How to manage stress

Published May 6, 2021

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Woman meditates at her office desk

Unfortunately, it is near impossible to avoid stress completely. Life gets busy and unexpected
events occur. Stress is the body’s natural reaction to anything that disrupts our life as usual. We
all experience it in our work and personal lives, but it is how we respond that can make all the
difference. Some types of stress are positive, but others, particularly prolonged stress, can lead
to unpleasant physical and psychological reactions. If you want to relieve stress, it is important
that you first recognise the signs. Finding the right stress management techniques for you is
essential — fortunately, there are many ways to get you back on track.


Healthy stress and why it’s different

There are two major types of stress. One is healthy stress, which can be beneficial and
motivating, whereas unhealthy and prolonged stress will take its toll on your wellbeing. Stress,
in small doses, has many advantages. For example, acute stress can help boost performance
and help you rise to meet challenges. Moderate stress can help you learn and remember new
information effectively, and periods of brief stress can help to benefit your immune system.


Stress is also a vital warning system that produces the ‘fight or flight’ response. When faced
with a genuine threat, such as being chased by a dangerous animal or trying to avoid colliding
with a car, your body will flood with hormones that create a variety of reactions such as
increased blood pressure and energy. This response is designed to prepare you to either ‘fight’
or ‘flee’ from the problem. In these circumstances, this response is a necessary survival instinct.


However, stress becomes a problem if it develops as an ongoing response to the daily demands
of life and work. When the body’s natural alarm system is constantly running it can have
negative consequences on your health and this becomes unhealthy stress.


Signs of unhealthy stress


Muscle tension and headaches


When faced with work pressure or similar everyday stress, you may find your shoulders
creeping up towards your ears and your upper back and neck muscles may tighten, which can
trigger tension headaches.


Sleeping problems

Ongoing stress is a common sleep stealer. Stress causes hyperarousal, which can upset the
balance between sleep and wakefulness, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.


Fatigue


Emotional stress and the consistent activation of the fight or flight response can lead to physical
and mental fatigue. If you are finding work and everyday chores exhausting from the get-go it’s
time to stop and take stock.


Lack of concentration or focus


Are you feeling overwhelmed to the point that you aren’t thinking clearly? This can make
concentrating on simple tasks difficult.


Changes in appetite


Stress can affect your appetite in a variety of ways. Some people find themselves reaching for
comfort foods like chocolate or starchy carbohydrates in the hope that they will provide a quick energy fix. Others find they are not hungry at all, forgetting to eat properly, neglecting their nutritional wellbeing.


Increased frequency of colds

If you are finding that you are constantly battling with cold and flu-like symptoms you could well
be stressed. Research now suggests that there is a strong link between stress and the common
cold. According to Dr Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University,
in Pittsburgh, “stressed people’s immune cells become less sensitive to cortisol. They’re unable
to regulate the inflammatory response, and therefore, when they’re exposed to a virus, they’re
more likely to develop a cold.”


Gastrointestinal problems

If you have unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, upset stomach or heartburn,
stress may be the culprit. While stress does not necessarily cause digestive problems, it can
make them worse in individuals who are predisposed to these issues. An inability to cope with
stress cause severe reactions to normal digestive processes in the body, possibly resulting in
gastrointestinal problems.


Skin conditions


Your emotions can have a direct impact on the health of your skin. Recent clinical observations
also link psychological stress to the onset or aggravation of multiple skin diseases.


Pain


Stress is also known to aggravate joint pain caused by mild osteoarthritis and other conditions.
It’s also believed to play a role in the severity of back pain.

How to relieve stress


Exercise regularly


Studies show that people who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety than those
who don’t exercise. This a great reason to find a sport you enjoy and get moving. Physical
activity lowers your production of stress hormones such as cortisol, promotes better sleep and
will help you feel more competent and confident about your body which enhances your sense of
wellbeing.


Meditate


Research over the past two decades broadly supports the claim that mindfulness meditation —
practised widely for the reduction of stress and promotion of health — exerts beneficial effects
on physical and mental health, and cognitive performance. Just ten minutes a day can make
all the difference to your ability to remain calm and focused.


Practice gratitude


Recognising the good things going on in your life is a great way to refocus your mind. Get into
the habit of writing down ten things you are grateful for every day. Research has established
that practising gratitude is known to improve your mental wellbeing.


Consider supplements

Certain vitamins and minerals may help relieve some of the symptoms associated with stress. If
your diet is lacking, they can be a great way to top up and ensure your body is getting what it
needs.


Omega 3 — is one of the two types of essential fatty acids (along with Omega 6). It is known to
affect cognitive function and can improve concentration and focus and also appears effective in
helping you manage stress. Omega 3 is sourced from fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and
herring.


Vitamin B1 — also called thiamine, is a brain-boosting nutrient found in foods such as yeast,
cereals, beans, nuts and meat. It’s been used to enhance learning, reduce the symptoms of
stress and protect against memory loss.


Vitamin B2 — is a water-soluble vitamin that works with other substances in the body to break
down proteins, fats and carbohydrates for energy. When you are stressed you have an
increased need for this important vitamin. Fortunately, it’s plentiful in many foods, including dairy
products, eggs, green leafy vegetables, meat, legumes, milk and nuts. Some cereals and breads have added vitamin B2 as well, so there’s a variety of ways to top up on this great nutrient.


Vitamin B5 — also called pantothenic acid, plays an important role in the production of stress
hormones produced in the adrenal glands. These substances help to reduce stress symptoms
such as mild anxiety and may help you to remain calm under stress. It’s widely found in both
plants and animals — meat, vegetables, cereal, legumes, eggs and milk are the best natural
sources.


Vitamin B6 — is needed for both a healthy immune and nervous system. It also assists in the
formation of brain chemicals such as serotonin, GABA and dopamine and is therefore essential
for mood regulation and healthy mental function. You’ll find it in foods such as salmon, poultry,
potatoes, spinach and other vegetables. It is also in nuts and fruit such as bananas. It may also
help women who suffer from PMS and associated mood swings.


Vitamin B12 — is a water-soluble vitamin that’s important for a healthy nervous system and red
blood cells. It’s naturally found in animal products like fish, poultry, red meat, eggs and dairy.
B12 is also commonly added to foods like breakfast cereals. Lifestyle factors such as smoking,
drinking alcohol, antibiotics and high levels of stress, all increase the body’s vitamin B12
requirements.


Magnesium — is important for many systems in the body, particularly the muscles and nerves.
If your body is under too much stress and magnesium becomes depleted, you could experience
symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, agitation, anxiety and confusion. Top up your magnesium
intake with foods like nuts, legumes, green leafy vegetables, tofu and chocolate.


Calcium — is the most abundant mineral in the body and is needed for healthy muscle
contractions, nervous system signalling and hormone secretion. Try adding calcium-rich food to
your diet, such as dairy products, spinach, tofu and soft bony fish such as sardines.


Vitamin C — is important for the growth and repair of many tissues in the body, such as the
skin, blood vessels, tendons, teeth and bones. It’s also a powerful antioxidant that protects the
body from damage caused by free radicals. All fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, with the
highest levels found in citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, mango, pineapple, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and
cauliflower.


Vitamin E — is found in many foods including vegetable-based oils (canola, soy and corn oil)
as well as in green leafy vegetables, nuts and some seeds. Similarly to Vitamin B12, Vitamin E
is also sometimes added to breakfast cereals. It’s an important nutrient for supporting the
adrenal glands, which manage our stress by producing key stress hormones.


Prolonged stress needs to be dealt with. It is all about recognising the symptoms and
implementing lifestyle changes to manage your particular physical and emotional side effects.
You may also benefit from taking a Nature’s Own supplement. If your stress management
strategies are not working, it is important to seek advice from a medical professional.

Learn about which Nature's Own product may be appropriate for you.

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