stressful for one person may not be for another. It is all down to how you cope with it!
In the short term, stress triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. The hormones adrenalin and noradrenalin increase heart and breathing rate, blood sugar levels (to feed our brain that only uses sugar for fuel) and blood pressure; increase circulation to essential organs needed for the fight (brain and muscles) and decrease activity of nonessential functions for immediate survival such as digestion, urinary and reproductive activities - they even alter your immune system, making you more prone to diseases. Soon after this primary reaction Cortisol is released to maintain the stress response, eventually leading to complete physical and mental exhaustion.
Nutrition is extremely important in helping the body cope with prolonged exposure to stress. Focusing on a diet that helps to balance blood sugar levels, support the adrenal glands, promote energy production and calm the nervous system can have a profound effect on helping the body cope when exposed to stress. Stimulants like caffeine and sugar only add oil to the fire, while regular, well-balanced meals consisting of easily digestible proteins, complex carbohydrates and vegetables are essential. Snacks consisting of fruits with nuts and seeds, oatcakes with hummus, avocado or other nutritious dips with vegetable sticks can help to keep your blood sugar levels even – and therefore our energy levels balanced, even control Cortisol release and help you get a better restoring sleep.
Certain herbs are known as “adaptogens”, they help your body adapt to stress, calming the surges of these stress hormones, leaving you calmer, more focused and energised. Rhodiola, which athletes used to take for their mental focus and energy, or Ashwagandha to calm a racing mind are wonderful. Get a good complex mix of adaptogens for best results.

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