Because it can work in unusual ways…
With eight out of 10 Britons feeling stressed during a typical week and one in ten stressed all the time (sound familiar?), you think we’d all know the signs. But the body deals with pressure in unique ways – here are seven signs you need to take the bull by the horns and give your stress levels a makeover.
Stress leads to a general tension throughout the body as our fight or flight response kicks in. Clenching your teeth when concentrating, or teeth grinding in your sleep are common stress symptoms, along with earache and headaches. If left unchecked, this can lead to the lower jaw seizing up (OUCH!) and in the worst cases, even lockjaw.
QUICK FIX: Protect teeth with a mouthguard and reduce swelling with anti-inflammatories.
When you’re threatened (as it feels when stressed out), your body diverts blood away from the gut to the limbs for that fight or flight reaction. This causes digestive enzyme levels to drop and the stomach works less effectively. Your gut can even go into spasm, causing pain and problems with your bowels – if left unchecked, it could turn into IBS or even intolerance to certain foods.
QUICK FIX: Avoiding foods that irritate you is the only truly effective way of getting relief, although acupuncture may help to ease symptoms.
B vitamins are vital for the nervous system – we need them to release energy from our food, so we use them up during the energy-rich stress response. Sores at the corners of the lips are a sign that vitamin B is low – in particular B2, B3 and B12. Vitamin B12 helps regulate the feel-good chemical dopamine in the brain, and when this drops, so does our mood and motivation. Vitamin B is also involved in melatonin production, which affects sleep, so a deficiency could lead to even HIGHER stress levels.
QUICK FIX: Load up on vitamin B – carrots, eggs, peas, spinach, sunflower seeds, walnuts, avocados, bananas, beans, broccoli and brown rice are all good sources. NOM!
The stress hormone cortisol releases glucose into the blood, again to help with fight or flight. However, excessive levels of this, with no need for it, means that glucose ends up being stored as fat – usually around your waist (cue muffin top!) – where cortisol receptors are abundant. Fat in this area increases your risk of diabetes and heart attack. So if you’re struggling with your skinny jeans, take note…
QUICK FIX: While we’d all love to lose belly fat, you can’t target fat in specific areas, so you’ll need to adopt a general approach to healthier eating. These exercises can help tone up the belly area: crunches, Russian twists, side crunches, bicycle crunches and the rolling plank.
Adrenaline causes the pupils to dilate, letting more light in to help spot danger. This can be harmful if what you’re ACTUALLY looking at is a bright computer screen.
BLITZ IT: If you work with a computer, take regular screen breaks – ideally a 5-10 minute rest every hour (yeah, right). Back in the real world, if you can’t spare that much time, glance up from your screen and focus on something in the distance. Adjusting the brightness of your screen will help.
Stress can leave you a lot less productive than usual – it disrupts sleep, so you’re waking up already running on empty and reaching for the sweet snacks and caffeine (sugar crash alert!). When stress levels are relentlessly high, your adrenals simply can’t keep up, and become stressed themselves, causing cortisol to plummet. Long-term it can make the body unable to produce cortisol, which could lead to chronic fatigue syndrome.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps produce anti-stress hormones, immune proteins and is needed to make collagen. Without it, body tissues break down – symptoms of deficiency include easy bruising and bleeding gums when you brush your teeth. Other markers you’re lacking in vit C include regularly getting infections and colds and difficulty getting better from illness. And yes, you’ve guessed it, the stress response uses up vitamin C.
BLITZ IT: Boost levels by eating a diet rich in berries, citrus fruits, green veg, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, kale, mangos, strawberries and tomatoes.
Tackling the root of the cause
While the above will help you cope with the stress symptoms, it’s vital you actually try to stop getting stressed in the first place. Download a meditation or mindfulness app, start a yoga class and keep a stress journal so you can isolate and tackle the regular stressors in your life. Of course, there are some stresses you CAN’T control, but there are plenty of areas where you can at least cut how much you’re exposed to and how you react.