Managing stress with nutritionist Karen Newby

The problem with modern day womanhood

Perimenopause appears at a time when we’re spinning multiple plates, which is why we can often feel incredibly overwhelmed. We might have young children to look after or teenagers and we’re dealing with elderly parents. We’re working, and often at the top of our game career wise, which places a big strain on our resources, coupled with technology and how this has extended out the work day and kept our brains busy and disconnected from our body’s natural rhythms. We as women also have this tendency to look after everyone else except ourselves, even our pets come before us! I call it ‘hurried women’s syndrome’. Start to be kinder to yourself. If you need to rest then make time to rest. Men do this very well – they make time to exercise, they will sit down and stop even if the house is a tip! We need to be more like them!

We can’t just walk out the door and go live on a desert island (although that would be nice!) but what we can do is start to put ourselves at the top of the selfcare list and help our body become more resilient to what the day throws at us.

So how stressed are you?

Do you….

  • Feel tired for no reason.
  • Have trouble getting up in the morning, even when you go to bed at a reasonable hour.
  • Feel rundown or overwhelmed.
  • Have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness.
  • Crave salty and sweet snacks.
  • Starting to get weight gain around the middle.
  • Feel more awake, alert and energetic after 7pm than you do all day.

 

Stress hormones

Cortisol is our primary stress hormone (along with adrenaline and nor-adrenaline) produced in the adrenal glands (little glands that sit on top of the kidneys) which are hard wired to the body’s ‘fight or flight’ survival response. 20,000+ years ago this would have been essential to either fight or run away from a wild animal. The problem is, is that our body is still wired to be a hunter gather!  Unfortunately the body can’t tell the difference between running away from a wild animal or sitting at our desk with a coffee getting stressed over spreadsheets.

The stress response is the same. Cortisol stimulates stored blood sugar from our liver and directs this glucose to the lungs, heart, brain and eyes, and away from what it deems unnecessary such as digesting food or detoxification. I can’t do much about your external stress (I am sorry about that) but I can help your body deal with stress better. First stop, is blood sugar balancing.

Blood sugar balancing

The brain’s preferred fuel is glucose, which needs to be kept within a tight range. When we eat refined sugar (pasta, rice, bread, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, pastries etc), our blood sugar spikes and stimulates insulin production. After a high of blood sugar it then crashes causing a low in blood sugar. Signs of low blood sugar include feeling hangry or getting shaky and faint before eating and needing to eat NOW. If we’re really stressed out then lows of blood sugar can exacerbate the problem as they can make us feel hangry, irritable and cause mood swings.

The stress hormone cortisol is then stimulated to bring the blood sugar back up again. So every time we have a low of blood sugar this puts the body into stress mode! The way to help reduce lows of blood sugar is to enjoy more protein and beneficial fats at every meal and snack such as eggs, lean meats, full fat yogurt, nuts, seeds, tofu, avocado and pulses. Falafels and hummus as a snack vs biscuits, or flavoured nuts and seeds or raw dark vegan chocolate instead of milk chocolate.

The problem with caffeine

Caffeine basically puts us into fight or flight mode – it stimulates stored glucose in the liver to send energy to the eyes, brain, heart and lungs to basically do something physical. This is why it can be quite helpful when we need to get a lot of work done! But caffeine elevates cortisol & adrenaline levels so even though your day might not be high in stress your caffeine will be making you more on edge – which is why you can get that jangly feeling if you’ve had too much. I recommend only having caffeine with food to lessen the effects on our stress hormones.

Small shifts can make all the difference

So how do we make small changes that are achievable however overwhelmed we feel? Focus on the first hour of your day, that’s it – it doesn’t matter what else happens in the day. You will find it creates a ripple effect across the day:

  1. Drink a warm cup of water with a slice of lemon (we are dehydrated when we wake up and the lemon helps to wake up the liver, which is in charge of fat digestion and detoxification)
  2. Take time for breakfast (if you don’t feel hungry on waking then eat your evening meal a bit earlier and fast overnight for 12-14 hours, herbal teas and water is fine to have). Enjoy a high protein breakfast to help reduce the need for so much caffeine and snacking: eggs any which way; avocado on toast with grilled mushrooms and tomatoes; porridge with oat milk, cinnamon, 2 tablespoons of protein rich ground linseed, blueberries; high protein granola with a couple of tablespoons of full fat yogurt, some ground linseed and some chopped pears.
  3. Enjoy your caffeine only with breakfast – this reduces the effect of caffeine on your stress hormones. For the rest of the day opt for herbal tea or water.

 

Aside from food, these other tools might help too:

  • Movement
  • Laughter – stimulates endorphins
  • Building a sense of gratitude
  • Cultivate healthy social relationships
  • Spending time in nature – I love the Japanese concept of ‘forest bathing’
  • Fun and play
  • Having purpose
  • Vagus nerve stimulation to get us into rest and digest mode – cold water swimming, gurgling water, singing, breathe work

 

How to get yourself into rest and digest through breathing techniques:

  • Inhale for 3 counts
  • Exhale for 6 counts
  • Repeat 5 times… can you feel the difference?

 

I’m a big believer that stress can be a positive force, but only if we can adapt to it!

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