Many of us live such hectic, on the go lives. We’re running around with 101 things on our minds, an inbox full of emails, lengthy to-do lists and stress levels through the roof.
Through the work that I do with my clients, I have seen countless times how stress and anxiety can prevent you from reaching your health goals. When it comes to stress, our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is working to control many bodily processes that aren’t consciously directed (such as breathing, digesting etc). The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), part of the ANS, is dominant when we are calm and there is no threat or danger present. Our PNS system allows us to ‘rest and digest’, burn fat, digest our food properly, produce sex hormones and recover mentally and physically. Our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is dominant when we are stressed, anxious, worried, during intense exercise and/or in danger. This is our ‘flight or fight’ response – when dominant, it increases our heart rate, slows digestion, reduces sex hormone production, dumps glucose into the blood, and tells our adrenal glands to produce adrenalin and cortisol (our stress hormones). Stress hormones are needed in certain amounts so we can jump out of the way if a car comes towards us, meet work deadlines and run faster during a race for example. However, living continuously in a SNS dominant state without enough ‘rest and digest’ can make you feel lousy, tired, run down and overworked. This also makes losing weight really difficult. My clients often report craving sugary, processed carbohydrates around 3pm and after dinner when in an SNS dominant state.
Here are my 3 top tips to help you manage your stress and feel more energised…
Number 1 – Eat the right amount of carbohydrate for you, choose the wholegrain stuff and team it with protein, fat and fibre.
Carbs have had a bad rap over the years and it is time someone gave them a little love. With carbohydrate, the amount you need or tolerate is very individual and there are many factors that dictate how much you need to eat in a day. Something to think about is when you are most active during the day and include some good quality wholegrain carbohydrate around that time. So, if you exercise in the morning, it is a good idea to have some carbohydrate with your breakfast – this could be extra grainy toast, oats, Weet-bix, kumara, potato, baked beans, fruit, yoghurt etc. If you exercise at night, then your afternoon tea could contain a bit of carbohydrate for energy to get you through your workout – brown rice, fruit and yoghurt, a small bowl of muesli etc. If you have a sedentary job, it is likely you will not need a huge amount of carbohydrate throughout the day. This does NOT mean you can’t have any carbohydrate but you will need a lot less than someone who is physically active all day. Please remember everyone is different – if you want to know what is right for you, please get in contact with me here.
One other thing to think about when you eat carbohydrate is what you pair it with, as this will affect how quickly the carbohydrate is broken down and released as glucose into your blood. This is important for maintaining good energy levels and preventing those sugary cravings at about 3pm (or after dinner). When you eat carbohydrate alongside protein, fat and fibre it slows down the release of glucose into your blood and gives you a much more stable energy supply. So if you are having a banana – enjoy it with some nuts, or fruit with yoghurt, crackers with tuna, oats with milk and nuts, apple with peanut butter, toast with avocado and egg – you get the picture.
Number 2 – Reduce caffeine and alcohol.
Both caffeine and alcohol take a long time for your liver to break down and excrete from your body. If you are having numerous tea/coffees throughout the day and winding down with alcohol at night, then you are likely to have caffeine and alcohol in your system when you go to bed at night. Quite often people find they can get to sleep OK but wake often through the night or struggle to get out of bed in the morning and feel like they could sleep for another 10 hours. This is because caffeine and alcohol prevent you from getting into deep, good quality sleep which is important for you to feel energised and recovered the next day. So you can be sleeping, but not getting the full benefits of your sleep. Often we then wake up and tuck into another coffee to give us energy and the cycle starts over again.
It’s important to have a good look at the amount of caffeine and alcohol you are consuming in your day. I enjoy a coffee as much as anyone – but I have 1-2 max. per day and always before midday. After that, I change to water or caffeine-free herbal teas. I have seen this improve so many of my clients’ energy levels so it is truly worth reflecting on.
Caffeine also stimulates your adrenal glands to produce adrenalin and if you are already feeling stressed, anxious, tired and living in that SNS dominant state, this extra stimulation can be really unhelpful.
Number 3 – Make some time to relax.
To reduce stress, making time to do the things you love is really important but it doesn’t just happen without planning. You could go for a walk with a friend, go out for a meal, have a bath or read a book – it’s totally up to you. Write down the things you love doing to relax and plan to do at least one per week.
Your breathing can also play a massive part in your levels of stress. When you breathe diaphragmatically (long slow breaths from your belly), it calms your body and tells your adrenal glands to decrease its production of adrenalin. If you feel stressed, then try tuning into your breathing and slow it down – it sounds fluffy but it completely changes what is happening biochemically inside your body. I use an app called Headspace which is definitely worth downloading and using regularly.