HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY LIFESTYLE TO REDUCE THE IMPACT OF STRESS ON MY BODY?
by Jelena Vulevic on Oct 28, 2021
We all experience stress and we all react to it differently. Stressors can be:
Psychological (eg your feelings, emotions, thoughts)
Environmental (eg pollution, toxins, gut microbiota)
Physical (eg trauma, infection, disease)
The level of stress you can tolerate depends on your lifestyle, social and economic circumstances, the environment you live in and your genetic make-up. In moderate doses, stress is actually helpful as it gives you motivation to perform tasks, keeps you alert and helps you focus. However, if stressors continue without the periods of recovery or relief than stress becomes a chronic condition, causing the whole negative cascade of events inside our bodies. These events lead to health issues, not only mental health problems (eg anxiety, depression) but also physical (eg skin and gut issues, diabetes, heart disease etc). Thus, it is important to try and control, as much as possible, certain situations, your emotions or parts of your lifestyle that are obviously causing you stress.
Today’s everchanging environment, coupled with not too appropriate lifestyles, bring about additional and involuntary stressors that our bodies experience. Often, we do not exhibit (or are not able to recognise) any specific symptoms related to these forms of stress and so we are not even aware of the potential issues that it might be causing to our bodies. We can, however, try and make small changes and improvements in our lifestyles, to reduce the effect of stressors on our bodies.
Read more about stress here.
Below, we’ve put up a list of some of the things that you may find useful.
Relax, move and have fun
It’s really important to have some outlet. What better way than with something, anything, that relaxes you and/or makes you laugh. We are all different, so as long as you are not hurting or misusing others, there aren’t rules on relaxations or experiences of fun.
Mediation, breathing exercises, reading, music or a massage can all be fun, relaxing and helpful in reducing the impact of stress. Any form of moderate physical activity, including jogging, sports, walking, dancing, yoga or gardening, is a great way to reduce the effects of stress and make you feel better. Intense exercise, however, triggers an increase of stress promoting chemicals inside the body so this isn’t always the best way to manage the effect of stress.
Whatever you choose, make sure that you are having fun and enjoying yourself. The feel-good factor of laughing isn’t just in our head, but it actually has a biological basis behind it, and it has been shown in studies to effectively decrease stress promoting chemicals inside the body and improve the quality of life.
Sleep as much as you can
There are some huge gaps in scientific knowledge when it comes to what sleep exactly does to your body, but it is clear that sleeping is an essential function. Going without sleep can literally make you psychotic, cause a number of disorders and diseases and eventually even kill you. A bad night’s sleep, or more prolonged sleep deprivation, leads to an increase of stress promoting chemicals inside the body, whereas good sleep routine and enough hours of sleep are powerful in reducing the effect of stress on your body.
Recent studies have shown that when certain mutations in our genes are present, some people lead a normal and healthy life with as little as 4.5 hours of sleep per night. For most adults, however, 7-9 hours are more likely to be required to recharge the body and mind. You can test whether you are pushing your own body too far when it comes to the length of your sleep. Cut back on stimuli (eg caffeine and alcohol) during the day, or at least a few hours before bed time. Store away all devices, a few hours before bedtime. Make your bed comfortable and your room dark. Use your bed for sleep and sex only. If you still feel fine and not tired than the chances are that you are sleeping enough for your body. If not, follow the same routine and gradually move your bedtime to an earlier time.
We’ve all heard of eating more fruits and veg, less processed food, sugar, etc. It can become overwhelming sometimes. It is in fact simple. Unless you suffer with a specific condition (allergy, disease, etc), you should eat a balanced diet. That means everything in moderation. Too much of any single food, even carrots, isn’t necessary or even good. There are so many options, flavours and possibilities with food, the list is endless. Food and eating should be a pleasurable experience, and not just a way to fuel yourself. So, reduce eating on the go, sit down at the table, take time and pleasure in eating and include variety. Make your own food, avoid takeaways and ready-made meals. Try and set yourself a challenge of eating a different meal every day for a month. It can be fun as well as engaging.
An example of foods that you could incorporate specifically to help reduce stress promoting chemicals in the body is the following: dark chocolate, herbal teas, whole grains, oily fish, sardines, nuts, seeds, dairy, citrus fruits, berries, avocado, green leafy vegetables, peppers, broccoli, beans and in fact any other fruit or veg.
Take care of your gut microbiota
Your gut microbiota is the universe that lives inside you, composed of 100 trillion microbes. In terms of the number of cells in your body they are much bigger than us humans (gut microbiota = 65% and human = 35%). They are both your friends and foe depending on how you behave towards them. If you take good care of them, they will return the favour. They control both the level of extrinsic stressors and how your body responds to these stressors.
Read more about the effect of stress on gut microbiota here.
Your gut microbiota thrives when they have a variety of ingredients. All the foods that are healthy for you and mentioned above, will do wonders for your gut microbiota too. If you want to give them a boost, then you should include more fibre (eg fruits, veg, nuts and seeds/wholegrain cereals). Fibre is the preferred food choice for your microbes, it makes them happy, and they produce beneficial molecules that have a far-reaching benefit throughout your body. Fibre results in diverse gut microbiota, and their diversity is directly linked with good health and overall wellbeing. Another great example are fermented foods (eg yogurt, kefir, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, strong Belgian beers, red wine). These contain live microbes, some of them are probiotics (beneficial live microbes) and also improve your gut microbiota diversity and function.
Get a little help with supplements
Vitamins, minerals and some herbs are a great way to improve your immune system, help with sleep and in some cases even make you feel better. However, gut has a holistic impact on your body, so taking care of your gut microbiota is our favourite and preferred choice. If you struggle with any of the above, you want to specifically encourage the growth of your own beneficial microbes (probiotics), or further improve the ability of your body to fight the negative effects of stress, than you can try probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics.
Probiotics are live microbes that have been shown in clinical studies to exert beneficial effect on humans. The best examples are those containing bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. There are hundreds of products on the market, not all should have a probiotic label and unfortunately, not all work for everyone. Finding the one that works for you could be a bit of a hit and a miss trial. Generally, look for those that contain 10-15 billion CFU of lactobacilli and/or bifidobacteria and have been researched in clinical studies. Great examples are: BioGaia, Symprove and Hey Nutrition Probiotic Complex.
Prebiotics are ingredients that selectively support the growth of your own beneficial microbes (probiotics). Some foods naturally contain certain types of prebiotics. Great examples are raw: onion pulp, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root and asparagus. It is possible to ingest enough of these foods daily to exert a prebiotic effect, but it isn’t easy or practical sometimes. Additionally, you need to stick with it every day and not just on occasion. The best prebiotic, in terms of its selective support of your own beneficial microbes, with the exception of human breast milk, isn’t present in any food sources. However, it is commercially available, and it is called Bimuno.
Postbiotics are inactivated (dead) microbes with or without their by-products. These are the latest addition onto the market and there aren’t very many examples. The products that we are developing, under an umbrella of The Y Collection, are postbiotics. Our first product, Y Skin, targets the gut-skin-axis. It contains natural, fibre-like, anti-inflammatory molecules from bifidobacteria. They bridge the communication between your gut and immune systems, to prevent the accumulation of inflammation that accelerates your overall ageing process. This restores the balance throughout the body, slows down the ageing process and eventually shows in a healthy and glowing skin.