Simple steps to reducing stress levels

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How you deal with stress, especially ongoing stress, is vital to your health and well-being. Here Laura Williamson of Castletown Health Store offers advice on important stress-busting nutrients, relaxation techniques and herbal remedies which can help.

Stress isn’t inherently bad for you; it’s an automatic response to an event or situation, whether real or imaginary, with which at some level we feel unable to cope.

Think of it as your body’s way of preparing you for action.

Adrenaline is released, blood sugar is raised to provide energy, bowels and bladder empty to make you lighter for running (usually not literally), your pupils dilate so that vision is enhanced, pulse and blood pressure go up and you breathe deeply to increase oxygen supply to the muscles.

We are programmed so that these responses occur within an instant when we feel under threat or in immediate danger, which is all very well when trying to escape the clutches of a hungry predator, as our ancestors would have endeavoured to do, but when this so-called ‘fight or flight’ mechanism is activated on a regular basis it can have a negative effect on the body.

Nowadays we may not have the woolly mammoth to look out for but there are plenty of other stressors: work demands, family worries, financial commitments, moving house and divorce to name but a few.

It is estimated that more than 7 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to stress-related illnesses.

How you deal with stress, especially ongoing stress, is vital to your health and well-being. If left to spiral out of control, it can lead to muscle tension, sleeping disorders, nervous anxiety and low mood.

Believe it or not a few simple steps can make a huge difference.

Step back and take a deep breath. If you keep thinking about the mountain of jobs you have to do, you’ll soon feel overwhelmed. Break them down into to small, manageable tasks and keep a (realistic) ‘to do’ list

Control your breathing. By taking fewer but deeper breaths you will optimise your oxygen intake, helping you to relax and remain calm.

Pay close attention to your diet. Wholegrain carbohydrates (brown bread, brown pasta) will give you long-term energy without causing sugar highs, lows and cravings.

The B vitamins help to support the nervous system and vitamin C supports the adrenal glands. B vits are found naturally in potatoes, bananas, lentils, peppers, tempeh, beans and brewer’s yeast (Marmite and Vegemite are excellent sources), and vitamin C is of course found in most fresh fruit and veg, including broccoli, kale, peppers, oranges and strawberries.

Other essential nutrients include magnesium (pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts and spinach) for the nervous system and iron for energy. Liver is an obvious food source of iron but not for everyone. Sardines, figs and apricots are good alternatives.

Stimulants such as caffeine contained in tea, coffee, chocolate and cola can aggravate stress, so try to avoid these. Chamomile or Lemon verbena tea and fruit juice are good alternatives and Bambu, caro and barley cup are good coffee substitutes.

Herbal remedies can also help. A. Vogel’s Stress Relief Daytime combines Valerian and Hops. Valerian is recognised for its calming action and can help you to cope better with the stresses around you.

It can be particularly useful if you are having trouble sleeping as it is thought to inhibit the breakdown of GABA, a chemical transmitter that enables you to ‘cross over’ into sleep, whilst Hops exerts a gentle sedative action on the nervous system. Dilute 10 to 20 drops in a little juice once to twice daily.

Another herb that may prove helpful is Passiflora; it has been used for centuries as a mild sedative and can help to combat both the physical and mental symptoms of stress.

Finally, keep moving! Exercise is a great way of beating stress. It enables you to vent your frustration and causes the brain to produce more of the ‘happy hormones’, endorphins, so try to work up a sweat for at least 20 minutes a day. Even a short walk can help to combat stress.

For further advice speak to Laura Williamson and her team at Castletown Health and Beauty Store in Malew Street. Call 825812.

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