It doesn’t take rocket science to know as a population, Americans are incredibly stressed. Roughly 77% of Americans report physical symptoms related to stress. At least one-third of Americans experience extreme levels of stress on a regular basis. About one in five have high levels of stress fifteen or more days per month. So, what are WE doing about it? What are YOU doing about it? Apparently, not enough.
Stress or being stressed is one of the chief complaints that bring people in to see their primary care doctor. Chronic, uncontrolled stress drives our cravings for sugar and other less-than-awesome foods and beverages. When you increase or abuse stimulants (such as caffeine), you add insult to injury. Having a daily cup or two of organic coffee or tea is fine; they both contain robust anti-oxidants. But when we do too much caffeine, it can send an already overtaxed, overcharged, and over-stimulated nervous system into overdrive. When this happens, your adrenal glands respond by producing excessive levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Chronic stress and high cortisol levels have a direct effect on mood and optimism. Excess cortisol in the body shuts down serotonin; and when serotonin drops, risk of depression increases. High cortisol and excess stress also shut down the hormone melatonin. This may explain why we don’t sleep well when we’re under a lot of stress or when we overdo it with sugar. This lack of sleep prevents us from making GH (growth hormone), which is produced mainly while we are engaged in deep sleep.
Being “too busy” is one of the primary reasons most of us don’t want to actually “deal with” our stress, yet there are fairly simple and effective ways to de-stress your life through prudent and empowering lifestyle and dietary choices. When it comes to lifestyle, a daily exercise routine is non-negotiable. Exercise can help lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression. So can meditation. Surprised? Meditation may seem like the exact opposite of exercise, but meditation exercises our vagus nerve, which helps to – you guessed it, lower stress. Taking 10 minutes per day to focus on your breathing, specifically bringing your breath down into your belly and diaphragm and taking it out of your chest. This type of breathing signals the vagus nerve to tell the body that all is well, no need to stress.
Sugar and stress place excess pressure on our adrenal glands, and this makes us feel exhausted all the time, putting us at risk for anxiety. We tend to want to feed our emotions, and we crave comfort foods in the form of refined sugar and carbs (to boost serotonin). This vicious cycle leaves us unsatisfied, unhappy, and for some individuals, it can lead to becoming overweight. When we follow through on meal frequency, portion control, and adequate fiber consumption, we are more likely to healthfully navigate our cravings.
Adaptogens are a group of medicinal plants, herbal medicines, that support a healthy response to stress. They help restore balance to the adrenal glands. They help us cope with the demands of everyday life. Adaptogens help to reduce inflammation. They help with balanced energy, mental clarity, hormone balance, and help provide a sense of calm. With the current pace of life, adaptogens simply allow us to keep going. But with that said, the ultimate goal should be to slow down the pace and take time to reset; Self regulate.
A few of our favorite adaptogens: Astragulus, Reishi mushroom, Cordyceps, Rhodiola, Ginseng, Holy Basil, Maca, Rhodiola and Licorice. For more on Adaptogens, check out our article: Our Favorite Adaptogens.
A clean diet and complete nutrition are also essential for coping with life and especially with stress. Look to foods rich in Vitamin C, whole grains, vitamins B5 and B6, zinc, magnesium, and potassium. Read more on how to manage stress through clean eating here: Stress-Busting Foods.
Awareness is the first step towards recognition that stress may be affecting your life. Action is what it is going to take to make a difference. The combination of meditation, clean eating and exercise each morning before you go out and give to the world is a powerful gift that you can give yourself and others.