Stress is part of life, but when left untamed, it can cause us to spiral out of control - both physically and mentally. In small amounts, stress is a great motivator helping us perform at our best. In extremely high amounts, it can wear out the best of us. Stressors come our way everyday; when they aren't managed accordingly, they can start to show up on the skin.
When talking about stress management and inflammation with food and lifestyle,the digestive system plays a huge role. Bacteria in our gut is extremely vital to managing stress levels. Here’s why.
Research shows chronic stress and other negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, and sadness can trigger symptoms and full blown disease in the gut because it starts to kill the good gut bacteria. On the other hand, if poor gut health already exists from medicine and poor nutritional intake, that can be the cause of stress and anxiety.
Let me break it down a bit further.
Our gut produces 90% of the Serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a MAJOR role in mood, anxiety, depression, and happiness. It also plays a part in reducing the appetite when eating.
For example drugs such as ecstasy and LSD causes a massive rise in serotonin levels - hence the mood elevation people experience once they take the drug. When gut bacteria and digestive system is imbalanced, the body does not produce enough Serotonin - which can cause symptoms like anxiety, moodiness, sometime depression.
Serotonin also affects bowel function. Bowel movements are important because it's the body’s best route to eliminating toxins which leads to clear skin, increased energy, and weight balance.
Signs of an imbalanced digestive system: gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, recurrent infections, acne, eczema, rosacea, nervousness, anxiety, constant aches and pains (esp neck and back - we hold a lot of our stress there), and emotional hunger on a consistent basis.
For some, these symptoms happen so often, they become 'normal.' Plus - they aren’t exactly comfortable to talk about, so we start to think they are normal.
They aren’t normal, you don't have to suffer through them, and they are fixable.
Easy ways to start healing your digestion and reducing stress right away.
Vitamins and supplements easily support digestive system. A lot of these are available in foods that we can simply add to our meals plans, but it can be challenging to get it right all the time. In that case, vitamins in the form of pills can be very helpful. If we all lived on a farm where we have local grown organic food, we were immersed in nature,being out in the sun, touching the dirt and being around animals, we would have much different gut bacteria and probably wouldn’t need a lot of these supplements. But we live in a city so we have to adapt to our environment.
According to functional medicine physicians, these 5 supplements assist in healing the digestive system, which will help with stress management.
Probiotics: - Research has shown a significant improvement in depression, anger, anxiety, as well as lower levels of cortisol with healthy adults taking a probiotic supplement vs the placebo group. Kimchi, Miso, Yogurt, Kefir, (has to be organic with NO sugar added) Sauerkraut, Buttermilk
B complex is important in proper nervous system function and the way our food is digested and absorbed. Beets, Bananas, Broccoli, Avocados, Nuts
Vitamin D - Cheese, Egg yolks, Soy, Tuna, Salmon, Sun (challenging to get from food, so I highly suggest a supplement)
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid. Our brains are 80% fat. Side note: fat does not make you fat, sugar does. Avocados, Walnuts, Cauliflower, Chia and Flax seeds.
Magnesium - Bananas, Plantains, Almonds, Spinach, Cashews, Green leafy vegetable, Beans, Nuts
Superfoods for stress management
Whole grains (rice, quinoa, oats) - not the cereals
Water - we are 70% water. The slightest dehydration slows down metabolism and can make you think you’re hungry.
Dark Chocolate (organic, and at least 70%)
There are foods that come from the Earth. That’s as complicated as it needs to get. Foods that come from the Earth have live, vibrant energy. Foods that are made in factory don’t. That’s something we can all agree on right?
Sneaky foods to watch out for with stress management:
Avoid excess caffeine: caffeine increases cortisol levels (stress hormone) which make it difficult to lose weight. BE honest with yourself about home much caffeine you really consume. It’s hard to get restorative sleep when your adrenals are constantly firing.
When your adrenals are constantly firing, you get adrenal fatigue. If you’re running on caffeine, there’s a high chance you have adrenal fatigue.
Cortisol signals our body to hold on to fat and glucose (sugar), because our bodies thinks its in survival mode.
The end result of this can be an increase in appetite, craving for sugary, high carb, saturated fatty foods.
If you must have coffee in the morning, be sure to eat a meal with good fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts) before or with the coffee. The body releases a burst of cortisol first thing in the morning, therefore your body is naturally equipped to handle stress and get your day fired up. By drinking coffee without eating breakfast, the body goes into overdrive, and cortisol levels increase dramatically. Good fats will supple the body with long lasting, sustainable energy and help keep cortisol levels in check .
Artificial sugars have been shown to disrupt the good:bad bacteria ratio. Natural sugars that are better for the body are: honey, coconut palm sugar, maple syrup, and organic liquid stevia.
Other ways to reduce stress
Sleep in complete darkness: Put those phones, tables, laptops away at least an hour before bed.
Organize your clutter
Take out 5 minutes everyday for deep breathing - you can do it on the train, while you’re walking to the train station - there’s alway time.
Schedule a massage - I don't think I have to convince anyone of that
Cuddle - most people are touch deprived
Hug a friend - a good, bear hug
Research by family therapist says we need at least four hugs a day for our nervous system to function optimally.
Cuddling can do wonders for the body, from strengthening your immune system, to relieving pain, to reducing stress.
Ayurvedic Proverb: When the diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When the diet is correct, medicine is of no need.
Food is the most basic form of self care. Always eat with love and gratitude.