Last updated on Jan 14th, 2021 at 04:20 pm
A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book â?? Irish proverb
The following scenario is probably familiar: You drag your complaining body through the day and crash into bed after what feels like hours spent doing a lot, but seeming to accomplish little.
Youâ??re beset with aches and pains, feel sapped of energy, your digestion is not up to speed, you snap at everyone, you get heart palpitations and your hair is falling out. You look and feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders.
Lifeâ??s too busy, too rushed, too everything! You feel like youâ??ve got one nerve left, and itâ??s wearing thin … The doctorâ??s verdict: Stress. Hmm, you think to yourself, they always say that when they donâ??t really know whatâ??s wrong with you.
Isnâ??t stress a normal part of life? Can it really cause ill health? And what, at the end of the (very long) day, can be done about it?
What is stress?
Stress itself is not dangerous, and is, indeed, a normal part of life. Our Stone Age ancestors faced life-or-death situations every day. The biological response to stress, the so-called fight-or-flight response, was of critical importance. It prepared us to defend ourselves against a threat (fight) or run away from it (flight).
During the stress response:
Heart rate increases so that muscles can receive extra blood needed to escape or fight.
Blood vessels close to the skin constrict, so that if you are injured, you wonâ??t lose too much blood.
Pupils dilate so you can see better.
Blood sugar increases for extra energy.Processes the body considers unimportant to survival are suppressed (notably growth hormones) and slowed (including the digestive and reproductive systems). The immune system is inhibited.
This automatic response occurs whether it is called for (e.g. a mugging) or not (e.g. spending hours in traffic). After the crisis has passed, things should level off, but with constant activation the stress response continues: your stress hormones and heart rate stay high and those processes that were suppressed remain low.
It becomes harder and harder to stop this response. The result is chronic ill health. If stress is not managed, you can look forward to anxiety, irritability, weight problems, heart disease, weakened immunity, thinning hair and lacklustre skin. And thatâ??s just to begin with!
But there is hope …
Natural ways to help you cope:
While it is near impossible to live a completely stress-free life, there are some things that can help you to cope better and buffer yourself from its negative effects.
1. Take control of your attitude and environment
Get organised. Cutting down on things to do in the mornings means starting your day in a peaceful way, so give it a try! Some people swear by making lunches and selecting clothes for work and school the night before. Try turning your home and office into an oasis of calm by decluttering and redecorating. Itâ??s amazing how much calmer you feel when you donâ??t have to fight through piles of â??stuffâ?.
Avoid watching the news and visiting the usual news websites. For a dose of good news go to www.sagoodnews.co.za or www.goodnewsnetwork.org. Try to think of something positive and consider your blessings every day. At first it may be tough to change a lifetimeâ??s negative thought patterns, but the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more positive you feel.
2. Diet and supplements
What you eat is vital. Your body needs proper nutrition and balanced blood sugar to cope with stress.
Always eat breakfast â?? it really is the most important meal of the day! After several hours of fasting, you need fuel to function properly. Yoghurt with fruit, wholegrain muesli (e.g. Vital Toasted Multigrain Muesli) with low-fat milk, or wholewheat toast with cottage cheese or egg all make an excellent start to the day.
Not hungry first thing in the morning? Try a meal replacement shake such as Vital Biomeal.
People who donâ??t eat breakfast usually end up trying to boost their energy with coffee, sugar and refined foods (such as pastries, chips and chocolates) which do nothing for your waist-line or your health. What happens next is that your blood sugar levels start to peak and drop in a manner that leaves you exhausted and sees you reaching for more and more quick-fix foods to make you feel better.
Thereâ??s nothing wrong with the occasional treat but this shouldnâ??t be your means of getting through the day. The more sugary, unhealthy foods we eat, the more we crave, leading to a vicious cycle of irregular blood sugar levels, exhaustion and ill health. This exacerbates the symptoms of stress and drains our bodies of essential nutrients.
Aim for five to six small meals consisting of a lean protein (fish, chicken, vegetarian protein or dairy), a complex carbohydrate (whole grains, potatoes) and lots of vegetables (five portions per day). Snack on fruit, nuts and seeds and plain yoghurt.
Supplements can be your little helpers in the fight against stress. When you are stressed you need and use more B vitamins. Taking a vitamin B complex (e.g. Vital Maxi B) boosts your energy and feeds your nervous system, enabling you to cope better.
Essential fatty acids, particularly omega 3s, are just that: essential. They are needed for proper brain function and have been shown to assist in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders.
A good multivitamin and mineral supplement can help make up nutritional shortfalls that are common in modern life, while vitamin C and zinc supplements help your beleaguered immune system to stay healthy.
You may not feel like it, or even think you have the time, but exercise really helps in managing stress. A short walk every day, perhaps during your lunch break, can help. Try yoga, which is ideal for stress management due to its focus on breathing exercises and relaxation.
From walking your dog to dancing, yoga, tâ??ai chi, hiking â?? you name it, itâ??ll put a spring in your step!
Strangely, relaxation is something most of us need to work at. Look out for CDs of relaxation music and exercises, and spend a few moments each day consciously trying to relax. There are so many therapies out there that can really help you deal with the effects of stress.
Amongst these are reflexology, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, homeopathy, phytotherapy, or chiropractic.
Essential oils have powerful effects on the nervous system. Some are relaxing and antidepressant, while others energise and stimulate. Burgess & Finch Lavender essential oil is outstanding for stress, insomnia, anxiety and low mood.
To help you sleep, put five drops in your bath before bed or two to three drops on your pillow. For more information, go to www.active-online.co.za or contact the Burgess & Finch toll-free helpline on 0800 223311.
6. Bachâ?¢ Original Flower Remedies
Developed by Dr Edward Bach in the 1930s, the 38 flower remedies help you to rediscover your positive side. This is a natural, non-addictive system of treating everyday negative emotions. Keep a bottle of Bach Rescue® Remedy on hand, as you can take it whenever you feel stress, shock, grief, anxiety or panic. For more information visit www.bach.co.za or go to www.bachremedies.com.
7. Herbal medicine
Herbal medicine has many applications for stress and its side-effects. Chamomile tea (e.g. Vital Chamomile Tea) has soothing properties, while Panax ginseng (e.g. Vital Ginseng) is an adaptogen: it helps the body adapt to stress and supports normal body and mind function.
If your immune system is compromised, try echinacea (e.g. Vital Herbtime Immune System), a powerful herbal immune-booster. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, diabetic or hypertensive, some herbs may be contra-indicated, so check with a qualified practitioner or contact the Vital Helpline.
8. A problem shared …
… is a problem halved, so speak to a counsellor, pastor, therapist or a friend, or even write in a journal. This puts things in perspective and helps you sort through the chaos. Consider psychotherapy or counselling to help you learn to manage stress, anger and negative emotions.
Stress can cause insomnia, but the less sleep you have, the more stressed you will feel. Allow yourself an hour before bedtime to unwind. Have a warm bath using relaxing essential oils and do something restful. Television (especially the news) stimulates the brain, making it hard to relax, and alcohol, despite making you drowsy, actually leads to poor quality sleep.
Try Herbtime Stress & Insomnia, which contains passionflower, a herb that helps to relax you and enables easier sleep, and sip on Vital Dreamland Tea to ease your way into slumberland.
10. Have fun
A good friend of mine has a simple strategy for dealing with stress: She turns up the volume on a favourite CD and proceeds to dance around the living room while singing at the top of her voice. Sound like fun? It is, and before you know it youâ??ll be feeling energised and much more cheerful!
If singing isnâ??t your thing, why not find something you do enjoy. Join a class where you will learn a skill, meet people and do something creative. Try to do something enjoyable every day, be it a creative pursuit like art, writing or gardening, or pure relaxation, like reading or meditation.
Think of your spirit as a child, and do â??childishâ? things like hula hoop, watching childrenâ??s movies, or modelling with clay. In this way, you will learn to take things a little less seriously and start to leave your stress behind.
Please note: This advice is aimed at helping you cope with stress more effectively and does not replace your doctorâ??s advice. If you have been prescribed medication, do not stop taking this without prior consultation.
Stress can place heavy strain on the whole body, so it is important to get regular check-ups, and ensure that your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol are healthy.
Also if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have hypertension, diabetes or other prediagnosed medical conditions, certain supplements may not be suitable. Check with your pharmacist or doctor if you are unsure.
Feelings of depressed mood, decreased interest or pleasure, weight changes, sleep disturbances, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt can be indicators of depression. If you or a loved one is displaying these symptoms, consult your doctor immediately.
Vital Herbtime Stress & Insomnia is formulated with passionflower, a well-known herbal remedy with mild sedative and anxiolytic properties, recommended for people that suffer with anxiety, restlessness, stress and insomnia.
By: Jennifer Davies – Vital Magazine
While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.