How stress is wearing us down, and what to do about it

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When people talk about stress we often imagine a workplace around it. Of course, there are many factors in our daily life besides work that cause stress. What is stressful is different for everyone: Whether you are in a relationship or not, both social media statuses can be a cause for stress. Or being a parent, either to young children (loss of sleep, challenged communication and needing 24/7 supervision) or teenagers (loss of sleep because you do not know where they are, challenged communication and 24/7 repetitive orders).

And yes, there are many reasons for stress at any workplace. Work itself can be demanding, with many deadlines as part of a challenging project, and the fact that there are just not enough of you to manage all the jobs at hand. The people you work with can be hostile and adding stress to already demanding tasks, or not having the backup from management you so desperately need.

All these different kinds of stresses bring upon a cascade of physiological reactions in our body, and after the stress is warded off, we go back to our normal state, or Homeostasis. But this is not what makes stress detrimental for our health. It depends on how we perceive stress. If we feel out of control or overwhelmed with the tasks at hand our body struggles to go back to our normal state, or homeostasis., thus ‘creating’ a new one. This ‘new normal’ with a higher threshold could end up eventually causing wear and tear on our organs and bodily systems.

Since our whole body is involved with stress, it is no wonder that the solution also involves our whole body and the environment it lives in. And although looking after your nervous systems warrants a whole book, let’s start with this short overview:

Vital vitamin
When it comes to stress and looking after your adrenals, there are some vitamins which are crucial in supporting these little glands. Hans Seyle, a pioneer of stress research was the first one to note that adrenal glands contain the highest concentration of vitamin C in the human body using it to synthesize cortisol. So to say that vitamin C combats stress is a bit crude, but having adequate amounts vitamin C contributes in keeping up our general and mental wellbeing. Strawberries, cherries, kiwi fruits and citrus are high in vitamin C, but also bell peppers and green leafy vegetables. .

Oxidative stress has been found to be a contributing factor of neurological disorders like anxiety, depression, mood and fatigue. Anti-oxidants may therefore be an important factor in assisting our endocrine system. In a small study, the implementation of an anti-oxidant showed lowered plasma cortisol in comparison with the group who were administered a placebo. Berries contain loads of antioxidants, as does dark chocolate and green leafy vegetables. Surprising contestants high on this list are pecan nuts and kidney beans.

Essential Fatty Acids
For optimal functioning of our nervous system, we need omega 3 fatty acids. Of course fatty fish like salmon and sardines, but also chia seeds and walnuts contain omega 3 fatty acids.

Refined carbohydrates. Eating wholegrains not only provides you with fibre but also with the ever so important B vitamins for energy and nerve support. Wholegrains also makes sure your body gets a slow release of glucose. Alcohol has the perceived value that it calms you down, but it has a negative influence on our blood sugar levels and our brain health and should be avoided. And lastly, caffeine – if you are stressed out, the last thing you need is a stimulant. So coffee, black tea and cola should be avoided.

Take time to move!
Yes, taking more time for yourself to exercise will actually help lowering your stress fatigue levels. In a research done among young adults, high levels of adrenal hormones such as adrenocorticotropic and cortisol (thus suffering from high levels of stress) were linked to participants with little physical activity. Participants with low levels were those who participated in regular exercise. And not overly strenuous. Moderate exercise is proven to be enough to help lower stress.

Do not dismiss possible underlying mental issues
What causes the stress? Each and every one of us perceive stress differently. What might not be a problem for your colleague, triggers a whole different response from you. Take stress reactions serious, and consider that there might be an underlying reason for your stress-reaction to certain triggers. Talk to a health professional who can help you with further.

It is important to not underestimate stress and continue to look after yourself in terms of a healthy diet, exercise and a good work/life balance. The longer you wait, the more difficult recovery from stress will be.