LET'S BEAT STRESS

by Shona Vertue 

8th April 2016

They say that stress is a killer...
Well I tend to disagree and am more in line with endocrinologist,
Hans Selye, and his thoughts on the matter"It's not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it."

Stress from a physiological perspective can be defined as anything that knocks you off your homeostatic balance (ideal body temperature, ideal blood sugar, idea heart rate etc.) and the stress response is what happens when you try to reestablish homeostasis. In your body, this involves the nervous system (in particular, the sympathetic/fight or flight mode) and the endocrine (hormone) system, both geared towards helping you escape danger. Things like increased blood pressure, heart rate, vision and inhibited digestion occur to help you run away from that hungry saber-toothed tiger.

Us Humans have the annoying ability to set off the stress response preemptively, meaning we can trigger the fight or flight mode even if we just think about stressful things! While you may consciously know the difference between being hunted by a lion vs. being stuck in London traffic when you have something important to be at, your subconscious mind (and therefore body) does not. So the same stress response can occur even though it's only really necessary in the lion scenario. Over time, an excessively reactive stress response wreaks havoc on the body, leaving you chronically stressed, anxious, neurotic and a little cray cray. 

Eliminating all stressors is pretty much impossible so instead we must learn to 'react' in the right way, lessening the intensity of the stress response or even better not triggering it at all. 

Here are five simple suggestions to help you manage stress more effectively: 

1. Meditation - I know it's become cliched to suggest it, but there is more and more evidence to support both the psychological and physiological benefits of meditation. If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of a daily practice, remember that it doesn't have to always be a 20-minute session, 10 conscious breaths, at regular intervals throughout the day will help enormously. 

2. Reduce Inflammation - While inflammation is a good thing in small doses (it is a natural response of the immune system) chronic inflammation is not ideal for your body and has been linked to obesity, cancer and accelerated ageing. Consuming foods and supplements with anti-inflammatory properties can decrease the detrimental effects of chronic inflammation. My favourites are ginger, turmeric, blueberries, green tea and magnesuim. 

3. Make Better Food Choices - Under nourishment is a form of stress on the body. And by undernourishment I don't mean how much you are eating I mean what you are eating. Getting a balanced range of macronutrients and loads of vitamins will support your body to maintain that beautiful homeostasis and improve your mood generally.

4. Reduce Negative Comparisons - Social comparison theory, originally proposed by social psychologist Leon Festigner posits that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others. Festinger said that comparing yourself to others is human nature. However; upward comparisons (to those more fortunate than you) are detrimental to self-esteem. I believe that social media and the carefully curated lifestyles that you see have given rise to rampant upward comparisons! I'm not suggesting that you shut down your Instagram account but just to acknowledge that everything you see on there isn't real. Be honest with yourself about who is healthy to have in your feed and un-follow accounts that make you feel bad. 

5. Do more yoga - Who we are on the yoga mat is often a reflection of who we are in the world. Putting yourself into the 'Pretzel' can often be very intense both physically and psychologically (controlled "stress") but instead of hurtling you into a usual stress response, yoga encourages you to take long, slow and deep breaths re-training yourself to react in a more calm inducing way. 

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