Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Add Many Healthy Years to Your Life: Stress-Proof Your Body

Stress can kill- if you let it! The 'stressors' or challenges of everyday life can become exhausting. Traffic jams, deadlines, family demands, financial pressures, corporate downsizing as well as standing on line can take a toll on your health.

These everyday hassles are often beyond your control. Yet, there are some 'stressors' that are within your control.

The foods you eat, or don't eat..

  • Too much of the wrong kind of foods and beverages, and
  • Too little of the right types of food

This puts additional strain on your body, promoting the same physical reaction as stress. All stress upsets your inner balance, regardless of the source. It triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that cause a host of reactions. Physically, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises, you breathe more rapidly and your muscles tense up. You lose valuable vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin C levels plummet -- which keeps your immune system strong.
  • B vitamins take a nose-dive -- negatively impacting your nervous system, resulting in increased irritability, lethargy and depression.
  • Magnesium levels fall - chances are you're already deficient in this most valuable mineral which helps relieve nervous tension, maintain healthy blood pressure, regulate blood sugar and the list goes on. You don't want to be any more deficient in this very needed mineral.

The end result:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Poor Concentration and
  • Frequent Colds
Why not take control over that which is within your reach?

Begin by de-stressing your diet.

Here's how....

Aim for a Nutrient Packed Diet
Good nutrition can help prepare and bolster your stress-fighting system. That's because a well-nourished body is stronger and more stress-resistant. The healthiest diet is one low in fat, includes sufficient amounts of the essential fats and provides adequate amounts of lean protein.
Protein-packed foods (such as fish, beef, chicken, and turkey) have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar, producing steady, long-term energy. They provide the amino acid, tyrosine that helps boost a chemical responsible for keeping you mentally alert.

Fresh fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains-found in abundance in whole wheat pasta and bread, brown rice and potatoes-provide fiber and a host of nutrients, including vitamin C, magnesium and the B vitamins. Whole grains offer an added benefit. They trigger the release of a chemical, serotonin, which has a calming effect. It's no coincidence that people often turn to carbohydrates when they are feeling stressed!

Limit Stress-Promoting Foods
If you are like a lot of people, when nervous tension starts to mount you might be tempted to reach for a cup of coffee, a donut or a glass of wine. Though these treats may appear to have a calming effect, its impact is short lived. Here's why:

  • Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, chocolate and colas increases tension, decreases your ability to focus and lowers your blood sugar.
  • Alcohol depletes many nutrients, including B vitamins and magnesium, impairs judgement and reduces alertness and focus. It also weakens your resolve, so that anything goes. Before you know it, you find yourself eating foods that were off limits!
  • Sugar also depletes you of nutrients, while providing empty calories. It also plays havoc with your blood sugar. That's because your blood sugar spikes immediately after eating a sugary treat, giving you a sudden burst in energy. But, within an hour, your blood sugar level falls, making you feel more anxious, drained and less able to handle life's events. You don't get the same effect with complex carbohydrates, as they provide slow and steady rise in blood sugar that keeps you on an even keel.

As you can see, these three 'health robbers' provide a temporary fix. They don't take the edge off, but place an extra burden on your body.

Eat Regularly
Anti-stress eating goes beyond what you eat. How often you eat is equally as important, as it helps to maintain a steady blood sugar, which keeps your brain and body on an even keel. When your blood sugar is low, you may feel light-headed, weak and more irritable. Even the smallest annoyances can become full-blown 'stressors'.

To stop this from happening:

  • Fuel up first thing in the morning with a healthy breakfast. Try to stay away from the simple carbohydrates/sugars that we already talked about.
  • Then graze on healthy foods throughout the day. Instead of eating three square meals, consider dividing your typical meals into mini-meals.

Eating something small every couple of hours can help you stabilize blood sugar. As a result- you'll be in a better mood and have lots more energy. Keep a stash of celery sticks and some fresh fruit, as a healthy quick fix. Even a small handful of pecans, walnuts, almonds etc, are all healthy alternatives to the potato chips, candy and soda pop.

Breath Control -- A Fast Fix Better Than Coffee
Did you ever notice when you are feeling stressed, you naturally hold your breath or breathe too shallow? It's an automatic reaction that you may not even be aware of, that further stresses your body.

So the next time you feel tense or anxious, focus first on your breathing. Take a slow, deep breath that comes from deep inside your diaphragm, located just below your rib cage. As you breathe in, imagine your lungs are two balloons filling up with air. Then breathe out, slowly and deeply, feeling the warm air leave your body as your lungs deflate, while all the daily tensions leave your body.

To make sure that you're breathing correctly, place your open palm on your diaphragm. Your hand should rise every time you inhale, and drop every time, as you exhale. Try to do this about five minutes each day, or whenever stress hits. This technique not only helps you relax your mind and body, but also helps your body use all those valuable nutrients you took in.

Vitamins, Minerals and Herbal Boosters
There are a host of nutrients to take to stress-proof your body:

  • All B vitamins are necessary for proper functioning of the nervous system. Since stress depletes B vitamins, extra B vitamins are a must.
  • Vitamin C is essential to adrenal gland function. Stress depletes the adrenal gland hormones, the anti-stress hormones.
  • Calcium and Magnesium. Both these minerals are lost when stress is present. A deficiency in magnesium can lead to increased anxiety, and fear.
  • Beta-carotene, Resveratrol, Grape seed extract, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Alpha-Lipoic Acid. Since more free radicals are released during stress, these additional antioxidants are needed to quench them.
  • Potassium. Potassium is lost, as the body excretes it during stressful times.
  • Zinc. This mineral is needed for immune function and to protect the cells from free radical damage.
  • Kava Kava. This herb relaxes both the mind and body.
  • Chamomile tea. This is a gentle nerve tonic, soothing to the digestive tract, and a pleasant sleep aid.
  • Schizandra and Milk Thistle. These two herbs protect the liver, an organ very susceptible when stress is high. They help to cleanse and protect the liver and have antioxidant properties.
  • Ginseng and Rhodolia Rosea. Both of these herbs are adaptogens. They help your body adapt to stress and restore balance. They are substances that increase your body's resistance against the adverse influences of a wide range of physical, chemical, emotional and biological factors. They do this by building up an energy reserve to be tapped into when the body needs it most, helping the body to correct whatever is out of balance.

By doing so, they enhance your ability to cope with any stress, while increasing your resistance to stress-related disorders. American ginseng, Panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng and Rhodiola rosea are different types of adaptogens.

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