With bulging social diaries, ever-growing work commitments and family lives to juggle, most of us are leading increasingly stressful lives.
Trust me, I get it. I’ve been there, and I understand just how stressful life can be. But all the pressures of our modern lifestyle such as working long hours, deadlines, eating on the run and the sheer speed at which we live can cause heavy strain and stress on the body. I see this a lot in my clinic, we have reached an all-time high in the stress epidemic and, unfortunately, it’s having catastrophic effects on our hormonal health, something I speak about in great detail in my book The Balance Plan.
We are spinning so many plates in the air and it’s become the ‘new normal’, but we have to stop and think – what is this stress doing to our health and hormones? You see, stress (especially when it’s constant) actually affects every part of our body; our health, our hormones, manifesting in mood swings, poor sleep, lack of libido and weight gain (hello belly fat and muffin top).
It’s important to know that not all stress is bad. In fact, stress equals life in acute situations! In prehistoric times, stress mostly came in the form of threats to our survival. Because of this, we developed the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, which would tell our bodies that we needed to run, or fight for our lives. Our stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) can override the any other message in the body and affect how it works, and so it should to get you out of dangers way. Short-term, this is positive!
Today, even though we are no longer are faced with grizzly bears (though your angry boss may look like one at times), and modern stressors now come from emails and deadlines, our bodies still experience the same changes as if faced with that grizzly bear. Over a long stretch, this has a deeply negative effect.
Its not all doom and gloom though. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to ease stress within the body!
Here are some of my favourites:
This is something I aim to do every single day. I find meditation, or simply writing in a gratitude journal before bed, is a great way to ease stress and leave my day behind. Regular meditation is also a proven stress-buster and can ease worries and anxiety. Try setting aside ten minutes a day to meditate, or even try some diaphragmatic breathing at home. It’s also crucial to schedule in plenty of ‘me’ time to allow the body to restore – this is a necessity, not a luxury!
Most of us live sedentary lives, with modern life and deadlines taking over. Yet, exercise can be one of the most important keys to a happy, healthy life, especially when it comes to stress! This is because it releases endorphins, which make us feel happy, as well as boosting self-confidence and even improving insulin sensitivity. As a word of warning, though – excessive exercise has the opposite effect and causes the body to releases more cortisol, therefore putting the body into a state of stress.
NUTRIENT RICH DIETS
Ditching processed, sugary foods from the diet is crucial. Foods such as pastries, biscuits, cakes and white bread add more stress to the body by spike blood sugar levels. Instead, aim to eat nourishing, nutrient-rich foods. Think a rainbow of fruit and veg, lots of healthy fats, whole grains and complex carbs and lean protein. I’d also suggest eating foods rich in magnesium (think nuts, brown rice and leafy greens) as magnesium can help to relieve tension. Foods such as avocado, olive oil and oily fish are also a priority as they can reduce inflammation, balance moods and keep the brain healthy.
DITCH THE CAFFEINE
Unfortunately, endless cups of coffee are a no-go when stressed, especially as we are all biochemically individual and process caffeine differently! Caffeine can cause further cortisol spikes, putting even more stress on the body. Try matcha green tea instead, high in antioxidants and can still give you that energy boost.
Prioritise sleep! Use breathing techniques and medication to help you drop off and avoid refined carbohydrates, alcohol and stimulants. If you’re still struggling, sip a glass of almond milk or strong camomile tea half an hour before bed.
In short, I don’t think there’s an easy, one-size fits all answer – everyone is individual! However, it is crucial that we enjoy a healthy, balanced diet, full of nourishing fats, proteins and carbohydrates to feed our hormones and keep them happy. Movement and rest is just as important too. You need to make non-negotiable appointments with yourself to ensure that you get exercise and that all important ‘me time’.
Above all aim for consistency above perfection in order to find balance.
I go into each of these in more detail in my book, The Balance Plan, where I also chat through my six pillars to hormonal health and a stress-free life. For more individual support, or if you’re feeling really overwhelmed by life, please get in touch or pop in to see me in my clinic – I’d love to hear from you and welcome you to my tribe!