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Stress Management

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We've all felt our "fight or flight" response go into action--a sudden increase in blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, metabolism and blood sugar that helps us react quickly to stressful situations. When the danger is over our parasympathetic nervous system takes over with a compensating period of relaxation.

We've all felt our "fight or flight" response go into action a sudden increase in blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, metabolism and blood sugar that helps us react quickly to stressful situations. When the danger is over our parasympathetic nervous system takes over with a compensating period of relaxation.

This nervous system balancing mechanism is essential to our survival. Problems arise when the stress response is continually activated and a relaxation phase doesn't occur.

Sources of stress can be positive or negative events in our lives, like moving, a new job, deadlines, relationships, finances, pregnancy, raising children, menopause or the death of loved ones. "Sympathetic" activation releases hormones (especially from the adrenal glands) that cause the heart to beat faster, raise blood pressure and tense muscles. Situations that cause these physiological functions to stay elevated without appropriate release can lead to illnesses such as anxiety, nervous breakdown, heart attack, debilitating headache or backache, serious gastrointestinal problems and infectious disease.

Our lives are often more stressful than we are designed to manage, but stress does not have to be detrimental to health. It's helpful to be aware of how thinking affects the level of stress. Is that problem really going to get solved by constant worry? Stress management techniques such as deep breathing, physical exercise and relaxation must be learned. There are also specific nutritional steps to reduce potential damage.

Nutritional No-Nos

There's an important relationship between nutrition and stress: some foods create stress while others help you maintain equilibrium. The following are some of the substances that are stressful to the body:

  • Caffeine activates the sympathetic nervous system and drains the body of B vitamins, making you feel nervous and jumpy.

  • Chemical additives in food upset neurological functioning.

  • Alcohol is a mood depressor that can trigger hypoglycemic symptoms and lead to feelings of anxiety.

  • Sugar causes hypoglycemia and anxiety and can make you feel restless, tired and depressed. It also robs the body of B vitamins.

  • Excess table salt (more than five grams per day or one teaspoon) can cause a sodium/potassium imbalance; the mineral potassium is important for the nervous system.

  • Processed, refined junk foods deplete the body of nutrients, especially B vitamins and minerals.

  • Any food to which you are sensitive or allergic is stressful to the body, causing anxiety and chronic fatigue. A health care practitioner can help you detect and manage food sensitivities.

Chronic stress depletes you of nutrients, while a consistently well-balanced diet of fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, protein and natural fats such as butter and unrefined cold-pressed oils will supply all the nutrients necessary for a healthy nervous system. Enjoy a wide variety of raw, whole, natural foods. They contain vitamins and minerals in their original state.

Anti-anxiety Supplements

Botanical medicines and nutritional supplements can be a valuable part of a comprehensive anti-stress program.

  • Herbs such as valerian (Valeriana officinalis), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata), oat straw (Avena sativa), and camomile (Chamaemelum nobile) are strong relaxants that have calmative and sedative properties. Use them singly or in combination and follow the dosage on the product label. Take daily if needed for two or three weeks, then stop to allow the body to integrate their healing effects.

  • Several Bach flower remedies are useful. Rescue Remedy helps relieve the stress associated with trauma, such as the shock of hearing bad news or the anxiety felt before going to the dentist or giving a speech. Holly is good for those who may lose their temper when stressed. Beech can help the perfectionist to be less rigid and more understanding of others.

  • Vitamin C supports the adrenal glands and reduces the effects of chronic stress. Your diet should be high in natural vitamin C and bioflavonoids from organic, uncooked fruits and vegetables. Taking a daily supplement of 500 to 1,500 mg during episodes of stress may help limit the release of hormones that can damage the immune system.

  • The B vitamins are essential for calm nerves and mental stability. The B-complex of vitamins is abundant in unprocessed whole grains, green vegetables, legumes, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and nutritional yeast.

  • Magnesium is the most critical mineral for coping with stress. The best food sources are buckwheat, oats, millet, lima and green beans, legumes, dark green vegetables, bananas, dates, figs, watermelon, nuts and seafood. Chronic stress depletes your body of magnesium and it is easy to become deficient. The best supplements are the acid salts such as magnesium citrate, gluconate or glycinate. The daily dosage can range from 100 to 500 mg.

  • Calcium, like magnesium, is one of nature's tranquilizers. It's abundant in cultured dairy products, naturally unsweetened yogurt and kefir, nuts, legumes, seafood and dark green vegetables.

Use stress to your advantage! It need not be detrimental to health. A positive, optimistic mental attitude, stress management techniques, exercise, relaxation and a diet of natural, whole foods are all essential to living a long, healthy life.

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