Nutrition Insight - Stress and the Body

Do you feel tired or irritable, have food allergies, mood swings or cravings? Many of us suffer from constant stress yet may not know the root of the stress and it’s effect on our bodies. Stress is the way we react to situations and manifests itself in what we call a ‘fight or flight response’. While the physiological response process can aid us in moments of real danger, if left to it’s heightened stages of reaction for extended periods of time, it can cause negative effects to our bodies. The fight or flight response protects us because when faced with real danger we are going to have to react, and fast. During this response our brain sends messages to release adrenaline, which is our anti-stress hormone. As well, mass amounts of glucose and oxygen are sent to our muscles, our heart rate elevates and breath rate increases.

Another amazing aspect of this body response is how the body directs energy to areas of the body requiring an extra 'oomph' to operate. And, energy may be re-directed away from areas of the body like the digestive tract. Without energy present, the digestive tract cannot function. If digestion stops, food will sit in the intestines and ferment; which in the long run can cause inflammation, bloating, and food intolerance/sensitivities. Also, without proper digestion, nutrients from food will not be absorbed leaving a body malnourished.

It’s a fascinating thing that our bodies can react in such a way, especially as the process takes mere seconds. So, what happens in times of prolonged stress? When the adrenaline continues to pump through our bodies, our heart rate doesn’t decrease and hormones can’t return to normal levels? Without a body returning to homeostasis blood sugar problems, high blood pressure, fatigue, adrenal exhaustion and weight gain all become very real risks.

So what can we do about it? It all comes down to managing our reactions to stressors. Life will throw obstacles our way and it is how we deal with them that creates stress. So, to prepare ourselves, we can take on activities during the day that help keep our bodies in as neutral/natural a state as possible. Try things like:

  • Deep breathing. It can be done anywhere and only takes a few minutes. Take a moment to yourself (in your car, at your desk, in the elevator, etc) and take a deep inhale. Exhale slowly, attempting to make the exhale longer than the inhale. Repeat for two to three minutes.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine when possible. Both alcohol and caffeine cause the release of adrenaline in the body – a lead reaction in stress creation. Adrenaline also interferes with metabolism, so long-term use may cause weight gain, and can cause nervous tension and irritability.
  • Looking to what you can learn from the obstacle. Navigating life’s obstacles makes us stronger, and there’s a lesson in every bump in the road. How can what you’re experiencing give you knowledge, strength or a new perspective?
  • Feeding your body. Fruit, nuts/seeds, dark chocolate (at least 70%) for an afternoon energy blast. Whole grains and fruits/veg when eating at home or on the go.

Lastly, there is nothing more important than taking care of yourself. Take time out of the day to do so – multiple times, if needed! Exercise, walking, being out in nature, massage, baths, reading - anything you enjoy to unwind. During this time, it’s important to let go of what may have happened during the day, learn from it and allow it to make you stronger. The past is the past, live for the now and get excited about the future.