Thankyou to Gemma Hurditch and The College of Natural Medicine for this article. If you would like to know more about looking after your health naturally then CNM run a variety of short courses to guide and inspire you on your journey to health and wellbeing naturally.
The next short course Herbs For Everyday Living starts on November 16th for 12 weeks - Find out more.
Why am i so stressed?
Do you suffer frequent tension headaches, have a short fuse or burst into tears with seemingly little provocation? Do you find it really difficult to relax? Many of us are all too familiar with feeling the effects of stress; symptoms include feeling tired or overwhelmed; our mood, memory and cognition may be diminished; we may crave alcohol or comfort foods, suffer insomnia, or find ourselves frequently coming down with colds and minor complaints. We can all struggle to cope with our busy modern lifestyle.
When your body gears up to deal with stress, two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, are released to jump-start fats and carbohydrates in your body for quick energy. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac output and carbohydrate metabolism. Cortisol directs the necessary energy to meet the increased needs of your muscles or brain to respond to stress, this in turn may tax other functions - such as depleting our immune system. People under stress (such as elite athletes) are more frequently overcome by illness. With chronic high stress, cortisol levels go up and can remain high until the body cannot sustain this response any longer. Our adrenal glands can then quite simply become ‘exhausted’ from prolonged overproduction of stress hormones, potentially leading to further health complications.
There are practical steps you can take to help boost your body’s immune system naturally. With the right diet, lifestyle and natural supports such as herbs, you can help modulate your stress response, increase your energy, and enjoy what feels like a whole new lease of life.
Feed your body with high quality fuel, unprocessed and organic, to provide the necessary ‘buffer’ to physical and emotional stresses on the body. Stick to the basics of good quality vegetables and fruits, wholegrains like oats and brown rice, and ample protein from fish, eggs, nuts and legumes. Avoid sugar and processed white flour foods (and even the gluten-free alternatives as they will also be high in refined carbohydrate and low in fibre) as these can aggravate stress levels by playing havoc with your blood glucose and insulin levels. When the body has to work hard to stabilise our blood sugar we will end up feeling more ‘on edge’.
The nutrients contained in a whole food diet can really help you to cope with our busy modern lifestyle. When food is processed, pre-cooked and packaged, many of the vital nutrients are lost, despite being rich in calories. Magnesium is nature’s tranquilliser for muscles and nerves. Zinc deficiency can lead to irritability, immune dysfunction, and reduced ability to handle stress. The B vitamins are involved in many stress and energy processes. Vitamin C is required for the adrenals and omega-3 for brain function. You will find more of these nutrients in a natural organic diet.
If you need extra help, there are some excellent ‘adaptogen’ herbal preparations to support a return to balance. Adaptogens, as the name suggests, help the body to adapt to stressors (things which put stress on the body, both physical and mental). Suitable herbs include:
- Oats - which are nutritive, help to boost concentration and can improve blood sugar balance
- Siberian Ginseng - believed to help the body to adapt to both heightened or lowered (due to burn-out) stress hormones
- Liquorice - well suited to the exhaustion stage as it boosts cortisol levels if they are too low
- Rhodiola rosea - reduces fatigue and improves work performance
- Reishi mushroom - a wonderful support during illness
- Ashwagandha - particularly good during convalescence after illness.
It is best to see a qualified herbalist to make the most appropriate choice for your health needs.
Getting plenty of exercise is great to counteract stress; the endorphins released increase feelings of wellbeing and help to restore coping mechanisms. Time spent out in nature is also deeply restorative, so take a walk in the park or the countryside, and leave your phone behind! Enjoying some sunshine will bump up your vitamin D levels and make you feel more vital.
Sleep is also very important to make us feel prepared for what the next day brings. Create a nightly ritual where television, computers and mobile phones are avoided for at least 30 minutes before bed, as too much ‘screen-time’ can interfere with a good night’s sleep. If you need help getting off to sleep, try the herbs Chamomile, Passion Flower, Lemon Balm or Vervain as a tea or tincture, depending on your preference.