Natural stress busters

Banish stress and anxiety with these top expert tips

In today’s highly pressured world, many of us are juggling work and family responsibilities, and perhaps trying to cope with money worries, relationship woes or just anxiety in general. It can be very difficult to just switch off and relax when we are constantly on the go or online, thanks to the wonders of technology.

Stress can be very damaging to our physical and mental health though, and is known to contribute to heart disease, hypertension and high blood pressure. It can also affect the immune system and is linked to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). In times of stress it is essential to practise good self-care by following a healthy diet, making time for relaxation and supporting our body with supplements. Here are our top expert tips.

Boost your antioxidant intake

“Consuming foods high in antioxidants supports the body’s own mechanisms to fight oxidative stress (or free radical damage),” explains Henrietta Norton, leading nutritional therapist and founder of Wild Nutrition (www.wildnutrition.com). “For example, turmeric is a healing and nurturing plant with high antioxidant status, offering protection from damage associated with stressful modern-day living. Through its rich and varied plant chemistry, it has powerful anti-inflammatory (antioxidant) and immune-strengthening properties. Boosting berry intake is another wonderful way to increase antioxidant levels to combat the effects of stress. Elderberry, for example, contains the antioxidants anthocyanins, bioflavonoids and polyphenols, which protect against excessive oxidative stress. Studies have highlighted anthocyanins’ ability to protect our veins and arteries against oxidative damage (note that damage to veins and arteries are a precursor to heart disease), making them an interesting botanical for cardiovascular protection. Blackberries are another small and mighty fruit that contain high amounts of vitamin C and K – two powerful antioxidants.”

Have a high fibre breakfast

“Low fibre diets and stress can change levels of gut bacteria,” says leading nutritionist Lily Soutter (www.lilysoutternutrition.com). “Why is this important? Ninety per cent of our serotonin is located within the gut, and only 10 per cent is located within the brain. Scientists are now referring to our gut as our second brain, and the latest research suggests that our gut bacteria may influence how much serotonin we produce.” Therefore, having a healthy balance of bacteria in our gut is crucial for our mood – hopefully making us less prone to those daily stressors.

Get moving

Not only has research revealed that running reduces stress levels, it’s also been found to improve learning and protect your memory. This means that running may not only have de-stressing benefits, it could also help you to be more proficient in the workplace. If you’re not feeling up to a run, even exercising in some way can help reduce stress. “Exercise improves circulation, boosts energy and releases feel-good endorphins that help enhance mood and reduce stress,” says Michela Vagnini, a nutritionist with Natures Plus (www.naturesplus.co.uk). “Just 10 minutes of movement helps stimulate wake-promoting hormones.” You could try stretching while you wait for your coffee to brew, doing some lunges while you’re brushing your teeth or perhaps taking the dog for a 10-minute walk to start off your day.

Observe your thoughts

“Overthinking is also when we can self-sabotage ourselves,” says life coach Iona Russell (Ionarussell.com) author of Making Waves, due out in Autumn. “The focus of your thoughts has a huge influence on your life and how you feel. Too many of us spend too much time thinking about the past or the future, rather than being in the present moment. When we overthink, we rarely envisage the best scenario do we? So, I advise you to stop, think about what you are thinking right now – were your thoughts positive, calm or chilled? Or are they negative, fearful or worried? It’s your choice how you think and feel.”

Try some supplemental support

“Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish (wild salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies), flaxseed oil, walnuts, and avocados, are associated with improved mood, reduced stress and lowering anxiety,” says Henrietta Norton. “When choosing to support intake by supplementing, freshness and purity are paramount; so the oils are cold extracted and free of contaminants such as PCBs and heavy metals.”

Calm your nervous system

“Adaptogens are a group of herbs often used by medical herbalists to help patients suffering with chronic stress,” says medical herbalist Hannah Charman (www.physichealth.uk). “They work on the whole body at the same time to take it out of its stress response, even if there’s a difficult situation still ongoing. Siberian ginseng is one example which is specifically used for those with a ‘work hard, play hard’ mindset, especially where overwork has weakened the immune system.

Other herbs work alongside adaptogens to calm the nervous system more directly, like passionflower, which is really helpful for overthinking, or chamomile, which is specific for when anxiety is upsetting digestion. Essential oils like neroli, Roman chamomile or lavender can also be diffused in your home or car to help you feel calmer.”

Top up your tryptophan levels

“Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation, with low levels associated with anxiety,” says Henrietta Norton. “Serotonin is made from an essential amino acid called tryptophan, which we must get through the foods we eat. If dietary intake is low, this can have a knock-on effect. Foods such as eggs, nuts, and dark chocolate are rich sources of tryptophan and can contribute to overall mood improvement. Lean proteins, such as salmon and turkey, are also good sources of tryptophan, as well as other amino acids that form the building blocks for mood-enhancing neurotransmitters.”

Remember to breathe!

“If we bring everything back to our breath, we really can slow down and learn to appreciate more,” says Iona Russell. “When we hold our breath (yes, we do this unconsciously) or breathe quickly, we are only adding to any anxiety or fear. Taking three slow, deep breaths whenever we find ourselves ‘spiralling’ can always bring us back to the now. Breathe in through the nose and out through your mouth. This practice is great first thing in the morning to bring us back to the present and also just before you go to bed. Releasing all thoughts of the day’s happenings before bed and emptying your mind also goes a long way to a good night’s sleep!”

Try this!

Certain types of herbs and supplements can help to ease the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Shona Wilkinson, a nutritionist working with Unbeelievable Health, (www.unbeelievablehealth.co.uk) suggests a combination of lemon balm, passionflower, rhodiola and royal jelly.

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