Starting over in Spring: don’t overlook stress management

This is the final part of our post-lockdown wholistic health reset.

We’re focusing on simple mindset and lifestyle shifts that have the power to create significant results. This week we’re talking to Julie Mcnab from Central Coast Natural Therapies about the critical importance of managing stress. Julie is a Naturopath, Homoeopath, Medical Herbalist and Nutritionist and has over 30 years clinical experience. 

In looking to create optimal wellness, it is easy to overlook the ‘missing link’ of stress in causing imbalances that can affect the whole body.

Short-term stress is a normal and very ancient response hard-wired into all living things that, by releasing a hormone called adrenalin, allows us to identify danger and act immediately in order to survive. Problems arise when the triggers continue and this vital fight-or-flight response keeps on firing.

Simply being busy in today’s fast-paced world is a form of stress that we deal with on a daily basis. This can come in the form of obvious things like:

• work-related pressures

• Family & relationship issues

• Financial challenges

• Injury or illness

• Sleeping disorders

• Uncertainty about the future etc

When stress continues, your body switches to a different mechanism where instead of releasing adrenaline in the short term, a different chemical called cortisol is released. This allows you to stay in a ready-to-act state for longer periods of time. This kind of stress especially affects the heart and cardio-vascular system, weakens digestion, depletes energy levels, upsets blood-sugar regulation and hormonal balances and may disturb sleep and overall mental health.

Chronic stress can lead to a person becoming “wired, tired & anxious or angry”. If you are finding that you’re feeling overwhelmed, irritable, anxious or depressed and/or that your sleep is disturbed and not refreshing, there is good chance that you are becoming chronically stressed.

Poor coping mechanisms for dealing with stress can include:

• Smoking

• drugs/ alcohol

• Caffeine (as either coffee or soft drinks)

• Eating sugary foods

• Eating on the run / in a hurry / not stopping work to eat

• Skipping meals or overeating

• Reducing positive social interactions or relaxation time

• Emotional or angry outbursts

• Procrastination, ignoring or avoiding the problem

Alternatively, positive coping mechanisms can include:

• good time management

• Taking time out to relax and play or enjoy a hobby

• Controlled breathing

• Meditation

• Exercise

• Stopping work to focus on eating – looking out on nature if possible

• Time with family & friends

• Eating a sensible whole food diet

• Taking time to pre-prepare healthy, simple meals

• Having a consistent sleep routine in order to achieve 7-8 hours of quality sleep

• Talking about the stress with a trusted other person or counsellor

Life will go on and we can’t predict what stressful events lie ahead of us. There will simply be times when we can feel overwhelmed by situations. One of the key things to implement in managing stress long term is to keep a positive perspective whenever possible (glass half full instead of half empty).

Stress really takes hold when we feel out of control and negative, so it is important to recognise your limits and prioritise how you will channel your energy day-to-day. For many people, this means learning when to say “No” and when to take time out to implement some of the positive coping mechanisms.

How tackling stress can be empowering

Ironically, stress can be a double-edged sword that while having a range of negative side-effects if it continues for too long, can also help to motivate and sharpen your focus in order to achieve greater things. Tackling stress head-on can actually be very empowering. Facing a fear or confronting issues that have been holding you back can channel stress into quite a positive force for changing these things.

This may involve taking charge of your finances, joining the gym, changing your home or work environment or learning a new skill like experimenting with cooking healthy wholefoods. Any of these may seem daunting but may represent a turning point in regaining control of your life.

Small steps towards managing stress

Start with steps that you feel that you can manage and regularly tune in to your body in order to monitor your progress. For example, start an ongoing exercise plan that can be as manageable as committing to walking for half an hour every day or regularly taking time to practice yoga or tai chi. Try taking time each day to meditate. There are a variety of simple phone apps that can be downloaded so that all you have to do is set a regular space in your schedule for stopping and offloading stress by listening to a guided relaxation.

Breathing is something that we usually don’t even think about but when we are stressed our breathing tends to become shallower and faster. This lowered intake of oxygen can actually increase our sense of feeling threatened. 2 very simple techniques for reversing this are to:

1) Stop what you are doing and focus on tracking the passage of your breath over your upper lip, up through your sinuses, down the back of your throat into your upper airways then down into your lower lungs. Follow the breath in reverse and repeat a few times.

2) Practice “Abdominal 2-step breathing” where you inhale the first half of your breath into your belly then the second half into the chest. After this, breathe half of the exhalation out of the chest then the second half out of the belly. Continue to do this in a wave-like motion until you can feel yourself calming down.

These strategies will pull air down into the lungs, slow your breathing and allow your brain to uptake more oxygen so that your brain begins to feel rested. They are also very effective in calming a busy mind that may be preventing sleep.

Lastly, but by no means least is the importance of nutrition and hydration in effectively managing stress. Drinking at least 1.5 – 2 litres of preferably filtered water hydrates the brain. Not drinking enough water can actually cause fatigue and mental fogginess. The simple formula of eating 5 cups of fresh vegetables daily, some quality protein (either vegetarian or animal) provides us with excellent fuel for juggling all of the challenges that we face through the day. Sugar and caffeine, while being used by some as a quick energy booster actually do the opposite in the long term so are best greatly reduced or avoided.

The general rule of thumb in effectively managing stress & living a happy, healthy life is to implement several of these simple strategies and to monitor the ongoing results that you achieve. This can be somewhat challenging initially but as you find things that give you success, these will encourage you to persevere in order to make permanent & successful changes.

Central Coast Natural Therapies is located in East Gosford and is dedicated to providing premium quality wholistic health care. For more information, head to: centralcoastnaturaltherapies.com.au.

Georgia is a clinically trained nutritionist, wholefoods chef, columnist and mum. She’s been featured in Body & Soul and had TV appearances on ABC Breakfast and Studio 10 for her unique approach to food and health. She’s known for reinventing traditional foods for the modern kitchen and was instrumental in a radical new approach to sports nutrition with a program for the NRL Parramatta Eels, kickstarting their ascent on the ladder in recent years. Find out more at stirringchange.com.

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