Stress presents itself in countless ways – insomnia, headaches, nausea, general irritability and the inability to focus clearly. None of these symptoms are particularly helpful in relieving the original stress, and sometimes the cause itself can be out of our hands – illness of of loved one, family drama, work colleagues or exams looming.
Supporting yourself through times like this allows you to survive it, and hopefully come out stronger on the other side – with an new awareness of how you can recognise (and potentially avoid) a similar situation in the future. Yoga, meditation, exercise and talking it through with someone you trust are all well-known methods for coping with stress, however there are also changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle to maximise your resilience at a time when you need it the most.
Cut back on stimulants
It might seem counter-intuitive when you feel like you’re already running on empty, but caffeine, sugar and alcohol are temporary fixes that only propagate the stress response further in the long run. The yo-yo effect on your blood sugar impacts your mood, your ability to focus and even your waistline (and stress hormones specifically predispose to weight gain around the middle). I am absolutely not advocating quitting coffee completely (God help anyone I have to work/live with or even talk to if I tried that when the pressure is really on), but attempting to reach for peanut butter instead of pick-and-mix, and ensuring I have a decent breakfast every morning have made a big difference when I’m burning the candle at both ends.
Chromium and cinnamon can both help stabilise blood sugar, thereby reducing the frequency of blood sugar crashes – which inevitably lead to a determined hunt for anything chocolate-related every few hours. I have an affinity for cinnamon that cannot be sated, and therefore am happy to lace everything from granola, to peanut butter and pancakes liberally. However, chromium supplementation is a good option for those of you not quite as addicted to the spice as I am. Chromium picinolate is absorbed better than other versions.
Up your B-vitamin intake
B-complex supplements encompass a large number of vitamins, including niacin, biotin, folate and thiamine. Many of them are important for healthy skin, hair and nails, as well as your immune system and memory. Even mouth ulcers can be helped with B vitamin supplementation – as they have been linked to iron and B12 deficiency. My all time favourite Skinade is an easy way to take it, and it also contains magnesium, along with all the other skin friendly ingredients. As a previous vegetarian I know first-hand how easy it is to be lacking in some of these if you don’t eat meat, and as eggs are a major source in the typical western diet, vegans can find deficiency far too close for comfort without supplementation. Eggs, wheatgrass, almonds, dark leafy greens and asparagus are some veggie-friendly dietary sources if you’d prefer not to take a supplement.
I know, I know, it sounds patronising to say the least doesn’t it? But you can actively make it easier for yourself with the help of magnesium, chamomile tea and lavender, and by limiting screen time (or using blue light blocking glasses). Magnesium supplementation has been shown in clinical trials to improve both sleep time and sleep efficiency, and also helps with tight or cramping muscles – the epsom salt baths that triathletes etc rave about are essentially water and magnesium. Magnesium citrate or magnesium glycinate are two of the more easily absorbed forms, and the powder supplement can be a bit cheaper than the tablets (and easier to take – have you seen the size of some of those tablets?). I get the viridian brand from Health Matters. An epsom salt foot bath for 20 minutes before bed is a cheap as chips and easy way to increase your intake – and forces you to take a few minutes for yourself, especially if you place your phone out of reach.
A cup of chamomile tea and this “Deep Sleep” spray spritzed on your (silk!) pillow both help you to drift off, but definitely the biggest game changer for me has been switching my phone to airplane mode before getting into bed. As I’ve said before, not only does it help you get to sleep, but the mental clarity this can give you is incredible, if you leave it off until heading out the door in the morning – and I have found my mind stops racing pretty much as soon as I change mode. It has made me insanely curious about the benefits of a full blown digital detox – this experiment by Kovert Designs has seems to have been life-changing for the participants.
The above have all worked pretty well for me, but of course everyone is different, and you may find something else much more effective. If you have any other suggestions I’d love to hear them!