Transform your stress with lifestyle choices

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Recognising and acknowledging that you are stressed is the first step in the transformation process. What you don’t know, you can’t change. In most instances, the mere fact that you have taken stock and accepted that you’re stressed also allows you to see reasons why. You may not have that magic wand to sprinkle fairy dust and make it all go away, but you can certainly use a range of lifestyle choices to ease some pressure and give yourself some breathing space. Here is a selection of powerful stress-busting techniques to choose from:

Getting your beauty sleep

Whether you’re a lark or a night owl, sleep is not a luxury, nor is it something to be caught up at weekends, or saved for holidays. Sleep is probably the most powerful, but natural, stress transformer we have – and it’s free!

Without banking sufficient sleep hours into your ‘account’, not only is your body unable to regenerate but, more importantly, your brain winds down, hindering your ability to think clearly and keep your emotions balanced. We are meant to spend around one third of our lives asleep and yet it’s the first activity we sacrifice when the pressure is on. Why? Healthy sleep is one of the sure-fire ways of maintaining youthful, resilient, vitality of both body and mind and allowing us to cope better with stress.

But how much sleep is enough? If you’ve been scrimping on your sleep for whatever reason, it’s time for a re-think. Adults, regardless of gender, typically need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night for optimal brain and body function. Under-sleeping by even one hour every weeknight amounts to a monumental 5 hours of sleep debt by the time the weekend arrives – impossible to recoup. But, just like your bank overdraft, sleep debt has to be repaid. All too often the price is your health and spiralling stress levels as you increasingly lack the resilience to adapt to the pressures of life.

Positive self-talk

You are what you think. The orientation of your self-talk can mean the difference between super hero or super zero. Our thoughts underpin our beliefs and beliefs quickly become self-fulfilling prophecies. What we believe determines what we do, so if we believe we can’t do something, or clog up our mind with negative thoughts, we will remain stuck in our unhappy stressed-out state. Negative thoughts can seriously limit our experiences and quality of life.

Conversely, if our self-talk is positive, even if that means consciously reframing a negative thought, our behaviour and life experience follows suit. As part of the re-framing process, ask yourself these 3 questions:

  • What else could ‘this’ mean?
  • Is there a positive flip side I can reach for?
  • How else can I think about this?

Use a notebook if you need to in the beginning, but note your negative self-talk and change it. Negative thinking is a luxury we can ill afford.

Grounding in green spaces

Do you feel better when you’re outside in nature, barefoot on the green grass, under a sunny blue sky? Doesn’t everyone? Well it’s not all about the sunshine. It’s a lot to do with electrons. The Earth maintains a negative electrical potential on its surface. So when you’re in direct contact with the ground (walking, sitting, or laying down on the earth’s surface) the earth’s electrons are conducted to your body, which synchronises us to the same electrical potential. Living in direct contact with the Earth grounds your body, inducing favourable physiological and electrophysiological changes that promote optimum health eg. proper functioning of the immune system, circulation and synchronisation of biorhythms to name just a few. This electron exchange during grounding is also deeply relaxing and stress-relieving.

These positive effects from ‘grounding’ aren’t surprising because throughout our evolutionary history humans have been in constant contact with the Earth. It’s so simple — next time you’re on the grass, a beach or the earth, take your shoes off and synchronise a little.

Releasing your inner recreational ‘drug’

Cannabis isn’t the only source of ‘feel-good’ cannabinoids out there. Your brain can make them too! Cannabinoids may be responsible for cannabis’ classification as an illicit drug in many countries, but you can become your own legal dealer just by working out a bit more. For many years endorphins were thought to be behind the post work-out euphoria or ‘runner’s high’, but actually we now know it’s down to cannabinoids – endocannabinoids, because we make them in our bodies. It’s fascinating to find that there are more cannabinoid receptors in the brain than there are receptors for other well-known brain neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, and ten times more than the opioid receptors. We also have cannabinoid receptors in our digestive systems and reproductive organs. Getting physically active on a regular basis not only brings you a lean, fit, healthy body, but also a serene antidote to stress. Not only that, endocannabinoids also protect your brain’s neurons from early death, which is hugely important in maintaining cognitive function as we age.

Committing to the present moment

Easier said than done. When we’re stressed, part of the reason for the stress is not knowing what to do to get out of where we find ourselves. It seems like a mountain of steps have to be taken all at once if we are to stop ourselves from drowning. Life feels out of control and it’s a natural impulse to keep looking outwards at all those steps in front of us that feel so overwhelming. But it’s actually the step right in front of us, in the here and now, that holds the key to release. All we need to do is stop looking into the stressful future, take a breath and connect fully to the present moment.

Change always begins with one step. Only one. So, try doing what our ancestors did: look to the sky and find your guiding star. Go out into the night sky. Sit in peace. Look up at the stars. Relax a little and take a moment to get away from the stress of your life and all those overwhelming steps in front of you. In the space and the quiet, in the relief and the stillness, you will regain focus. And you will feel the one step that’s in front of you. Have the courage to take that first step and commit to a daily practice of immersing yourself in the present moment – even if it’s just a fleeting 30 secs in your busy day.

You have time now to practice some of these lifestyle transformers before the next blog in this ‘Quit Stressing’ series. Next time, Rob will outline what a stress-busting nutritional toolbox should look like and why you definitely want Nuzest’s Good Green Stuff and Clean Lean Protein in it.

Quit stressing! But why?

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Most of us know stress is bad for us. But turning it off isn’t always easy – it’s not just a simple switch you can turn on and off at will. What’s more, stress isn’t always bad for us – in fact, some of you will be pleased to learn (if you didn’t know it already) that we’re actually designed to function with some level of stress. Importantly, there is good stress and bad stress, or positive and negative stress. If we’re interested in being the best, most vital and healthy beings we possibly can be, we need to ensure we’ve got the right amount of positive stress, combined with as little negative stress as we can muster.

What kind of stress are you under?

Dr Hans Selye, the widely acknowledged ‘father’ of stress research, devoted an entire book to the subject of ‘stress without distress’ . What’s clear from more than half a century of research on the subject is that we all have different levels of stress tolerance. Some people are able to cope with much higher levels of negative stress than others, and one person’s positive stress might be another person’s negative stress.

Stress is a reaction caused by a stressor of some sort. It might be excessive hours of work, a series of seemingly unrealistic deadlines, or a tyrant of a boss. It could be exams or a bully at school, a poor diet, or an under-par immune system that’s struggling to ward off infection. It might also be pushing yourself to the limit in a given sport or overdoing it in the gym. As Dr Selye said, “a painful blow or a passionate kiss can be equally stressful” — at different times, or to different people. He also reminded us that “complete freedom from stress is death”.

The nature, duration, severity and, in particular, our response to stress, are what determine whether stress is ultimately going to do us good or harm. And don’t forget, you can suffer negative stress that also does you good. An example of this is being caught in traffic on the way to the airport and then running late for a plane. The psychological and physiological stress response that causes you to run to the check-in juggling all your bags, and then through the terminal feeling as if you want to bowl over any slow-moving passengers or over-zealous security officers isn’t good for you. Your nervous system is on red alert, your heart has nearly punched its way out of your chest, and your adrenals are spent. But, although severe, it’s short-lived. Once you are seated in the aircraft, the relaxation that comes over you allows you to recover quickly. Ultimately it was your stress response that got you on the plane and, as unpleasant as it was, it might well have put you in a better and healthier position than facing the consequences of missing your flight. In evolutionary terms, you’ve successfully escaped a sabre-tooth tiger and that’s why the ‘flight-or-fight’ response remains with us today.

The stress response

Psychologists have come to define the stress response as the biological and psychological response to a threat that we don’t feel we have the resources to cope with adequately. That of course relates specifically to negative stress. Multiple systems in the body come into play, from the endocrine (hormonal) system, the nervous system, the immune system and the digestive system.

When confronted with a threat or potential stressor, the first thing we do is evaluate it with our senses. Our ability to do this very quickly helps us to survive as a species. If we decide the threat is real, and that we need to act quickly to reduce its impact, we trigger a cascade of events affecting multiple systems in our body, including three key endocrine organs – the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in our brain, and the adrenal glands that sit atop our kidneys. This is known as the ‘HPA axis’ and is a key part of what is sometimes called the psychoneuroimmunological (PNI) or—wait for it— psychoendoneuroimmunological system, owing to the multiple systems affected. More recent work suggests the gut and the gonads are also involved in the stress response; as a result, some functional medicine practitioners find themselves referring to the system as the HPAGG axis.

The key ‘stress hormones’ released from our adrenal glands belong to a group of steroid hormones called the glucocorticoids, the most important actor of which is cortisol which is synthesized from cholesterol. Cortisol and the HPA axis operate a complicated negative feedback system to control the stress response with hormones like adrenaline, and also to bring it quickly back into balance once the stress or threat has subsided.

What happens if you over-stress your body?

Typical stress responses include elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, elevated blood sugar levels (caused by cortisol triggering glucose production in the liver), decreased digestive activity, loss of appetite and a suppressed immune system. It’s not hard to see how this system that was designed primarily to help us survive more severe and short-lived threats and stresses, starts to create havoc with our bodies in our modern world where chronic stress, even though less severe, is so common. If our bodies are not given the chance to get back to our unstressed balance point things often go awry.

Gaining weight, developing ‘cortisol tyres’ around the mid-section, suffering gastrointestinal problems or regular infections, a failing memory, and losing our capacity to tolerate ‘normal’ levels of stress, are all examples of symptoms of chronic, inadequately managed stress.

The good news is there’s lots we can do to transform negative stress into something more positive, as well as supporting the body nutritionally so it can cope better with stress. And that’s going to be the subject of the next three articles in this series.

 

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