As you’ve probably noticed, I’m not posting as much as I normally do. That’s because work & life are crazy busy, and unfortunately that means my nutrition studies and my blog get put on the back burner. Being busy is a funny thing because there’s a fine line you cross when your busyness (is that a word?) becomes too much to handle, and your life starts to lack balance. I’m almost reaching that point, so I thought it was about time for a post about stress.
Stress is interesting because it’s actually something that’s within your control. Obviously you can’t control the stressful situations that arise, but you can control how you respond to them. Learning to better deal with stress may take some practice, but it’s an important skill to learn because constant stress can have negative effects on your health.
When we encounter a stressful situation our bodies go into the ‘fight or flight response.’ This natural response produces certain hormones to help us cope. For example, if you’ve ever gone bungee jumping you probably felt a surge of adrenaline; a hormone your body produces during a stressful situation. Another hormone that is produced in higher levels during periods of stress is cortisol.
Ok, this might get a little technical, but bear with me. Cortisol is a type of hormone called a glucocorticoid, which means it can increase our blood sugar levels, which in turn raises insulin levels. When insulin levels are normal, our body can deal with them, but under constant stress too much insulin is produced and our cells stop reacting to it. This causes excess insulin & glucose to just circulate in our bodies. This is where the negative effects on our health come in; excess insulin & blood sugar can:
-Signal fat to be deposited in the abdominal area producing something called visceral fat (usually concentrated around the midsection). This type of fat is difficult to get rid of, and is dangerous because it surrounds our organs, can increase the risk of heart attack, is associated with high LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), insulin resistance and metabolic problems
-Affect our blood sugar levels causing cravings for sugar, caffeine, chocolate, pasta (or other carbs), alcohol and mindless eating. It’s no wonder we are more likely to go for a glass of wine, sweets or comfort food after a hard day at work!
-Affect our sleep, memory and suppress our immune system, which is why you are more likely to get sick when you’re under stress (this is probably why I got sick right before my wedding!)
Ok, so how can we change the way we deal with stress, and prevent these negative effects?
Here are a few suggestions:
-I’m aware this is contradictory, but, knowing is half the battle. If you know a stressful day or situation is coming, than anticipate the sugar & carb cravings. Plan some healthy meals for that day so you can keep your blood sugar balanced, and will be less likely to grab something high sugar or high carb (think whole grains, fruit, veggies & lean protein)
–Get 8 hours of sleep – this will keep cortisol levels normal
–Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine, which raises cortisol levels (remember that there is caffeine in chocolate!)
–Exercise! This is my favourite one. Exercising blocks the effects of cortisol by using the excess glucose that is circulating in the body, and it releases endorphins, which are natural uppers! You’ll be in a much better mood, and better equipped to deal with stress
–Omega-3 – make sure you’re taking 1000mg/day to help manage cortisol levels
–Take extra Vitamin C – you can take up to 2000mg/day, which can help you ward off illness if your immune system is low
Enjoy a stress-free weekend!