Stress is a word we hear daily. It’s almost like a badge of honor. “I’m soooo busy, I’m soooo stressed out” is commonplace. But what exactly does it mean to be stressed? That’s such a vague statement. People experience it differently. Stress – which is really your body attempting to respond to life’s many demands – can make people really tired or fatigued, some people get anxious and feel like they have to go to the bathroom every five minutes, some people just can’t concentrate on tasks at hand and get headaches, dizziness, or other physical pain.
When we experience stress – whether quick and acute or chronic and long-lasting, our body goes on autopilot and releases a series of chemical messengers that we know as hormones. Stress goes hand in hand with a feeling you’ve probably heard of: fight or flight. That feeling is stimulated by the pituitary gland – it’s our master gland at the base of our brain and processes info about hunger, temperature, emotion, stress and more. It doesn’t matter what type of stressor we are talking about. It can be something relatively minor like your boss calling you into their office out of the blue or something major like a car accident. Your pituitary gland can’t tell the difference between minor and real danger, so it sends a signal to your adrenal glands to release those fight or flight messages.
There are three stages of the fight or flight process: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. There’s so much happening in that first stage, the alarm stage, that your body sucks a ton of nutrients up to try and keep you safe. Your body increases your blood pressure and blood sugar, diverts blood from functions you don’t need for immediate survival like digestion, among many other things that occur in a matter of seconds. During this process, your body is literally preparing for a fist fight! It doesn’t need to worry about things like digesting food, it wants to give us energy to punch somebody in the face!
When we are going through a stressful period, whether it’s a few minutes, hours, or days, it’s typical for us to make impulsive decisions, food choices being one of them. How many times have you had a hectic day at work and at 3 pm thought “I would do anything for a chocolate chip cookie right now?!” But eating processed food will just perpetuate stress. Because your body diverts blood away from your digestive system in particular, it leaves us with decreased nutrient absorption. Our body is depleted of magnesium, calcium, and other minerals in particular. So instead of reaching for that cookie (which is not going to help our blood sugar at all) – let’s reach for things with magnesium and calcium like leafy greens, beans and nuts. Have a piece of dark chocolate, just look for a bar that has 80 percent cacao or so. You could also put ground cacao in a smoothie or sprinkle cacao pieces on oatmeal. Say cacao three times fast. If I’m ever stressed I like to remove myself temporarily from the situation if I can (usually it’s email, blah). Do you live by the beach, look at a photo of the ocean! It’s 2018 we’ve got options people. Overall it’s important for us to manage our stress levels as much as possible. Don’t panic about going into your bosses office – you don’t even know what’s going to happen yet! FEAR can sometimes be just that – future expectations of reality.