“Six out of ten Americans live with at least one chronic disease, like heart disease, stroke, cancer, or diabetes.” What does stress have to do with chronic disease? Although each chronic disease may be specific to a particular aspect of human physiology, all chronic diseases rely on the body’s ability to function optimally.
Simply put, that means the more tasks we expect our body to complete, it weakens and often impairs, our body’s capacity to respond appropriately. The more “disease” states the body has to contend with the increasing demand it places and increases the stress response signaling.
Stress responses by the body can include the following symptoms: impaired immune competency, change in heart rate and blood pressure, increase/decrease in saliva production, increase/decrease in mucous production, increase/decrease digestive and elimination function, increase/decrease urine secretion and pupil constriction/dilation.
Ok now that we know what the effects of stress are on our bodies, how do we mitigate them and teach our body healthy adaptations? There are a few different avenues by which we can mitigate the body burden:
Food Selection for Stress
Food can be thought of as medicine. Viewing it in this fashion brings more awareness to our plate. The foods we eat can bring vital nutrients to either strengthen and sustain, or steal from us causing inflammation and disease. Limiting your simple carbohydrates ( i.e. breads, pasta, and rice products) and added sugars in your diet can have a positive impact on our immune system.
It’s been documented all the way back in the 70’s that within one hour of consuming sugar, our white blood cell response dampens. Our white blood cells are one of our “front line” responses to bacteria and viruses. Cut the sugar out if you want to give your immune system full power. Certain foods are good choices. Incorporating foods such as:
Brussel sprouts: this cruciferous vegetable is rich in Vitamin K, folate, Vitamin A, manganese and potassium. It also packs a punch with 85 mg of Vitamin C per 100 grams.
Artichokes: one of the best food sources of antioxidants. A dieter’s favorite due to its low fat and high fiber content. High in Vitamin C, K, folate, phosphorus and magnesium.
Broccoli: high in vitamins A ,C, E and fiber. In order to preserve it’s nutrients, it’s best eaten raw or slightly steamed at most.
Bell peppers: these gems contain twice as much vitamin C as citrus. They are also a good source of beta carotene, which is necessary for Vitamin A.
Green tea: contains a naturally occurring substance, L-theanine, that increases GABA a neurotransmitter that creates a calming sense
Activity Level for Stress Reduction
Physical movement allows the body to have a physical outlet to relieve stress. It releases natural endorphins that take action in the body to reduce anxiety, dissipate stress, ward off depressive moods, and improve sleep quality. Exercise should be continuous for a minimum of 30 minutes to get the stress busting benefits.
Breathing Patterns for Stress Reduction
Noticing your breathing patterns creates an awareness necessary to bring yourself into an inner calm state. Wearable fitness trackers have allowed us instantaneous feedback into our vitals. Several apps exist to provide us with more ideas on improving our health through breathing. A simple breathing exercise that creates a sense of calm is to inhale through your nose while counting slowly, taking somewhere between 4-6 seconds, hold the breath for 2-4 seconds, and slowly exhale through your mouth taking appoximately 6-8 seconds to completely empty your lungs of air. Time frames given will vary depending on lung capacity and any existing conditions that affect the lungs. Exercises like this help slow respiration, increase oxygenation to the tissues, and encourage the body to return to a relaxed state.
Sleep is one of your best allies when it comes to stress. It’s when our body repairs and recharges itself. Many reasons exist for not attaining a full night’s rest but the effects on the body apply to all. Research supports that not attaining enough sleep habitually not only doesn’t allow the body to rest, but actually creates another stress response that sets off chronic low-grade inflammation, both of which are detrimental to health. This added barrier creates more resistance to achieving and maintaining a healthy immune system. Tips for a better sleep regimen include banning screen time at least 2 hours before bed, aiming for a bed time no later than 10pm to sync with your sleep wake cycle and avoiding late night snacking than can cause blood sugar spikes.
Our thoughts hold a very powerful position in our brain. What we think, whether real or perceived, can send signals throughout the body. These signals can be helpful or destructive. Reflect on the thoughts you have daily and make a habit of doing an inventory to maintain a positive balance. Affirmations are an extremely helpful tool to capture negative thoughts and emotions that can destroy your health– mentally, emotionally and spiritually.