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Stress..How does it affect us physically and mentally? And what can we do to reduce it?

The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month. No better time to have a bit of a chat about stress and how we can all be affected by it differently.

First of all I want to tell you a bit about my personal experience with stress and in particular suppression of stress. This has manifested in my life in many different ways. I have always considered myself to be a worrier or a more anxious individual. This can present in many different ways including an inability to concentrate, difficulty carrying out monotonous tasks that I don't find engaging, tension headaches, jaw tightness, gut issues and IBS type symptoms to name a few. This all makes sense to me now as a Nutritional Therapist after years of education and study, however this was not always the case. So I would like to share some of my insights into stress and particularly stress awareness with you.

First of all it is important to be mindful that stress in the body can be caused by both physical and psychological factors. The modern world that we live in exposes us to lot's of stressors. Including-

Less rest. We are always trying to get an extra hour out of our day. Which them affects the amount of sleep or rest we get.

More toxins. In our diet, in the environment, in medications and in stimulants like alcohol and cigarettes to name a few.

More Information. We are constantly connected to our phones, laptops, TV's and the news without switching off.

More Noise. Loud music or even noise pollution from traffic or airplanes.

Reduced Support Networks. This could be related to reduced contact due to the pandemic or it may be because you are working from home or living alone. Nowadays more than ever we have less human connection and interaction and this can massively affect our health.

Some issues that we face are that a lot of us are "stressed out" and may not even realise that we are stressed or know what is causing this stress. On the other hand a lot of us don’t want to admit that we are stressed (Ref- Clinical Holistic Medicine: The Existential Crisis — Life Crisis, Stress, and Burnout. Ventegodt et al. 2005)

The fact of the matter is whether we admit that we are stressed or not our bodies will speak the truth with symptoms of physical or mental ill health. Some typical symptoms of suppressing stress can include (Ref-

Sleep conditions like Insomnia, narcolepsy and general sleep Disturbances.

Mood disorders like anxiety, depression, OCD and an array of other mental health conditions.

Headache’s and migraines.

Digestive issues such as reflux, IBS, ulcers, upset stomach and many other symptoms and conditions.

Loss of appetite or food cravings.

Low Energy, fatigue or inability to relax.

Memory and concentration issues including brain fog.

Hormonal imbalances that can result in sleep issues, reproductive issues, impaired metabolism and difficulty losing weight.

This list is exhaustive and these are simply a few examples to give you a general idea. I am not saying that stress is the only cause or driving force of these symptoms or conditions. However it is something that we want to consider when they do occur.

I want to circle back to some of the main drivers of stress and how we can get the balance right to support a reduction in stress levels.

Reducing Toxic Load- We come into contact with many toxins on a daily basis. We want to keep check on the one's we have control over. This includes staying hydrated and drinking water (Approx 2.25 litres for females and 3 litres for males daily), managing caffeine intake, filling our diet full of fresh unprocessed foods like fruits, veggies, meat, fish and eggs as much as possible and having processed foods 20% of the time. We will expand on this topic a lot more in future blog posts.

Managing our information intake- Aim to limit your intake of negative media (especially before bedtime and first thing in the morning), read motivational or inspiring content more and incorporate some information or media that makes you laugh (daily if possible- TikTok is great for this)

Supporting Sleep and Rest- managing our routines around sleep is crucial to support the bodies stress response. It affects our stress hormone levels and our feelings of wellbeing. My top tip here is switching off from screens and phones at least 1 hour before bed. You can also switch your phone to sleep mode or eye comfort early in the night.

Support Networks- Make an effort to connect with people in person where you can. If you aren't doing this at the moment give yourself a realistic goal of meeting up with someone once a week. This could be for a walk, a coffee or even something to eat if you like. Human connection encourages the production of oxytocin our 'love hormone'. Even better if you can give someone a hug!

All of these tips have helped me to get a better balance with managing my stress on a daily basis. I am not saying I don't get stressed anymore...because I absolutely do! I am simply saying that I feel better equipped to deal with life's stresses and it doesn't take me so long to bounce back as what it would have years ago. I work on these top tips with clients on a regular basis and their feedback nearly always reflects positive change in feelings of wellbeing and ability to manage stress. I hope this helps!

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