Things to know about Stress : When mankind’s ancient ancestors roamed the earth, “stress” came mostly in the form of physical menace – like charging bison, severe temperatures, exposure to the elements or the threat of attack from “strangers” (other tribes of people).
Ancient man knew emotional stressors as well, just as we recognise than today: fear, joy, anger, grief, frustration, anxiety. Nevertheless, it would be fair to say that modem society knows more ways to get “stressed out” than our early ancestors ever imagined.
Things to know about Stress
We worry about the “what ifs…?” and “if only…” speculating on imagined threats or outcomes that may or may not actually appear. The uncertainties of living give our old nemesis “stress” new proportions, new opportunities to torment us and do us physical as well as emotional harm.
STRESS PRODUCES POWERFUL CHEMICAL REACTIONS
Just about anything in life and living can be experienced as a “stressor”. The possibilities are limitless. And what is a stressor to one person is mere stimulation to another. The chief organs involved in handing the body chemistry of any stressful situations are our liver and adrenal glands.
Our liver acts as blood filter and detoxification station and plays a vital role in removing from the bloodstream spent chemical substances produced in and released by the adrenals during extreme stress. We will note later how we need to support our liver function to improve how we handle stress.
The adrenal glands are small glands located atop both kidneys and which act as chemical factories for several strong hormone-like substances that are needed for extraordinary action when a stress situation presents itself.
The two principal hormones secreted by the adrenals are epinephrine and norepinephrine also called adrenaline and noradrenaline. 80% of the total hormonal output of the adrenals is adrenaline, but other very significant hormones are also produced.
These are the cortical hormones aldosterone and Cortisol which are responsible for controlling our blood volume through balancing sodium and potassium levels and for controlling inflammation. Under stress, the adrenals are signalled by the hypothalamus centre in our brains to increase output of adrenaline and noradrenaline.
The result is increased heart rate and constricting of the blood vessels, accelerated rate of respiration, decreased digestive activity, increasing efficiency of muscular contraction – in other words, all those “get ready!” signals we experience when stressed.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT: NO WHERE TO GO?
The “fight or flight” reaction to the adrenal chemicals that enter our system under stress is very beneficial to us if we need to run away or defend ourselves, but not so good when we are unable to release the stimulating rush with physical activity.
Stressful situations which lead only to emotional responses (like sitting in a traffic jam when we’re late for an appointment) do not expend or destroy the adrenalin hormone and as a result our internal organs, virtually all of them, suffer. The liver in particular has to bear the brunt of the overload as it is our chief detoxifying organ.
Long-term stress and release of adrenal hormones to the tissue can promote the formation of stomach ulcers, hypotension, backaches, atherosclerosis, allergic reactions, asthma, fatigue and insomnia. It is obvious that long-term unrelieved stress causes the body systems to breakdown.
FIRST AID FOR STRESS
Many options exist to help us cope with stress, but no one option will work in isolation and all require commitment on the part of the stressed person to undertake attitude and lifestyle changes to short circuit the repetition of stressful triggers that produce harmful reactions.
First and foremost, Attitude.
Identify and recognise your personal stress factors and see which can be managed out of your life or reduced. If the stressor is unavoidable, teach yourself not to internalize it. See the stressful trigger or situation for what it is, something you can choose to manage or it will manage you. If you doubt you can identify these stress patterns yourself, talk to someone who can help you.
Secondly, Nutrients and Supplements in a well balanced diet.
Many of the disorders related to stress are not a direct result of the stress but of nutrient deficiencies caused by increased metabolic rate during the periods of stress. An example is Vitamin C which is used by the adrenals during stressful periods and prolonged stress results in Vitamin C depletion.
As mentioned earlier, nutritional support for your liver is essential in overcoming the physical battles of stress. Liver-tonic foods are fresh fruit and veggies, good quality vegetable oils like olive and sunflower, lots of vitamin A – rich carrots and avoidance of dairy products, saturated fats, red meats, caffeine, refined sugars and alcohol.
Drinking freshly made vegetable juices in stressful periods is a good way to help support the cleansing of the system of the accumulated “fight or flight” chemicals produced by the adrenals. Nourishment for the adrenals themselves includes the B Complex vitamins, Vitamin C, Magnesium and Potassium.
Make sure your diet has plenty of whole foods, unprocessed and in good variety. Fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains fit this prescription. Adequate protein is vital as well to undertake the body’s repair work on all our tissues.
Complex carbohydrates are excellent stress-fighters which actually have a calming effect on the brain. Refined sugars contribute to stress by depleting the body’s stores of magnesium and should be avoided.
Other nutrients to highlight include:
- Water: Dehydration is a serious stressor in itself, especially on the brain tissue.
- B-complex vitamins: These are present in the whole foods mentioned above, but in conditions of prolonged unavoidable or ill-managed stress, supplemental B-Complex at the rate of 50-100mg per day can be of great benefit (particularly if sleep is a problem).
- Soy Lecithin is nerve nourishing and promotes clear thinking. It is available as granules to sprinkle over food or as capsules.
- Potassium: known as the “mood mineral”, severe periods of stress deplete potassium, remedial dose is recommended at 100mg daily.
- Magnesium and Calcium both vital to nerve and muscle function, if low in body muscles cramps, twitches and spasms are the result. Both minerals helpful for sleep.
LIFESTYLE SUPPORTS FOR STRESS
Many herbal remedies and specific amino acid supplements are helpful to reduce stress. To name a few, the herbs GoldenSeal, Melissa (Lemon Balm), Passionflower, Catnip, Skullcap, Siberian Ginseng, Hops, Camomile, and Valerian all have their application in stress management.
These herbs can be found as herbal teas, sometimes in combination in encapsulated form in “Stress Formulas” and also in liquid tinctures for internal use. The Amino Acid supplement Tyrosine is beneficial at l000mg daily and also L- Lysine at the same rate.
Aromatherapy used in herbal baths, vapourisers, and massage are wonderfully relaxing anti-stress helpers. Lavender, Sandalwood, Marjoram and Thyme are sedative, relaxing and soothing.
Reflexology treatments to the feet can help in stress reduction. The appropriate nerve centres are treated on the soles of the feet by the reflexologist and can relieve tension and improve sleep.
Aerobic exercise, Tai Chi and Yoga are all recommended. Any enjoyable body movement exercise, is a good stress-tamer-dancing is particularly good as it involves music and sharing with other people.
Even walking the dog with your favourite music playing through the earphones can put you at peace with the world. Meditation practiced at regular intervals can improve one’s capacity for calm in stressful situations.
Stress can be a powder keg or a spring board. Which it proves to be in reality is entirely up to you! But there is no need to suffer the physical disorders of stress if we recognise the signs of stress early enough and give our bodies adequate support to win through.
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