How To Use Diet To Reduce Your Stress
You don't need me to tell you how pervasive stress is in our modern lives. In part, this is due to our chosen life styles. One element of our life styles that is likely to be making matters worse, is our diet, by which I mean, what we eat.
You see, when we are under pressure, we tend to save time by eating food that actually increases our stress and may fuel an addiction to stress.
Now before you turn off in disgust, thinking that this is an entirely negative article about what is bad for you, let me assure you that some changes to your diet can be achieved very easily with a little thought and that I am not advocating wholesale changes in your life styles, though this would possibly be the best way to defeat stress.
It is not impossible that you are reading this article out of sheer curiosity, or that you suffer from stress although your diet is of the kind that I would recommend (for diet is not the only factor in reducing stress). Accordingly, I suggest we do a simple test to see if what I am going to tell you could benefit you directly if you took my advice. Just answer these questions:
1. Do you frequently or continuously complain of any of the following?
- Poor concentration
- Lack of motivation
If the answer is yes, you almost certainly need the advice contained in this article.
2. Do you seek relief from the worst effects of stress and regain energy by:
- Eating sugary foods?
- Drinking coffee or tea?
- Smoking a cigarette?
- Burying yourself in a high-powered job?
- Indulging in an exhilarating sport or pastime?
If the answer is yes, you are probably addicted to stress, and the advice in this article is essential for you.
Let us first of all set the scene.
Whenever we perceive a situation that needs urgent and immediate action, our adrenal glands begin to make adrenalin. Almost immediately, our heart is pounding, our muscles tense, our eyes dilate, our breathing changes, our blood thickens and glucose is pumped into it: so much glucose that we could run a mile, though this might be overkill if the cause of our stress is an unwanted telephone call, a traffic jam, or kids fighting on the back seat.
The glucose is produced by breaking down the glycogen that is contained in our muscles and liver. Getting it from our blood to our bodies is achieved by hormones, produced by the pancreas. These are insulin and glucagon. The insulin, with another chemical, this time from the liver, facilitates the movement to the cells of the body, whilst glucagon is used to top up the blood sugar levels if these fall too low.
You will realise that this process of equipping us for fight of flight is expensive of energy. We might wonder where the extra energy comes from, especially if we were feeling tired immediately before the event that we are now reacting to.
The answer is that energy is diverted from the body's normal functions of maintenance and repair. Thus, so long as we are feeling stressed, our digestion, rejuvenation and cleansing functions are turned off. No wonder people who are continuously stressed look old before their time.
But things are even worse than this for people who suffer from chronic stress. Consider the unnecessary aging involved in the process if the pituitary, the adrenals, the pancreas and the liver pump out chemicals continuously to control blood sugar that we don't need. In short, the process wears us and our bodies out.
The Blood Sugar Saga
Worn out by the process described above, our energy is sapped. We lose concentration, become easily confused, make silly mistakes, fall asleep after lunch, become irritable, find it hard to sleep at night, don't want to wake in the morning, sweat more than normal, and/or suffer from headaches. Does this ring any bells with you?
This is where most people turn to stimulants to help them regain energy and control. Typically, these will include tea, coffee, cola drinks, chocolate, cigarettes, horror films, retail therapy and such extreme activities as free-fall parachuting and bungee jumping. Those who are not fussy about keeping within the law may seek their buzz from amphetamines, crack, cocaine, or crime.
The use of stimulants to regain energy tends to lead to a demand for relaxants, such as alcohol, sleeping pills, tranquillisers and cannabis.
It will not surprise you to learn that no-one can live like this for long without experiencing burn-out. This is why holidays are so popular. But packing and travelling can be extremely stressful too. Moreover, the typical holidaymaker will choose to read a steamy or gripping paperback novel while waiting for the plane or while lying on the beach. Stress is never far away.
If the holidaymaker is truly addicted to stress, he or she will soon crave some excitement. Lying on the beach is not enough to provide the buzz that is needed. Water skiing or wind surfing may meet the need.
If you have ever found that you become ill or feel completely exhausted whenever you take time off from work, it is likely that you are already addicted to stress.
The Formula for Balance
In order to maximise your energy resources and avoid burning out, follow these guidelines.
- Eat slow-releasing carbohydrates (such as fruit and nuts), but not fast-releasing carbohydrates (such as sugar, white bread, foods containing sugar).
- Check that you are taking in all essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals (eat plenty of fruit, nuts and vegetables).
- Avoid taking stimulants (e.g. coffee and tea) and depressants (e.g. alcohol.
This doesn't mean that you can never break these rules. Unstressed people can safely eat chocolate and drink wine, in moderation - but if you are addicted to stress or just badly stressed you break the rules at your peril.
When you keep to these rules, you will find that you are better able to face stressful events. This is because you have given yourself a consistent supply of energy. Adopting this approach both helps to break the cycle of energy-consuming behaviour (the blood sugar saga) and creates energy to overcome the mental habits that result in our reaction to stress in the first place.
If you give up tea and coffee and other stimulants, sugar and chocolate, and you begin to suffer headaches, loss of concentration, tiredness or nausea, this is evidence enough of addiction. You are suffering withdrawal symptoms. Stick to your plan and these unpleasant side effects will pass. What's more, you will feel a whole lot better when they do than you did before you stopped taking the stimulants.
Article Written by and Copyright © Stuart E. Nelson (2005)
More on Stuart E. Nelson at www.stresskill.com.