The Mess of Stress

The Mess of Stress

Ever wonder why we migrate to mashed potatoes, chips, fresh-baked bread, pastries, pasta, and other carbs when we’re stressed?  Carbohydrates increase the body’s serotonin levels, which are decreased by stress.

Stress eating is one of many minor reactions has to stress.  Other physical symptoms include increased heart rate, paling, blushing, indigestion, blood vessel constriction or dilation, dilation of pupils, impotence, allergies, asthma, depression, hearing loss, tunnel vision, shaking, muscle tension, headaches, chest pain, fatigue, altered libido, anxiety, restlessness, irritability, increased blood pressure, increased blood sugar, and a suppressed immune system.  In extreme cases, it can lead to substance abuse, cancer, and heart attacks.  The average American cannot avoid stress, and likely experiences at least some physical responses every day.

Stress triggers an alarm in the body, which releases hormones such as cortisol into the bloodstream.  When the body is in proper balance, it should recover and return to its equilibrium in a relatively short period of time.  When this doesn’t happen, a stress-overload occurs: the body becomes exhausted, losing the ability to adapt.  Long-term stress can cause illness and damage to the cardiovascular, digestive, and immune systems.  In extreme cases, it can lead to high blood pressure, substance abuse, heart attack and death.

The best way to relieve stress is to avoid it, but we all know that isn’t realistic, especially because most people report that work is their #1 stress trigger. We cannot let it run and ruin our lives, though.

How To Cope With Stress:
1) Change how you manage stress.
2) Identify the triggers that cause stress for you.
3) Figure out ways to deal with your stress triggers.
4) Try acupuncture.  It helps the body restore balance by regulating hormone levels, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep and digestive function, decreasing tension, and much more.
5) Get regular massages.  They help loosen muscles, increase circulation, and allow for a peaceful and relaxing experience.
5) Incorporate self-guided stress relief techniques such as Tai Chi, yoga, meditation, and pranayama, the art of yoga breathing.

Types of Meditation
Guided Meditation
 – forming mental images of locations or situations you find relaxing.
Mantra Meditation – Silently repeating a calming word, though, or phrase to prevent distracting thoughts.
Mindfulness Meditation – Focusing on the experience of meditation itself, such as the flow of breath, and/or increasing acceptance and awareness of living in the present moment.
Transcendental Meditation – Silently repeating a mantra (a word, sound, or phrase), to eliminate other thoughts from your mind until you reach a state of perfect stillness and consciousness.

Meditation Techniques
Deep Breathing
 – Focus all of your attention on breathing.  Listen to your breath as you slowly inhale and exhale through your nose, and concentrate on the feeling of the air passing through your nostrils and into your lungs.

Body Scan – Focus your mind on how different parts of your body feel at the moment. Is there pain, tension, warmth, or relaxation? Imagine your breath touching different parts of your body and removing any negative sensations.

Walking Meditation – Focusing on the movement of walking itself, repeating the action words of walking (lifting, moving, placing) in your mind. This method usually has a slower pace of walking so you can increase focus on your movements.

Prayer – Most faith traditions have spoken and written prayers, which are some of the best known and most widely practiced forms of meditation.

Reflection – There are benefits to reading poetry or text, listening to music or spoken word that relaxes or inspires you, and then taking some time to reflect on the meaning of the piece.  You can journal or discuss your reflections with others.

Foods For Lowering Cortisol
Elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels can damage the body over the long term.  The following foods are beneficial in reducing cortisol levels.

Lean Proteins

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Low-Glycemic Foods
Whole wheat pastas
Rye bread
Raw apples
Raw pears

Refined grains
Refined starches
Refined sugars
Saturated Fat
Trans fats
Bovine dairy
Excess caffeinated beverages, such as coffee
Red meat
Processed meats (i.e. sausage)

Dark Chocolate

Phosphatidylserine Foods
White beans

Black Tea  –  A study at University College, London, showed lower cortisol levels in individuals who consumed black tea four times daily over a six week period.