The stress cure

Stress helps you escape from danger (the “fight or flight” response). It gets and keeps you moving. It is necessary for you to perform at your peak, mentally as well as physically. When stress levels are too high for too long (chronic stress), body and mind begin to sag under the load, creating the groundwork for stress-related illness to take hold.

British nutrition specialist Patrick Holford’s latest book, The Stress Cure, How To Resolve Stress, Build Resilience and Boost Your Energy, isn’t just another self-help book among the many that weigh down the shelves of bookstores.

It is the fruits of Holford’s academic career that began in psychology and later as a student of leading pioneers in nutritional medicine and psychiatry: the late Dr Carl Pfeiffer and Dr Abram Hoffer. In 1984, Holford founded the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK, an independent education charity, with his mentor, Dr Linus Pauling, winner of two Nobel Prizes, as its patron.

Holford is also author of more than 30 books, many of which have become best-sellers. They include Food is Better Medicine Than Drugs and Ten Secrets for Healthy Ageing, co-authored with top British investigative health journalist Jerome Burne.

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This latest book is co-authored by British nutrition therapist Susannah Lawson, who is also a HeartMath practitioner.

HeartMath was founded by Doc Childre in 1991 to “help individuals, organisations and the global community incorporate the heart’s intelligence into their day-to-day experience of life”, by “connecting heart and science in ways that empower people to greatly reduce stress, build resilience, and unlock their natural intuitive guidance for making better choices”.

Amen to that, I’d say.

In this book, Holford and Lawson take a holistic view of stress, pointing to that with a seminal quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

Stress ‘cascade’

In a nutshell, that is likely to be the reason why some people seem to thrive on massive amounts of stress, while others wilt at the first sign of it.

Holford and Lawson look at the origins of stress and the effects of its “cascade” through the body on mental and physical functioning. They look at diet, nutrition and supplements to balance mood, and weight control. Overweight and obesity are stress factors all of their own.

They also look at how to get enough restful sleep to beat excessive stress, with a chapter on “power sleep”. (There can be little more stressful for the day ahead than waking up feeling like you need another week’s worth of nights in the Land of Nod.)

They include what in my view is one of the most important elements in beating stress: developing resilience.

Never was that more needed, as assaults on health in body and mind continue to come from all quarters, and the most unexpected places these days.

The reality is that some of us are born resilient. Most of us need to be taught it. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be learned.

Pre-emptive snacking

Holford and Lawson set a helpful early tone in the book with a list of seven stress relievers for an “instant fix”. These include swapping coffee or regular tea for green tea, eating protein with every meal, and snacking “pre-emptively”, to avoid mid-morning or mid-afternoon slumps.

The list also includes a “quick coherence” technique given in Chapter12 of the book, drawn from HeartMath regimen.

They later go into this in more detail with “seven steps for stress-free living”.

One chapter is very sensibly devoted to beating “the sugar blues”. It isn’t rocket nutrition science to know that bad diet exacerbates stress. Ironically, too, most people who are severely stressed tend to reach for the worst foods to relieve it: foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. These cause spikes in blood sugar levels, and mood swings that do nothing to help you manage your stress levels.

Holford and Lawson have included a quick stress questionnaire, ubiquitous in most self-help books of this type, which can seem somewhat superfluous, given how extensive the problem is worldwide.

Still, it’s likely to find favour with readers, who may appreciate confirmation that they are as stressed as they think and feel they are.

The book is reader-friendly, peppered with Holford’s usual helpful additions of case histories and summaries at the end of each chapter – particularly helpful to beat one of the most common triggers of stress: too much to do, too little time to do it.

*The Stress Cure, How To Resolve Stress, Build Resilience And Boost Your Energy (Piatkus) is available from bookstores and via the Internet.

This article was initially published on Edited and republished with kind permission of editor, Alec Hogg, and author Marika Sboros.

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