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Don't Think You're Stressed? Think Again!

Sep 22, 2016

Everyone is suffering under the weight of stress these days, aren’t they? It’s practically a guaranteed part of modern life. You might at the crack of dawn, putting your body through its paces, slaving away at some high-brow job and steaming at the ears as your stress levels, and your blood pressure simply crashes through the roof. Or perhaps you’ve suffered a bereavement, health problems or relationship problems… Thank goodness you’re not one of these people, right?

Think again. Getting too many late nights, working too hard and eating the wrong kinds of foods can all impact upon your levels of stress. In fact, increasing numbers of people in the UK suffer from low-level chronic stress that may not quite have them steaming at the ears, but that does negatively impact upon their health, wellbeing and weight, and could even reduce their life expectancy.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. We don’t have to be victims of the stresses of modern life. So today, I’m going to explain what stress is all about, tell you what it looks like in the body and give you some tools with which you can use to reconnect with your body, kick that stress aside and continue happily with your life.

What is stress?

Put simply, stress is your own psychological or physical reaction to something that happens in your life. It’s very unique to who you are as a person and your own experience of life: you might breeze through the challenges that others find stressful, and vice versa.

These might include:

  • Situations where you feel that you lack control
  • Major life changes
  • Money problems
  • Relationship problems
  • Health worries
  • The pressures of your job

Internal pressures can also cause you to feel stressed and include high expectations of yourself, a negative self-image and a lack of self-confidence.

What are the signs of stress?

So how do you know if you are under the iron grip of stress? Here are some of the common symptoms:

  • Increased heart rate and sweaty palms
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Digestive problems
  • Anxiety and self-confidence issues
  • Changes in appetite and/or neglecting to make healthy food choices
  • Negative thought patterns
  • Increased use of drugs, alcohol or food.

But don’t think you’re out of the woods if you can’t see yourself in this list. Your stress levels could be so chronic that you barely notice the symptoms, nor remember what it was like before you had them. For example, have you always had those debilitating migraines or that terrible IBS? Have you always eaten for comfort or downed several glasses or wine at the end of a long day? I’ll leave that one for you to answer…

While a certain level of stress is good for the body and is all part of the thrill of being alive (otherwise life would be dull and boring), stress becomes a more serious matter once it gets out of hand, and can have a devastating effect on both your body and mind.

What effect does stress have upon your body?

As we know, stress makes us feel rotten. We feel vulnerable, jittery and a mere shadow of our former selves. We feel depressed, anxious, fearful, frustrated, angry or completely overwhelmed and unable to cope. We might also change our habits, socialise less, change our sexual habits, or act differently towards those around us. But there are other things that are happening on a deep level within the body. Let’s take a look at them now.

Do you ever dive into the arms of chocolate, cakes, crisps, breads or other ‘comfort’ foods when you’re feeling stressed? It’s all too easy to make less healthy food choices in an attempt to help ourselves feel better emotionally. But there is also a biological reason that we eat these high-fat, high-sugar or high-carb foods when we feel stressed; our bodies think they NEED these quick sources of energy to fuel our escape from these stressful situations, and so we dive on in.

This is because when we are under stress, our bodies make more of the ‘fight or flight’ hormones which prepare us to escape from the perceived physical challenges ahead. These include increasing levels of the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline in the body, which raises your blood pressure, increases your heart rate and diverts blood from around the body to the muscles, ready to run. In addition, cortisol helps to release fats and sugars into your blood. When we are under chronic stress, our bodies stay in this heightened state, and so our health suffers as a result.

So whilst the oxygen has been diverted to your muscles, other parts of your body-such as your digestive system and your immune system- are neglected. As a result, our bodies function less efficiently and neglect certain non-essential processes. For example, this means that our digestive systems are less able to break down and absorb the nutrients in our food at the very time we need it most. It’s a vicious cycle; a lack of nutrients means the body is put under increased stress; increased stress increases the need for nutrients, and so on.

Sadly for us, these reactions just don’t work in the modern world. We don’t need to run from predators and we (hopefully) don’t need to fight off attacking tribes: threats in the modern world are far more psychologically based. What we do need are some ways to minimise and manage our levels of stress so we can go on living our lives to their full potentials.

Ways to manage stress

So you’ve admitted that you’re suffering from stress. Now what?

The first step to managing the stress in our lives and restoring an element of calm is to acknowledge that we are, in fact, suffering from stress. None of us are immune from this. No, not even me.

Next we need to attempt to identify what are these causes of this stress. I appreciate that this is often easier said than done, but nevertheless, it’s worth spending some time thinking about. Grab a warm drink and a comfy chair and have a think.

Once we have identified main causes of our stress, we need to eliminate them as far as possible. Feeling overwhelmed at work? Talk to your boss; Going through a rough patch in your relationship? Talk to your partner or a friend; Need some help with the kids? Ask for it.

Of course, there are some sources of stress that we just can’t get rid of no matter how much we’d like to. And for that, we need some great ways to manage them so they have less of a negative impact upon our lives.

In addition to the classic techniques of indulgently warm baths, beautiful candles and massages, there are also several incredibly helpful stress management techniques that I personally recommend and teach. They include:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditations
  • Visualisation
  • Relaxation
  • A specific self-hypnosis tool (that I can help you master)

Managing our food choices when stressed

What we eat when we are under stress plays a vital role in managing the stress itself and also nurturing our bodies so we can bounce back. The trouble is, our best efforts to eat a healthy diet can soon be sabotaged when under the iron grip of stress.

Luckily, there are several ways that we reconnect with our bodies and more easily manage our food choices.

Firstly, use mealtimes as an opportunity to really disconnect from potential stresses and reconnect with your body and mind. This means getting away from your desk at work, turning off the smart phone or the tablet and getting out into the fresh air if you can. You’ll return to work feeling fresher, energised and less stressed.

Secondly, use a fantastic technique called the ‘traffic light system’ to help you reconnect with your body. Here’s how it works:

RED: Ask your body the question: “Am I stressed?” before you start eating.

AMBER: Wait for the answer (and act upon it!)

GREEN: Take a deep diaphragmatic breath for a few seconds (8-10 breaths). This will bring you into the present and reconnect you with your body.

By practicing this ‘traffic light system’, you have the perfect conditions to digest your food, you’ll feel full, you’ll notice the full flavours, texture and smells of your meal and you’ll also slow down and feel much more satisfied. Strangely enough, you might notice that you don’t actually like certain foods after you taste them properly, through using this technique.

Stress is one of the many diseases of the modern age, and just because you don’t feel as if you are suffering, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t. It appears as the result of a person’s reactions to events and situations (both internal and external), and it negatively affects the body in many different ways. But there’s no need to be a victim. Together we can take steps to help reduce or eliminate the underlying stresses from your life, help you reconnect with your body and food choices, and give you tools to help you deal the challenges that life throws at you.

Please get in touch if you are experiencing stress and would like help bringing it under control.

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