Stress and You Part 2: Stress and Immunity

No Stress (1)It always seems that we come down with something at the worst possible times… before a big test, a presentation at work, an event or special day. We cross our fingers, pay close attention to our hand washing techniques, and are sure to drink an extra-large glass of orange juice during these times. Despite our gallant efforts, we still end up sick. Why? Believe it or not, our state of mind and stress play a huge role in how healthy we are. There is actually an entire concentration of science dedicated to studying the relationship between stress and our immunity- psychoneuroimmunology. When we are under stress our body is incapable of functioning at its highest potential. Think of it this way- when our bodies are in that fight or flight mode we are in a heightened state of emotion. Our bodies are working harder in a sense “protect” us, so all of our non essential functions power down; including our immunity!  All we need at the moment is to be able to run from that tiger, which is a bigger threat than the possible far away future of getting sick.  So when we are stressed, we are in essence turning off our immune system.  This also means that when we want to heal, our recovery time can take longer as well!

It is important that we manage stress to avoid these complications. Heart disease, cancer, heart attack- studies show these can all be induced by chronic stress. When our immune system is compromised our overall health is greatly affected and if you need a brush up on why stress can halt your weight loss efforts, read here.  We simply lose the desire to make conscious health choices, stay active, and feel happy.

Manage Stress Before it Makes You Sick.

- Take time each day to unwind and find inner peace. Whether it’s by diving into a good book, trying a new local spot with a friend, or taking an extra lap on your run, find something that you can make your “go to” when you become stressed. Having a conscious plan to address stress when it first begins will greatly decrease the impact on your immunity.

- As mentioned in part one of the Stress and You series, avoid foods and drinks that stimulate stress. Items high in caffeine and sugar cause havoc on the body and put us in a artificially amped up state.  I once went swimming after drinking coffee...and I was like a robot...  nonstop! I also was hyper aware that the energy almost wasn't my own!  So steer clear of these stimulants and if consumed, do so in moderation.

- Pay regular attention to your body’s messages. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or stress starting to develop, assess your current situation. What may be triggering these feelings? What can you do to address them? Start to put yourself in control of your reactions in order to inhibit them from manifesting into something more detrimental.

If You Do Get Sick, Pay Close Attention to Keep Stress at a Minimum.

- Rest, but don’t baby yourself. When we are sick we immediately want to curl up on the couch and wait out the storm. While it is important to rest and replenish, too much nurturing can actually cause more harm. Engage in low energy activities that are stimulating to the mind- do a puzzle, read a book, etc. Keep your mind active while still getting the rest you need.

- Take a bath! Baths are great for managing stress and super helpful to help kick out those germs when we are sick. Take a warm bath with a few drops of essential oils such as lavender or eucalyptus to naturally calm your body.

- Sleep!

Sleep will not only help you get better quicker, but feeling well rested is one of the number one ways to prevent stressful days.

The importance of managing our stress levels is great on a day to day basis, but is especially important when faced with illness or injury. Try using the different stress management techniques as often as possible to implement as a normal routine!

Written by Ashley Green and Tammy Chang for The Nourished Belly

Sources: American Pyschological Association. Stress Weakens the Immune System. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/research/action/immune.aspx

Seinberg, S. The Sweet 16 of Holistic Stress Reduction. Retrieved from http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5947/The-Sweet-16-of-Holistic-Stress-Reduction.html

Stress Series Part 1: Stress and Weight Loss

As a nutrition and health coach, most people come to me to lose weight and get healthy. Many of them exercise regularly, and after working together, their outlook on food dramatically improves, and some lose weight and feel great!  Others who make all these changes, however, have a harder time, and for the most part, the stressful way we live our lives is the answer. I live in the Bay Area, which in my opinion is the greatest place on earth.  There's a million and one things to do, amazing friends, and work opportunities to explore.  But this urban life, despite its excitement is stressful.  And not just bad stressful...  there's a good kind of stress called Eustress, which you experience when you are excited about something, and then DISstress, when sh*t hits the fan and it keeps you up at night with worry.

Stress itself is a naturally occurring psychological response. When faced with a situation that we feel inadequate, unsafe, or as though we may lose something, our bodies go into a fight or flight mode. We either face the situation up front or attempt to avoid it at all costs. Neuroscientist and author of “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”, Robert Sapolsky, explains that stress is anything in the external world that knocks ourselves out of homeostatic balance. Sapolsky points out that unlike other mammals, we turn on our stress response for things it is not scientifically designed for… emotions, memories, feelings, etc. We have an anticipatory response to stress we think we might experience, which when not managed well can become chronic and lead to a variety of additional health problems.

As a part of a series, Stress and You, we are going to focus on three major areas in which stress can negatively impact our overall health: Stress and Weight

Stress and Immunity

Stress and Mental Health

All three of these aspects of overall health are connected. When one area is affected, a snowball effect can occur and lead to trouble in others. Understanding the impact of stress on our bodies and the importance of and proper ways of managing it is key to leading a healthy lifestyle.

Stress and You Part 1: Stress and Weight

Imagine a time where you came home from a stressful day at work or after handling a stressful situation. What did you do? Did you reach for that comfort food you’ve been craving while you let yourself cool down and unwind? What about in the long run… despite your exercise and nutritional habits are you struggling to lose weight or even notice yourself gaining?

All of this… while typical, is avoidable. Unfortunately, our bodies do not differentiate amongst different stressors. Stress is stress and regardless leads to negative health issues. Pamela Peeke, MD, author of “Body of Life for Women”, says stress can actually be one of the biggest barriers of maintaining a healthy weight. When stress occurs, our bodies release hormones that can upset our chemical balance. Adrenaline is what gives you that burst of energy to either fight or flee from the situation. In response to adrenaline, our bodies’ release the hormone cortisol, which raises our blood sugar.  Which in turn sets off our insulin response, which is our fat storage hormone!  Vicious cycle, right?

A stressful day also can stop you from making good decisions.  In a simple experiment at Stanford, volunteers were either asked to remember either two numbers or 7 numbers, then offered a piece of chocolate cake or fruit salad afterwards.  Those that had to remember 7 numbers were TWICE as likely to reach for the chocolate cake!   So it makes sense right? That when you've had a long stressful day working, you are MUCH MORE LIKELY to reach for something sweet.

So how do we manage stress and its influence on our eating habits?

- Try to avoid snacking as a method of coping with stress. Despite what your body may tell you, eating will not alleviate stress. Temporarily it may sooth the feeling, but will only lead to more stress down the road. Get active. When stressed, take a walk, hit the gym, do yoga. Getting up and moving will release other hormones that will counteract the ones creating the desire to snack. Focus your mind on something other than the stressor in question. Tackle your to do list to enable that sense of accomplishment or go for a run. You hold the power- so show stress who’s boss!

- Pay attention to the foods and drinks you are consuming. Avoid stimulants that can fuel stress. We may not realize it, but there are plenty of foods and drinks that only further fuel our stress levels. Alcohol, fast food, coffee, and soda are some of the most common triggers. While we may think of some of these as “comfort” foods, they actually end up making things worse.

- If you do snack, make selections that fight stress. Believe it or not, there are wonderful super-foods that actually fight stress and can bring relief. The foods that we normally crave may serve as a temporary anesthetic , but some foods have calming chemical properties.

  • Foods high in folic acid or B vitamins such as asparagus and avocados help create serotonin, a chemical that directly impacts moods in a positive way.
  • Almonds provide a plethora of vitamins such as Vitamin C and E that are proven to fight stress while still satisfying those crunchy cravings.
  • As mentioned above, Vitamin C is a major stress fighter and can be found in blueberries, oranges, etc. Mix these nutrient rich fruits with some cottage cheese for a soothing snack.
  • Drink calming teas!  Chamomile, Rosemary, Asian Ginseng, Ashwaganda, Holy Basil (Tulsi), and Licorice Root are all part of a group of herbs call Adaptogens that help the body deal with stress.

The most important thing to look at is your LIFE!  What can you say no to?  Where are your self care boundaries?

It's time to really think about these things...because no matter what you do, even if you exercise like crazy, and you eat extremely well, too much stress will sabotage you EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  Think about it!

Written by Ashley Green and Tammy Chang for The Nourished Belly

Sources: Sapolsky, R. (1994). Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping. New York, NY: Holt Paperbacks.

Peeke, P. (2009). Body of Life for Women: A Women’s Plan for Physical and Mental Transformation. Holtzbrinck Publishers.

Whole Living. Good Mood Foods that Reduce Stress. Retrieved from http://www.wholeliving.com/135935/good-mood-foods-reduce-stress/@center/136756/stress-relief-your-guided-tour