Think stress is all about the external? Think again.
One of my patients came to see me shortly after being made redundant. Now, losing your job is one of the top ten most stressful life events (on the Holmes And Rahe Stress Scaleit’s up there with: death of a spouse/child, divorce, separation, imprisonment etc.) so, my client naturally attributed the resulting stress of redundancy as the cause of his sleep problems too (sleep quality is a great indicator of health quality). However, after changing his diet, his sleep vastly improved and yet those external stresses remained the same. What this tells me is that given the right internal support our bodies are able to cope with external pressures.
We all have the ability to lower stress naturally from the inside out.
Anxiety and low mood can have many different causes and some roots go deeper than others but there are some very effective, within reach places, to start. Taking down the stress response, which plays a role in anxiety and low mood, is a good place to begin. In fact, you can hack into your physiology and your nervous system in this way: you may have much more power to feel better than you think.
We live in increasingly stressful times, but by lowering our stress response, we are less likely to catastrophise minor situations which feed into the release of further fight or flight or hormones, leading to lives that are constantly running from the metaphorical tiger. In reality, most of us do not actually encounter life or death situations very often. In fact, real life or death situations are rare and yet we can exist as if we are living in a war zone. However, if you are reading this, it’s very likely you are not in a war-torn country so let’s take a deep breath and learn some simple ways to enjoy life a little more.
Need another reason to kick stress into touch?
Long-term stress lowers the resilience of the mind and body, resulting in:
- anxiety (constantly worrying about ‘what if’)
- fatigue (lacking in energy)
- depression (lacking in the will to do things, lacking joy)
- lowered immune system (you keep getting ill and find it hard to fight off colds)
- poor skin (eczema, acne)
- digestive weakness (bloating, indigestion)
Help is at hand, naturally
But as my client’s story shows, whilst we sometimes can’t change our external stressors, or certainly not immediately, we can help our body to cope with it better, from the inside out. Sleep is such a great natural stressbuster, but there are other natural health hacks that can help your body deal with stress and anxiety naturally.
1. Take An Adaptogen
If you have missed exactly what they are, amidst their growing popularity in the press and amongst celebrities, whilst I wrote a blog on them, adaptogens can be summarised in this way: they are natural, non-toxic substances that moderate the stress response via the central nervous system and also by reducing cortisol and adrenaline, maintaining cellular energy and repairing damage. I know, it sounds like we should all take them.
There are several different adaptogenic herbs, but I will just mention two here:
- Ashwaganda, also known as Indian ginseng (Latin name Withania somnifera), has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine for depletion, nervous exhaustion, and insomnia (the Latin name gives away its historical use for insomnia, ‘som’being the root Latin for sleep) and latterly clinical and animal studies have verified its use for anxiety. The reason it is likely to help with insomnia and anxiety is that it reduces cortisol, along with moderating the general stress response. So, if you are feeling burnt out, or have trouble sleeping, this herb could help give you a greater sense of resilience during the day as well as helping you get restorative sleep.
- Rhodiola (full Latin is Rhodiola rosea) or rock rose, given in light of its preference for rocky cold terrain, such as the cliffs of northern Scotland, and the roots smelling like rose. The Vikings would pillage the coasts for the strengthening and protective effects of this herb. Clinical trials support its use for mild to moderate depression (taken over a six-week period) and improved mental and cognitive performance in fatigue and chronic fatigue conditions. If you are feeling low or mentally fatigued with poor concentration, then this could be great for you!
My advice is that you should take one adaptogen at a time; so, pick whichever, of the two mentioned, fits your requirement right now and if you feel an improvement (improvement will be experienced within three weeks at the very least) then stick with it.
2. Supplement With Magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral which is involved in hundreds of enzymatic processes in the body. If you do not have enough magnesium you simply will not feel optimal and more seriously, it could be the cause of your anxiety and depression. In fact, three quarters of the population are estimated to be magnesium deficient. Perhaps that’s why I see so much agro around! It’s the calming mineral. I have heard people say that it’s changed the whole family dynamic. Magnesium is available in every health shop or chemist. They vary in bio-availabilty (how well it is absorbed by your body) and effectiveness and if you want the absolute best, I would recommend ReMag, available here, but if that is outside of your budget, take a trip to your local health food store and choose any magnesium supplement off the shelf. Today’s the day!
3. Think Differently
I know, this sounds maybe a little harsh or definitely easier said than done, and I’m not saying it’s easy but it’s definitely possible.
Most of anxiety is not based upon reality. It’s more based on “what if” or assumptions which are just not true. So, if you have statements dominating your life, and you may have lots, press pause and freeze frame. This requires concentrated thought and not allowing your mind to wander. Make the conscious decision to suspend the thought, write the statement down then ask the question, is this true or false? If you do not know definitively then it is not real enough to live your life by. I am not talking over-arching moral values etc., but thoughts about ourselves and others specifically.
Life presents enough challenges without permitting ourselves to be destroyed from within.
Sleep well, eat well, think well.