Combatting January Blues: Stress 😓
Stress is not easily managed and it’s something I suffer from presently. I am writing this post while sharing a bedroom with a very loud little 4 year old. We are currently living in a small basement flat while building our dream house. Not having adequate headspace, natural daylight or a proper place to cook can be quite a challenge but there are always solutions to improve ones mood. I will give you a few tips on how to manage stress at the end of this post.
Stress can be caused by many factors and not only the very obvious ones but things that we sometimes may not even notice i.e. emotions, prolonged physiological stress i.e. recovery after surgery, bereavement can put extra burden on our body. Many clients of mine say they don’t have time to manage stress without realising that if they don’t find time now - prolonged stress can impact their future vitality.
Two small bean shaped glands sitting above our kidneys called Adrenals are responsible for controlling the production of two major stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline. Adrenals are responsible for the regulation of blood glucose, control our sleep/wake cycle (the circadian pattern of cortisol secretion) and manage our metabolism. When we put our body under prolonged stress we can overtax our adrenals causing cortisol shut down when the body becomes cortisol resistant. What this means is that instead of our cortisol level rising in the morning to give us energy and get us ready for the day and lowering in the evening to help us wind down and fall asleep - it flatlines all day! As a result we feel tired during the day and awake in the evening which can effect our sleep. High stress levels can effect insulin secretion and utilisation potentially leading to increased blood glucose and insulin resistance which may also result in weight gain. Continued stress on the adrenals may potentially lead to Adrenal exhaustion where cortisol levels drop immoderately leaving us felling out of whack, irritable, foggy headed and often with salty cravings!
These are all signals to tell us our batteries need re-charging!
Focusing on a few things to help us tackle stress and addressing anxiety can pay off dividends over the long run. Managing emotions can be difficult, however little steps every day helps chip away and breaking down the achievable can become the building blocks to a bigger change.
How I manage my stress? As I mentioned before small spaces can be overwhelming especially when there is limited daylight. I try to go for an hour’s walk pretty much everyday to get some fresh air and soak in some daylight. Moderate exercise is also a great way to keep cortisol under control and to stimulate the release of neurotransmitters called endorphins (“feel good” brain chemicals) in the body responsible for boosting mental wellbeing. Scientists suggest that regular low intensity exercise can naturally reduce circulating cortisol levels and help to maintain a healthy weight. Excessive exercise, however, can increase cortisol levels. Try to finish your exercise a few hours before bed as exercising may stimulate cortisol production resulting in disturbed sleep. I tend to go swimming a couple of times a week (utilising my time while my son is having his swimming lessons!) and go for a quick 30min jog in my local park once a week. Motivation can be tricky, therefore I would recommend to buddy up with one of your friends or join the park run etc. This will help you to establish dates and times which quickly become your weekly routine. Find a sport that’s right for you - from fast walking to rock climbing, don’t look at Fitness magazines with “pretty” weight lifting routines, find something that suits you, that way you’re more likely to stick with it long term. Try to secure some space for “me time”. It doesn’t have to take much out of your busy schedule and it doesn’t mean it needs to be an expensive health club or fancy retreat. An evening bathing routine to soak in Epson Salts (Magnesium sulfate) may help relax your muscles allowing for a restful night. For those who are more adventurous and don’t suffer from claustrophobia, the float experience is a great way to relax. Floating for 45min in a mini pool filled with a highly concentrated minerals allows you to soak a sufficient amount of Mg helping you to restore all the magnesium that your body is deprived of due to stress. I have visited a float tank and while I didn’t fall asleep I felt amazingly light floating from one end of the cubicle to the other! Studies suggest that increasing the Mg levels in the body may help to improve cardiovascular health, support the utilisation of insulin by the body, have anti-inflammatory properties and supports the serotonin (“feel better hormone”) production in the brain.
Supplementing Magnesium especially in the evening can encourage and control the activation of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain and keep the brain from getting overstimulated and stressed. Foods containing Mg include: green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, broccoli, artichokes, asparagus, avocados, legumes as beans and chickpeas, seafood, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds. Meditation is also a great way to increase GABA brain signalling. It doesn’t have to be super long, and like me - you can hide secretly in another room or in the bathroom for only 3-5 minutes in the morning to set yourself and see the bigger impact during the day. Applications such as headspace are great for beginners and don’t require long term commitments. Meditation can improve sleep and has been linked to reducing chronic inflammation. Taking some time off social media may also help - instead of updating your instagram go and meet a friend - it is believed that social interaction can significantly reduce stress levels. Cry, hug, box - punch and if this doesn’t help, speak to a qualified therapist who may guide you on how to manage stress and emotions i.e. CBT (cognitive behaviour therapist). Remember sharing is caring and can benefit you enormously.