Stress seems inevitable, and takes its toll on our health and well-being. Do you recognize any of these signs?
• Do you have difficulty relaxing?
• Do you feel irritable?
• Do you have a dry mouth and sweaty palms?
• Do you worry about little events of the day and are unable to shut your mind off?
• Do you take on too much?
• Do you eat quickly?
• Do you have problems sleeping?
A "yes" to any of these is a sign that you are under stress, and at risk for stress-related health problems.
Fight or Flight -- The Stress Response
We need a certain amount of stress to keep us motivated, but too much can seriously affect our health. It mobilizes the body's "fight-or-flight response", which prepares us to cope with emergencies. Triggering the release of stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol from our adrenal glands, it increases our respiration and heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and raises blood sugar levels.
This worked fine when we were running from lions and tigers. However, as much as we'd like to, we can't run from our office, our stalled car, or our crying baby-- so we can end up with stress-related conditions such as headaches, heartburn, neck or shoulder pain, cold hands and feet, stomach "knots" or "butterflies," fatigue, anxiety attacks, or substance (including food) abuse. Research shows that stress also depresses immune function, making us more vulnerable to infectious diseases, and even, cancer.
Fortunately, there are many natural substances that support the body in handling the hassles of everyday life, and can help us to relax and de-stress.
Stress depletes the body of vital vitamins and minerals that are needed for the smooth running of the nervous system, and for the production of stress hormones. The more stressed we are, the more quickly we become deficient. Make sure you take enough of the following:
B vitamins: Take a multiple vitamin/ mineral formula with at least 25 mgs each of vitamins B1 (thiamin), B3 (niacin), B6 (Pyridoxine). By taking the B vitamins in combination with each other, you ensure that you don't create a relative deficiency of any. The entire vitamin - mineral complex will also support your overall metabolism. Women taking birth control pills can become depleted in B6 and Vitamin C - so be sure to supplement!
Vitamin C: This vital vitamin supports our immune system and adrenals. Since we are unable to manufacture it in our bodies, we need to take at least 1000 mg per day, and more during stress or when dealing with illness.
Magnesium: This vital mineral is often deficient in stress. Take 200-400 mgs daily, which may be found in some high potency multiple vitamin/ mineral formulas, or just add it to your supplement regimen. A hot Epsom Salts (magnesium sulfate) bath is another good way to get your magnesium, since it's well absorbed through the skin.
Amino Acids: 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, the feel-good, calming brain chemical that helps you to relax as well. Great for curbing carb cravings, too. Take 50-200 mg daily.
L-theanine is the calming amino acid in green tea that counteracts the caffeine content, and helps you feel relaxed and focused at the same time. 100-300 mg daily.
GABA, glutamine, glycine: By enhancing your levels of GABA, the brain's chill chemical, all 3 aminos, are calming.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Another favorite for the treatment of stress is valerian, sometimes referred to as "Nature's Valium." Like the Valium-type drugs, valerian acts on the brain's GABA receptors, with similar tranquilizing effects, but without their side effects.
Using standardized extract (0.8 percent valeric acid), the dose is 50-100 mg, two to three times daily for relaxation. To help you fall asleep, take 150-300mg about 45 minutes before bedtime.
Found in all traditional medicine systems except Western medicine, adaptogenic herbs provide an overall boost to our system, especially to the adrenal glands, and can help return the body to a normal, balanced state. Such adaptogens as Siberian ginseng, rhodiola, reishi mushroom and ashwagandha can increase stamina, improve physical and mental function, enhance mood, and protect against infections, toxins, exhaustion, and other negative effects of stress.
For one-stop shopping for many of these nutrients, take a multi/vitamin mineral and check out my CALM formula to chill, or Nightly CALM with added valerian for sleep. Then for enhanced energy, without overstimulation, see my adaptogen-containing Energy Balance formula. All are available at my website's health store.
Besides these supplements, your best tools for handling stress are these lifestyle suggestions:
1. Sufficient sleep
2. Exercise: aerobic, resistance-training, and stretching
3. Healthy diet, with minimal sugar, caffeine, and alcohol
4. Relaxation breaks throughout the day, even if it's a few minutes of deep breathing
5. Realistic expectations of what you are able to accomplish
6. A good support network of friends and family
Adapted from my book, 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health
Follow Hyla Cass, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hylacassmd