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We live in a world where everyone is “busy”; busy with work, busy with school, busy on social media, etc. We’re constantly stimulated by over-scheduled calendars, 24/7 access to social media streams and the endless content it provides. Connectivity is great, but there needs to be a balance. Your brain needs a break. It’s not just social media and connectivity. Two-thirds of Canadians get less than 6.5 hours of sleep per night and shockingly almost 30% don’t even get 6 hours nightly. It’s perhaps not surprising then that an overwhelming number of doctor’s visits are stress-related in nature.
Stress isn’t a bad thing. Stress is essential for getting stronger, smarter, leaner and healthier. Your body needs stress to survive. But when you tip the balance too far, when you constantly stress your body via training, long work hours, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, etc. without providing adequate time for recovery, the catabolic nature of stress will start to break you down.
When this happens, it’s common to experience symptoms of low energy, sluggish memory, low mood, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, feelings of irritability or anxiety that often accompany periods of high stress. The problem today is you actively have to plan periods of downtime or rest. You need to plan for time away from the internet, you need to plan for more sleep, you need to plan more time for family and friends.
Knowing you need more stress-support, and actually doing something about it, are two different things. Here are some quick tips for rebooting your stress levels and get your health and performance back on track (at work, home and in the gym).
When life gets busy, our breathing patterns naturally get shifted in the wrong direction. We breathe higher up in our chests – referred to as “pump-handle” breathing – and these shallow breaths cue your nervous system to kick up adrenaline and cortisol. This worsens the stress-irritability-anxiety cycle. To calm your brain and body, get back to breathing with your belly and diaphragm. Try this drill: inhale for 4s, then exhale for 4s over the course of 4 minutes. You’ll be amazed how quickly it reboots your brain and tones down the fight or flight response.
Coffee is delicious. It’s nature’s stimulant that helps you to increase focus, concentration and work capacity. But, when things get really busy people often start relying on more caffeine to get you through the day, typically with diminishing returns. Too much caffeine can trigger symptoms of irritability, anxiety, and restlessness and if consumed too close to bedtime will interfere with sleep quality. If you’re in a high-stress period, don’t ramp up caffeine to get you through, look for alternatives like green tea in the afternoon to help provide focus without the buzz. Green tea contains the amino acid L-theanine which helps to relax an overcharged nervous system (check out my recent post here on A Coffee Lover’s Guide To Caffeine Alternatives).
When you get home late, and stress levels are high, it’s not unusual to crave a nice glass of wine or a beer to help decompress. Alcohol is a nervine and does help to relax the nervous system. However, if you consistently have alcohol every night (or if one glass turns into half a bottle), it dramatically reduces your precious REM sleep which means you’ll struggle to synthesize all the information you took in that day, as well as compromising your cognitive function and memory the next day. Take a break from alcohol to optimally support recovery when life gets too busy.
When you’re stuck in “fight or flight” mode you produce a significant amount of adrenaline to get through your day, burning through your magnesium stores. Magnesium is needed for hundreds of key reactions in the body and chief among them is relaxing your nervous system and muscle tissue. Ramping up dietary sources of magnesium such as fish, meat (in particular the juices during cooking), leafy greens and avocados is a great place to start. From there, adding supplemental magnesium at the end of the day can be a big help to shift your nervous system into relax mode and prep for deep sleep.
Protein is key for health, especially during times of stress. The amino acid glycine is especially important because it’s a precursor to inhibitory neurotransmitters, which means just like magnesium it helps the body relax. Chasing too many deadlines or projects leaves often leaves people feeling “tired and wired” and getting more glycine into your diet is a great place to start. Bone broth and collagen are both terrific sources of glycine, as well as animal and dairy proteins, and vegetables like spinach, kale, and cauliflower.
In today’s constantly connected society, you need to set boundaries and actively seek-out periods of rest, recovery and decompression. Stress is an essential part of growth and development, without it you wouldn’t be able to thrive. Apply these survival tips to help you survive a hectic period relatively unscathed.
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
The information provided herein is for informational purposes only. The products or claims made about specific nutrients or products are reviewed and evaluated by Organika based on available scientific evidence on its initiative. Such applications, however, have not been specifically assessed by Health Canada. Organika makes no guarantee or warranty with respect to any products sold, and shall not be responsible for any indirect, inconsequential and/or special damages for the reliance on or use of any information contained herein. This information is not meant to be a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or another medical professional. You should not use this information for diagnosing a health problem or disease but should always consult your physician.