It’s becoming one of the most common illnesses in the United Kingdom, but what causes stress? Triggers can be anything from a bereavement to work-related troubles – anything that causes you to worry and not feel yourself. In 2017/18, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related illnesses.
Fortunately, there are ways to spot the signs of stress and ways to relieve it. We discuss what stress is, natural stress relief and foods that can help ease it.
What is stress?
Stress is our body’s response to certain situations or events that happen in our lives. Common reasons that we feel stressed includes when we’re experiencing something unexpected, or feeling like we don’t have control over a situation.
When our bodies feel stress, they produce hormones that cause a ‘flight or fight’ response. This adrenaline is what stimulates our immune systems and helps us get through certain intense situations, like a presentation or a marathon.
After the event is over, we return to a resting state. The problem occurs when stress is ongoing - our bodies will constantly be in ‘flight or fight’ mode which can cause us to feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Mental and physical symptoms of stress
Stress can cause many emotional and physical symptoms. If you’re experiencing any of the following, you may be suffering from stress:
Becoming easily moody, frustrated and agitated
Feeling overwhelmed and thinking that you cannot control things anymore
Having low self-esteem or feeling lonely and depressed
Headaches, pains, tense muscles and aches anywhere in the body
Lower immune system, meaning frequent colds and infections
Natural stress relief
If you think you are experiencing chronic stress, then go to your GP for advice, but there are also ways to relieve stress yourself. Natural stress relief includes:
Exercising: Being active is one of the best ways you can reduce stress. Exercising helps to clear your thoughts, improve quality of sleep, lower cortisol (a stress hormone) and improve confidence. Yoga and meditation are especially recommended as they provide a sense of relaxation and space to gather your thoughts.
Taking control of the situation: It might be easier said than done but letting the stressful situation win won’t help – there usually is a solution. It can help to sit down and think of ways you can take control again. This feeling of empowerment may help reduce the weight on your shoulders.
Staying connected to friends and family: Close friends and family can tremendously help with stress. They can calm you down and remind you that a situation isn’t as bad as you think, so it’s important to be honest and open up to them about your feelings. Partaking in social activities with others can also lead to laughter and, as a consequence, endorphins – a massive stress reliever.
Have time alone: It’s important to have some ‘me time’. Make sure you switch off your work phone and emails at least a few times during the week to focus on yourself. As discussed, socialising, relaxing and exercising are massive stress relievers so make time for them.
Stay away from short-term relievers: Caffeine, alcohol and smoking are all bad for stress, however you might find that they provide short term relief. In the long run, these habits are only making your stress worse. Instead, focus on methods that will help for a long period of time, rather than a quick fix.
Learn to accept it: Sometimes, there are things you just cannot change. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you’ll be able to be proactive and deal with the factors that you can change. Try not to get stuck in a rut, be positive and know that you’re doing the best that you can.
Foods that reduce stress
Consuming a balanced diet can help our bodies manage the changes that stress causes. As well as reducing and managing the cause of stress, taking note of what we’re eating and drinking can help. Certain foods contain nutrients that help our bodies deal with stress. These include:
Green leafy veg: Crucial to a balanced diet, leafy greens like spinach and kale contain folate, which produces dopamine. Dopamine makes us feel pleasure and helps us keep calm.
Nuts and beans: These foods all contain the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan helps produce serotonin, which is an important chemical that stabilises our moods. Tofu, lentils and oats also contain large amounts of tryptophan.
Complex carbs: We might think that indulging in carbs isn’t going to be helpful. But, complex carbs like oatmeal can help the brain create serotonin, so don’t rule them out completely. Remember to eat carbs in moderation and stick to brown and whole foods rather than white.
Antioxidants: Foods that contain antioxidants can help improve our body’s response to stress, as well as fighting stress-related free radicals. Antioxidants are necessary for our general health and should be a big part of our diets. There are many foods that are full of antioxidants including berries, whole-grains and beans.
The Chaga mushroom is full of antioxidants, with an extremely high ORAC score of 3,655,700. Consuming Chaga every day can help reduce stress by battling against harmful free radicals.
Adaptogens: What are adaptogens? Well, they’re special compounds found in plants that are believed to relieve stress, improve our mood and increase our energy. Many herbs and plants contain adaptogens, and Chaga is one of them.
Incorporating Chaga into your day-to-day life can help your body adapt to stress and calm you down. An alternative to caffeine, Chaga won’t keep you awake but can provide the necessary energy we need to get through a busy day.