3 - Part Series with a focus on understanding your stress and building your own personal stress busting tool-kit with nutritional, physical and mental relaxation strategies.
Part 2 - Show me the Stress Management (Nutrition, Movement and Mental Relaxation)
Dear Stress, Lets Break Up!!
In Part 1 ‘Stress – know thy enemy’ we looked at an overview of stress, what it is, introduced the stress hormone - cortisol and identified some indicators of chronic stress, and its long-term health implications.
We will now focus on strategies and techniques that use nutrition, movement and mental relaxation to alleviate stress.
Balancing Stress with Nutrition
Proper nutrition is absolutely essential to health and it is vital to ensure that you are providing the right kind of nutrition so that your body can cope with stressors effectively.
Certain foods and stimulants can trigger increased sense of anxiety, making us more prone to stress. Others have the effect of soothing the nervous system, or help increase our body’s ability to adjust to stressful situations.
It’s an individual matter which foods build a person’s health and enhance or balance their energy and which are draining on the system – that is, cause stress.
For each of us there are some foods which have a debilitating effect, creating stress and imbalance in our bodies. These may be things that could be clinically identified as ‘allergens’ or they may simply be foods that drain our energy at a particular moment.
Energetically, there are three types of foods – based on the effect they have on the body at a given moment:
BIOGENIC foods and substances raise our energy, do not take too much energy to digest, and leave little residue for the body to eliminate.
BIOSTATIC foods and substances have a neutral effect on us.
BIOCIDIC foods and substances dampen our energy, take an extra amount of energy to digest, and leave toxic waste for the body to eliminate.
Through kinesiology and muscle testing it is possible to identify which foods enhance an indiviual’ls energy and balance, which foods are energetically neutral and which foods inhibit energy.
If you are having digestive problems, identifying and abstaining for a time from BIOCIDIC foods and increasing intake of BIOGENIC foods, may be particularly valuable.
Food testing sessions available at Healthy Kinect Kinesiology, discover which foods are BIOGENIC or BIOCIDIC for you.
Of course, things other than food and drink have an effect on the body’s balance and energy, including some supplements (or the amount taken), alcohol, cigarette smoke, industrial fumes and airborne irritants such as pollen. Processed foods often inhibit our energy and do not have the same nutritional value as the foods will generally have in their natural form.
Here are a few tips to use nutrition and herbs to manage stress:
Use ‘nervine’ herbs, which are soothing to the nervous system to encourage calm and relaxation. Examples are chamomile and valerian.
Amino acids L-Theanine and GABA can help relive stress. Green tea contains theanine, while almonds, whole wheat, halibut, walnuts, lentils, brown rice, potato, spinach, banana and orange are high glutamate or glutamic acid, which forms glutamine in your body and is a precursor to GABA.
Calcium has a soothing effect on the nervous system. Increase intake of calcium-rich food (e.g. leafy greens, bone broth) – especially during dinner can help you wind down.
Reduce the use of stimulants such as caffeine. Explore coffee alternatives such as Yerba Mate, green tea, or Rooibos (African Red Bush) to avoid the stimulatory effect.
Reduce the intake of sugar and other processed and refined foods. Those can cause blood sugar fluctuations, increasing the chances of developing mood swings and anxiety, making you more prone to stress.
Balancing Stress with optimal sleep and exercise patterns/routines
As mentioned in Part 1 – 'Know thy Enemy', we often times overlook stress that we impose on our physical body. It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic – if we don’t take good care of our body, we will become depleted and less able to cope with stress, whether it’s physical or mental. Besides eating well, getting enough rest is probably the next big thing, especially in our ‘always on’ society.
About 33% of the population experience insomnia on a regular basis. Many people are dependent on medication to help them sleep, while there are over 300 drugs that can interfere with normal sleep.
Lack of sleep can cause an increase in cortisol level, further increasing the negative health impact that chronic stress has on the body.
There are many causes of insomnia, common ones include: anxiety or tension, depression, environmental change, emotional arousal, fear of insomnia, fear of sleep, hypoglycemia, disruptive environment, pain or discomfort, caffeine, drugs and alcohol.
While we cannot control all of these factors, there are ways that we can improve our habits and environment so that we can improve the quality and quantity of our sleep.
Practicing a bedtime ritual can help you wind down and signal your body that it’s time to relax and get ready for sleep – e.g. turn off the TV, computer or any screens at least an hour before bed; have a warm cup of chamomile tea, or read a book. The blue light from electronic devices can interfere with your ability to relax and fall asleep.
Devise strategies to help you wind down and stay calm starting an hour or two before bed. For example, if looking at your bank account makes you worried and start thinking about what if this and what if that, don’t look at it before bed; or, if you know that speaking with your sister-in-law always get you worked up, make a rule not to take her calls after certain hours.
For some people who tend to remember things or come up with ideas around bedtime, have pen and paper handy by the bedside so that you can do a ‘brain dump’ before bed and not have to worry about not remembering when you wake up.
Sugar, caffeine and alcohol can all affect our sleep. Try to reduce intake during the day if you can, and avoid them altogether in the evening.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in sleep. The precursor of serotonin is tryptophan, which is the first to be lost in a low calorie diet. It is most common for people who skip meals and are addicted to empty calories. Tryptophan can be found in turkey, milk, potatoes, pumpkin, and various greens.
Acupressure to assist sleep
Bladder 38 (B38)
The point B38 or Vital Diaphragm is one of the most important acupressure and acupuncture pressure points for treating sleeping disorders and promoting restful sleep. This point is located in the back at the heart level, between the shoulder baled and the spine. Stimulating this point helps in balancing emotions of stress, anxiety, grief and fear that hinder sleep and it is one of the widely used acupressure points for insomnia.
It also helps in treating coughing, respiratory problems and breathing difficulties. Place 2 tennis balls on the floor side by side and lie down on the balls so that they are placed between your shoulder blades. Close your eyes and breathe deeply for 1 minute.
Bladder 10 (B10)
The point B10 or Heavenly Pillar lies one fingers width below the base of the skull, upon the rope-like muscles roughly one half-inch either side of the spine. Web the fingers across the back of the skull and use both thumbs to apply firm pressure to both points. Close the eyes and take long and deep breathes, whilst stimulating the point for around 3 minutes to relieve stress. A great point for assisting with insomnia, as well as a stiff neck and over exhaustion.
Kidney 6 (K6) and Bladder 52 (B52)
K6 is also a significant acupressure point that promotes restful sleep. This point is called the Shining Sea, and it is located right on the inside of the ankle bone, in a slight depression. Stimulating this point helps in relieving insomnia, hypertension, and anxiety.
This point is also useful for treating digestive disorders, dry and sore throat, irregular menstruation, eye problems, and epilepsy. This point should be stimulated in combination with B62. Use your thumbs to hold the K6 point of one foot and B62 point of the other foot. Press the points for 1 minute while breathing deeply.
The acupressure point B62 is an important point for treating sleeping disorders. This point is located in the first indentation right below the outer anklebone. This point is also called the Extending Vessel, and it is extremely effective in relieving insomnia.
It also helps in reducing lower back pain, headache, stiff neck, and nervousness. This point should be stimulated in combination with K6 as mentioned in the previous point.
Besides sleep, exercise or movement is also very important when it comes to taking care of our body. Exercise, although necessary to maintain health, is not necessarily the more the better. Increased activity levels boost metabolism, which in turn causes the body to generate more free radicals, increasing the level of oxidative stress. For athletes, especially those who engage in activities that require prolonged engagement of the cardiovascular system (endurance athletes), it is recommended that they supplement their diets with antioxidants – such as vitamins C and E, CoEnzyme Q10, Lipoic acid and selenium to help the body combat oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
If we go overboard with our exercise, we can also get over-trained. Over-training can put stress not only on our muscular system, but also on our heart, pituitary, and adrenals. Here are some common warning signs that you may be over-training:
Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy
Mild leg soreness, general aches and pains
Pain in muscles and joints
Sudden drop in performance
Decreased immunity, e.g. increased number of colds and sore throats
Decrease in training capacity / intensity
Moodiness and irritability
Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
Increased incidence of injuries.
A compulsive need to exercise
Here are some ways to recover from overtraining:
Rest and Recover. Reduce or stop exercise and allow yourself a few days of rest. The longer the period you were over-trained, the longer this rest period needs to be.
Hydrate – drink plenty of fluid primarily in the form of clean filtered water and non-caffeinated herbal tea.
Get a sports massage. This may help relax you mentally and physically.
Begin Cross Training. This often helps athletes who are overworking certain muscles or suffering from mental fatigue.
In Part 3 of 'Stress the great balancing act' - discover strategies to add to your Stress Busting tool-kit with Relaxation tips, Coping Strategies and Emotional Stress Release techniques.