If I had a dollar for every time a client sat in front of me and asked for help with stress management I’d be on my way to being a very rich woman.
Chronic stress is one of the biggest health problems I see my clients facing. It almost always exacerbates existing conditions and quite often it causes new ones all on its own.
And without a doubt, stress is one of the hardest things for you to do something about.
You can fairly easily take a daily supplement, or change parts of your diet, meditate or increase exercise to manage stress symptoms.
But when I ask clients what they do to address the actual source of their stress, they say that their lives and the things that cause stress can’t (or won’t) be changed.
“The problem is, that you can’t out eat a stressful life. Nor can you out exercise it. Or out supplement it.”
But, I am a pragmatist at heart and while it would be good for clients to take a few months off or quit their jobs, or walk away from a bad relationship it’s not always practical or desirable.
The truth is, a lot of the things in your life that cause stress also fill you with great purpose and joy (I know my job fits squarely into that category!).
So what are some practical steps from a diet and lifestyle perspective you can take today to improve your stress management?
FIVE steps to effective stress management
1. Understand what stress is and what causes it
I do spend time making clients acutely aware of the sources of stress in their lives and the effect stress has on their body.
This may not be with the aim to action it immediately, but more to provide you with an objective insight into how it impacts your health.
You can then make decisions about what needs to be cut down or eliminated, and what can simply be managed.
It is often a surprise to discover that work stress or family issues are really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the total amount of stress.
Your bodies encounter a myriad of different stressors every day, including things such as:
- A poor diet or unmanaged food intolerance
- Chronic disease and inflammation
- Chemical exposure from pollution
- Cleaning products or skin care
- Excessive endurance exercise
- Chronic low moods
- Inadequate sleep
All of these things produce a measure of burden on your body and have to be managed alongside the overt psychological stress encountered in the workplace or at home.
2. Understand how stress affects you personally
Even if you don’t feel like stress affects you directly, it can have broad reaching and detrimental physiological impacts on your short and long-term health.
Reduces your immunity
First, stress has direct effects such as reducing your immunity.
Chronic stress has also been linked to issues with:
- Increasing inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk factors
- Effects on the fetus in pregnancy
- Immunity, digestion and gut health
- Sleep disturbances
- Metabolic disorders and weight gain
These effects can simmer away for years without being immediately obvious until it’s pointed out or things get dramatically worse.
DEPLETES YOUR BODY
Second, stress has depleting effects on the body because your bodies use up more nutrients than usual to manufacture and clear excess stress hormones.
They are also used to mop up the damage that stress hormones cause by being switched on day after day.
In times of stress your body uses increased amounts of vitamin C, magnesium, B vitamins, protein and fat, and if your diet is already low in some of these, it can fast become a contributing factor to any number of health conditions.
When you are stressed all of the time and your diet is not up to scratch (put your hand up if you are guilty of stress eating!), you run out of these nutrients fast, leaving less for other systems in the body.
3. Know your vulnerabilities and put the right stress management habits in place
Once I understand how stress is impacting an individual as a whole, we work together to design the right stress management strategies that will work for them, especially for when times get tough.
This typically involves integrating a core SOS strategy for when things get extra stressful, combined with a long-term habit change plan that redesigns their whole way of eating.
The SOS strategy helps to maintain a basic level of health and self-care during the hard times and the long-term strategy begins to change the way they eat on a fundamental level so that eventually, these habits take over from the SOS strategy during times of stress.
HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR OWN SOS STRATEGY?
My SOS strategy usually involves a set of bare minimums that act like a life raft for the times when stress gets high and healthy living gets kicked to the curb.
This is a small set of ‘rules of operation’ which help you to not completely drop the ball when things get hectic but ease up on being so rigid about meeting all of your health goals every day.
It usually involves some of the things that you already do to manage stress as long as they are not inadvertently causing you more stress.
For example, doing those three yoga classes a week is amazing, except if they cause you more grief and hassle just getting to them.
4. Adjust your diet and lifestyle to meet the needs of your stressful life
Long-term stress management strategies involve designing a pattern of dietary and lifestyle changes that are incorporated as small changes over time.
21 Day Hero’s 8-Week Morning Upgrade Program is a perfect example of how to put these strategies into action.
BEST HABITS FOR STRESS MANAGEMENT
Exercise can help to mitigate the negative impacts of stress on the body with its anti-inflammatory effects.
Eating a healthy diet with limited refined foods, alcohol and coffee can reduce the overall stress burden on the body and begin to replenish the nutrients needed to cope.
Choose foods that are as close to nature as possible and avoid eating foods that come from a packet.
TOP ANTI STRESS FOODS AND HABITS
There are a number of key stress-reducing foods that help to replenish the nutrients that are burnt out from stress and mitigate the damage caused by long-term exposure to stress hormones.
Protein Dense Foods
This includes eating plenty of protein dense foods such as grass-fed meats, wild caught fish, legumes, quinoa, buckwheat, unsweetened yogurts (if tolerated), nuts and seeds to help the liver process stress hormones efficiently.
Vitamin C Rich Foods
Also eat several different serves of vitamin C rich foods across the day such as guavas, red peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli and cauliflower to help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones such as cortisol.
Consume a serve of healthy fat with every meal such as those in sardines, wild caught salmon, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds or walnuts to reduce inflammation.
Don’t shy away from eating small amounts of organic liver and other organ meats as they are incredibly rich sources of B vitamins which are essential for energy production.
I use a number of other nutritional therapeutics which depend on how stress affects the individual.
My favorites are anti-inflammatories like:
- Ginger and turmeric (but be careful – stress can both lower and increase inflammation so best to get someone to check you out first)
- Immune boosters like reishi mushrooms
- Mood regulators like GABA and inositol
- Sunshine and fresh air
5. Get Support
Finally, getting the support that you need is essential.
If stress is becoming an overwhelming part of your life, support often needs to come from multiple places, for example:
- Saying no to too much work
- Conflict resolution
- A gym membership
- Or taking that holiday that you’ve been wanting to do
Whatever it is, do it now before things get harder to change.
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