MASERU – The role of lifestyle and nutrition to mediate stress is under the spotlight. As a response to acute stress, the body triggers the necessary cognitive stimulus to keep an individual functioning. Such a reaction is positive stress since the body perceives the experience of stress as a warning and reacts accordingly by readjusting various physiological mechanisms.
According to Dr Thuto Tsooana, chronic stress due to factors like traffic jams, relationships, or exam results can create a similar physiological response to that caused by life-threatening physical situations. But if stress persists for a long time without periods of homeostasis or balance, the physiological consequences are that it will be as if the body is constantly fighting for survival.
Unfortunately, many individuals experience their acute stress transforming into chronic stress over time, whether due to poor stress management or other lifestyle factors. “The chronic elevation of stress hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol has a myriad of negative effects on the body. The common effects of stress are: obesity – cortisol can dramatically increase a person’s weight, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure.
“Excess protein breakdown also leads to the degradation of collagen fibres, which results in stretch marks. Additionally, stress-induced appetite changes are not uncommon as patients dealing with chronic issues may turn to binge-eating for distraction. The are common effects of stress are headaches, restlessness and anxiety,” he says.
He also says a person can handle stress better when they are as healthy as possible; eating nutritiously is a good defense against stress. Being aware of how the body works and heals with stress can help a person to manage stressful situations. After a stressful period the human body can go into a “recovery mode” where increased appetite and food cravings become more prevalent.
At the same time metabolic rates drop to conserve energy, being aware of these patterns can help a person to manage his or her stress levels and through nutrition and diet a person can help their body recover from stressful periods more rapidly and minimise negative effects such as weight gain.
Healthy Ways to Maintain a Healthy Stress Response are by Meditation and Yoga: The results of a 2014 meta-analysis showed significant stress relief after practicing meditation, with scientists concluding that “mindful meditation programmes could help reduce anxiety, depression, and pain in some clinical populations. Thus, clinicians should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that a meditation programme could have in addressing psychological stress.”
Limiting Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine: Stimulant substances can damage the body if consumed over a long period of time. Moreover, these products contain several addictive components, which can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Therefore, instead of relying on these substances to reduce stress, a more positive option may be calm-inducing activities, such as yoga, meditation, and music.
Regular Exercise: exercise is the cheapest method to reduce stress and control anxiety levels. This effect is mediated by the release of stress-relieving hormones, such as serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. Additionally, one of the following breathing exercises may help alleviate anxiety.
More Exhaling: Prolonging the phase of exhaling is associated with the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for a “rest and digest” response. As a result, heart rate slows down, and breathing becomes more regular, reducing stress and anxiety.
Healthy Diet: Food choices play an important role in the physiological and metabolic responses of the body. For instance, a diet that is rich in whole foods, vitamins, and minerals reduces cortisol-release.