This month Samantha Hadadi brings us a wealth of knowledge on managing stress & how the impact of stress can affect the body. She delves into a few subjects to help guide us through stress & how we can manage it.
Sam is a health coach specialising in hormonal health and empowering women to overcome stress. She is also trained in breath work exercises and is a former journalist and plant-based recipe creator. You can check out her Instagram profile by visiting @samanthahadadi, or send her a message to book a coaching session.
Over the last few months, most of us have probably felt frazzled and overwhelmingly stressed.
After all, in little over a year, our lives have been irrevocably changed. Plunged into chaos, with many of us pushed to our limits by lockdown. Missing friends and family, and feeling lonely, isolated or scared. Add into this a vortex of uncertainty, especially when it comes to the future. Many of us have hit a wall of toxic stress.
WHAT DOES STRESS DO TO THE BODY?
The problem is, while stress is a natural, biological response designed to save our lives, in fact, it can often be a good thing! Chronic stress can cause all kinds of problems.
In it’s simplest form, stress is how our body copes with a perceived threat (note the word perceived!). When we feel stressed or find ourselves facing a threat, we release hormones such as Adrenaline and Cortisol (AKA the stress hormone) which help the body to take quick action.
In ancient times, this came in pretty handy when we stumbled upon angry, wild bears or had to dash away from a hornet’s nest. This stressor triggered the release of these hormones, increasing our reaction times, helping our breath to quicken and our pulse to race, all so that we could sprint to safety. Once this threat was over, our bodies would ease back into Homeostasis (our natural state).
The problem is, our body doesn’t know the difference between a genuine threat to our lives and the stress we experience. For example when we sleep through our alarm, can’t find a matching sock, have endless emails to answer or an awkward client to contend with.
Whatever the situation, our body still releases the same hormones. It still triggers the stress response, whether you’re filing your tax return or having to run to make it to that Very Important Meeting.
As you can probably see, these small, day-to-day stressors mean that many of us are living in constant Stress Mode. Even if our body does think it is saving our lives!
WHAT CAN CHRONIC STRESS DO TO THE BODY?
Unfortunately, chronic stress can impact almost every part of the body!
From excess fat on your stomach to mood swings, problems falling or staying asleep, hormonal imbalances (such as PMS or painful periods in women), inflammation in the body and certain autoimmune conditions, long-term stress can really take its toll.
You see, when our body sees a Red Flag, it pours all it’s energy into getting us to safety. This means that many other crucial bodily functions (such as our digestive or reproductive systems) have to take a back seat.
We will all experience varying responses to stressful situations (we are all individual, after all!), but here are some of the more common symptoms of chronic stress:
- Disturbed sleep or insomnia
- A low immune system
- Depression, anxiety or a sense of overwhelm
- Fatigue / feeling unrested even after sleep
- Feeling wired and tired throughout the day
- Digestive problems (for example, IBS or bloating)
- Hormonal issues such as PMS, Amenorrhea (absent periods), sore breasts, menstrual migraines or even infertility
- Skin issues, including acne and eczema
- Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Chronic pain
It’s worth pointing out that many of these symptoms can also be the sign of underlying issues, so if you experience them frequently, please go and see a GP to rule out anything else first.
WHAT CAN I DO?
So, what can you do?
Well, firstly, if you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, it’s important to recognise that you are not alone. Wherever you can, treat yourself with compassion. This is an incredibly emotional and traumatic time, and many of us are feeling that same trauma with you. So please, reach out to loved ones or seek professional advice if you are struggling.
In the meantime, there are some simple steps you can take to ease the impact that stress may have on your body.
Here are five things you can try to ease your stress levels today:
1. Ditch the Caffeine
Let’s face it, when we are in stress mode, caffeine (particularly coffee) can often be a lifeline. It helps to keep us awake and focused when all we really want to do is pull the duvet over our heads and squirrel away.
Yet, sipping on coffee when we are stressed may worsen the underlying problem.
This is because caffeine can send our cortisol (AKA the Stress Hormone) levels soaring, causing us to feel on edge. It often becomes a double whammy because, for most of us, cortisol is at its peak in the morning (cortisol plays a key role in waking us up), which is when many of us start the cycle of knocking back endless cups of coffee.
It’s worth pointing out that we all have different reactions to coffee – some people will be hugely affected by it, while others may not be particularly sensitive to it’s effects. However, if you are living in chronic stress mode, then you may like to consider cutting back on caffeine. See if it makes a difference.
If you need some morning rocket fuel to replace coffee, then you could try sipping on Green Tea instead. Green tea releases caffeine much more slowly and also contains the calming amino acid L-Theanine for added Zen. Another option is to use Boostball MCT in your Green Tea along with a dash of plant-based milk to create a delicious creamy MCT Matcha Latte, for that added boost we all so often crave.
2. Step Outside
One of the simplest ways to reduce stress is to step outside and breathe in the fresh air.
Spending time in nature is proven to reduce the body’s stress response, and it can help with mindfulness too! (AKA living in the present) To practice this, the next time you find yourself taking a stroll in the park, you could take a different route or simply pause and take notice of what you can see. Are there any interesting cloud formations? What does the light look like through the trees? Can you spot anything new and different? Can you hear the birds sing?
I also recommend enjoying morning light exposure whenever you can. When we soak up natural morning light, we can help to restore balance to our body’s natural Circadian Rhythm. This can be affected by stress. If the weather allows it, why not take your breakfast outside to benefit?
3. Get Hugging!
Feeling frazzled? Go and find a loved one and get hugging! When we enjoy physical contact, our bodies release the hormone Oxytocin (also known as the love hormone). This can work to reduce stress.
I understand that this can be difficult during COVID times, but if you have a pet, hugging them works just as well! Research has shown that stroking a pet can lower cortisol levels, as well as releasing feel-good Serotonin and Oxytocin.
If this isn’t possible, then try to take some time to do something just for you. This will look different for all of us. It could involve running yourself a bath, dancing to your favourite songs, calling a friend, indulging in some Yoga, or reading a book. Whatever you enjoy most!
4. Ditch Processed Foods
Trust me, I get it: when we’re stressed, we often crave sugary, processed foods, or foods high in refined carbs (the typical comfort foods that many of us associate with childhood). It’s important to not feel guilty or beat yourself up over these cravings because there are all kinds of reasons why might start longing for these foods.
However, long-term, these processed foods add to our stress response. White, fluffy carbs, for example, can lead to spikes in blood sugar, which then triggers the release of Insulin (a hormone which has a close relationship with Cortisol). Ultimately, this can make us crash and burn when those blood sugars suddenly drop.
If you are feeling those cravings, then be gentle with yourself. Perhaps sit and explore why you’re feeling those things, and ask yourself what your body really needs. Is there something you could do instead to release those endorphins? Could you perhaps call a friend or journal about your emotions? Could you take a nap or exercise instead?
If you still crave something sweet, then try reaching for a healthy snack, such as one of Boostball’s delicious treats. Keeping cupboards full of healthy snacks is great for times like these! I love Boostball’s Keto Bites for when I’m craving sugary foods. They have a natural sweetness that keeps me satisfied, without triggering a blood sugar rollercoaster!
Wherever possible, I’d also suggest you load up on rainbows of fruit and veg. We all know that this is one of the cornerstones to a healthy, happy life, but this is especially important during times of chronic stress. This is because stress can deplete levels of certain nutrients as well as affecting our immune systems.
Eating those delicious plant-based foods can also help our guts to thrive – and we are now learning more and more about the close relationship our gut has with our mood.
5. Diaphragmatic Breathing (Deep Belly Breathing)
Very few of us stop to simply breathe and live in the moment. Yet exercises like Diaphragmatic Breathing can help to overcome all kinds of issues. Deep belly breathing can boost our energy and it can also support our digestive and immune systems. As well as this, it can ease stress and anxiety and even boost confidence.
Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, this exercise can help to bring you back to the present. It can also kick in the Parasympathetic Nervous System. This is our so-called rest and repair mode, which gets pushed aside when we’re stressed! Yet it’s so easy to do, and takes just minutes!
SIMPLE DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING
- Sit yourself comfortably. You can also lie down if you’d prefer and allow your body to melt into the chair or surface beneath you. Close your eyes, or keep them in a soft focus.
- Roll your shoulders back and down, then place one hand on your heart and the other just above your stomach.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, noticing how your tummy rises and expands as your body takes in more breath.
- Pause, then gently purse your lips and exhale slowly. Feel your belly relax beneath your hands and your body calm.
- Repeat for a few minutes, then note how you’re feeling. Slowly stand up once you’re ready, knowing that you can try this technique any time you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
By Samantha Hadadi, Health Coach