We are all aware that stress impacts our health. Yet, we are all undoubtedly experiencing varying degrees of stress in our lives right now. While our body can adapt and recover quickly from short-term stress, long-term or chronic stress has been associated with numerous health conditions.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and utilizing relaxation techniques can help you manage your stress levels. Vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements can also help to improve your resilience to stress and support healthy nervous system and adrenal gland function.
1. A WHOLE FOODS DIET
Eat an unprocessed whole foods diet
- Focus on eating an abundance of seasonal vegetables, lean animal and vegetable proteins, complex carbohydrates from whole grain and/or vegetable starches, and seasonal fruits. Our website has a plethora of recipes that you and your family will enjoy.
Drink adequate water
- Strive for drinking half your body weight in pounds in ounces of water.
Decrease (or eliminate) refined sugar, alcohol and caffeine
- Sugar & Refined Carbohydrates. When you are stressed, the body pumps out cortisol, one of our main stress hormones. When you eat refined sugars and processed carbs, blood sugar levels spike and the body again releases more cortisol, compounding the problem. This increased cortisol can contribute to sleep issues, a decreased immune response, headaches, digestive problems—and ultimately cravings for more and more of these types of foods. Additionally, the unstable blood sugar levels that result may cause feelings similar to stress, such as anxiety and irritability.
- Alcohol. Drinking alcohol (and the sugar contained in many alcoholic beverages) can also increase the production of hormones that contribute to stress. Alcohol can also increase blood pressure and heart rate, triggering feelings similar to stress within the body.
- Caffeine. Excessive caffeine can overstimulate the adrenal glands and the nervous system. Caffeine can cause a rise in blood pressure and heart rate, which is what we are already experiencing in times of stress. It can also interfere with our sleep, which is so important for good health.
2. EXERCISE & RELAXATION TECHNIQUES
Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to decrease stress. Regular exercise lowers cortisol and improves the quality of your sleep. Exercise outdoors and in the fresh air whenever possible!
Relaxation techniques encourage a relaxation response, which is the opposite of the stress response. These can include breathing exercise (see this post to learn Square Breathing, which is my personal favorite), guided imagery, journaling, meditation, or grounding forms of exercises such as yoga, tai chi or qigong.
When stress increases, the length and quality of sleep generally decreases. The brain chemicals connected with deep sleep are the same ones that tell the body to stop the production of stress hormones. So when you don’t sleep well, your body keeps pumping out those hormones. The next day you feel more stressed—and the following night, you find it harder to sleep.
Support healthy sleep patterns by waking and going to bed at the same time each day. Turn off electronic devices after sundown, as blue light interferes with melatonin production. Encourage relaxation by taking an Epsom salt bath, diffusing lavender oil, drinking chamomile tea, or by doing any of the relaxation techniques listed above to help calm the mind.
4. STRESS MANAGEMENT
While we can’t change what’s going on in the world, we can change the way we think about it. These books are some of my personal favorites and they have been incredibly helpful in my understanding of the effects of stress. (I’m not sure what it says about me that I have real ALL of these and more!)
I believe that it is essential to understand your personal stress response and learn effective techniques to manage stress.
- Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- The Untethered South: The Journey Beyond Yourself and The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection by Michael Singer
- When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times and Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion by Pema Chodron
- Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness by Rick Hanson
- Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser
Vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements can help to improve your resilience to stress and support healthy nervous system and adrenal gland function. I have listed several of my favorites below. I have also indicated what you could be feeling that might indicate that a particular supplement would be worth considering.
For example, I am currently using Passionflower, Magnesium, and Vitamin C; this combination addresses my tendency towards anxiety, insomnia and muscle tension. Roy has chosen Magnesium, Inositol and L-Theanine; this is a great combination for emotional support because these supplements increase the calming neurotransmitter GABA.
One of the highest concentrations of Vitamin C in the body is found in the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands play a key role in the stress response, secreting the hormones adrenaline, aldosterone, and cortisol. The adrenal glands also secrete Vitamin C as a response to stress. Research has shown that individuals supplementing with Vitamin C demonstrate lower blood pressure, faster salivary cortisol recovery, and better subjective stress responses.
- Consider Vitamin C if you often get sick during times of high stress
The B-vitamin group is made up of eight water-soluble vitamins that help regulate metabolism, improve energy production, and support mood and cognitive function. Supplementation with B vitamins may reduce fatigue, improve exercise tolerance, and improve general well-being.
- Consider B-Vitamins if stress zaps your energy
Magnesium is an abundant mineral used in over 700 enzymatic reactions in the body. Magnesium is involved in energy production, muscle contraction, blood glucose control, nerve function, and protein synthesis. Magnesium may help with insomnia by improving sleep efficiency, sleep time, and sleep onset latency.
- Consider magnesium if stress gives you muscle tension, insomnia, or anxiety
Passionflower is a climbing vine that is native to the southeastern United States and Central and South America. As a nervine, passionflower supports normal healthy nervous system function during times of temporary stress. Some studies suggest it may help relieve anxiety and insomnia and promote restful sleep due it its mild sedative properties.
- Consider passionflower when stress creates or exacerbates anxiety and/or nervousness
Inositol is often referred to as vitamin B8, but it is not actually a vitamin. It’s a type of sugar alcohol (like xylitol) that influences the insulin response and several hormones associated with mood and cognition. Inositol can help to decrease anxiety, assist with blood sugar balance, and promote healthy levels of serotonin and dopamine.
- Consider inositol when stress contributes to psychological stress such as anxiety, over-stimulation and feeling “edgy”
L-theanine, an amino acid commonly found in green tea, is well-known for promoting relaxation and improving sleep. Research has shown that L-theanine supplementation improves subjective stress and salivary cortisol responses when individuals are confronted with a stressor. L-theanine supplementation also decreases anxiety, depressive symptoms, and sleep disturbances in individuals with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
- Consider L-theanine if stress makes it difficult for you to feel calm and centered
Adaptogens refer to a group of plants or herbs that help your body adapt to stress, normalize body functions, and maintain homeostasis.
Ashwagandha is well-known for its adaptogenic, antioxidant, and immune-supportive properties. Studies have shown that ashwagandha supplementation improves serum cortisol levels, perceived stress and happiness, food cravings, body weight, and body mass index.
- Consider ashwagandha if stress makes you feel both wired and tired
Rhodiola rosea, historically used in traditional Chinese medicine, is known for its ability to reduce stress, decrease cortisol levels, and improve physical endurance. Several studies have also shown that rhodiola supplementation improves mental performance, concentration, and energy levels.
- Consider rhodiola if you need to feel more energized
Eleutherococcus senticosus, or Siberian ginseng, is a wild shrub of the Araliaceae family. Similar to ashwagandha and rhodiola, Siberian ginseng is known primarily for its adaptogenic effects. Siberian ginseng has been associated with reductions in heart rate and systolic blood pressure in women. Studies have also shown that supplementation with Siberian ginseng reduces severity and duration of fatigue.
- Consider eleutherococcus if stress creates mild fatigue and weakness
Some research suggests that Adaptogens work better when combined, due to the synergy that is created between the herbs. Adrenotone is one of our favorite combinations! It is a combination of standardized adaptogenic herbs and nutrients which are known to contribute to rejuvenating the adrenals.
Your Personalized Stress Toolkit
I hope that this post enables you to utilize diet, exercise, sleep, stress management & relaxation techniques, and targeted supplements to help you improve your resilience to stress.