The Science Of Stress, Cortisol, Food Support, And Solutions
Did you know that when you're under workplace stress or simply life stress, your adrenals take a beating? So taking care of them is crucial if you want to feel good and stay focused and energetic. Today, let's dive into the science of stress and how you can support your adrenals with the right food choices and good quality sleep plus a simple solution to help you do both.
The Science Behind Chronic Stress
Normally, our wondrous adrenals produce hormones that regulate stress responses, blood pressure, electrolyte balance and other critical biochemical functions. The most well-known hormone they produce is cortisol, which is an important hormone released in response to stress. Cortisol stimulates the release of glucose from its storage sites so that it can be used for energy and also supports counter-regulatory hormones.
The problem is when adrenals are taxed due to high levels of stress, they begin to produce too much cortisol which can lead to a host of issues. The repercussions of worn-out adrenal glands and our stress hormone, cortisol, include low energy, poor sleep, body aches and pains, sweet and salt cravings, and brain fog. Poor adrenal health has also been linked to a weakened immune system, high blood pressure and obesity.
Over time, this chronic stress reduces certain protective hormones, and we crash. Chronic stress and burnout cause a physical response in the body. Cortisol and adrenal production can go into overdrive, thinking the body is fighting an infection, but it's often fighting the ‘thoughts and perceived pressures’ inside our brain.
I'm not saying these aren’t very real assaults, but our thoughts often drive the cortisol at high speed. That's when things like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, a sluggish thyroid, and autoimmune diseases are often diagnosed.
Did I hear you whisper, ‘Oh no, that's me!’?
Managing Chronic Stress
First, let’s take a look at some of the lifestyle choices that can add to the fire and create chronic stress.
- Not getting enough sleep or quality sleep
- A diet full of processed foods, sugar, caffeine and alcohol
- Sitting for too long without movement or exercise
- Overworking and overextending yourself
- Having a poor work-life balance or lack of boundaries in relationships and commitments.
These can all add up to create a cycle where you feel tired, overwhelmed, and out of control. It’s important to recognise these triggers so that you can begin to create healthy habits and make lifestyle changes that will help support your wellbeing.
So, what can you do to reduce stress and the production of cortisol? Plenty.
I want to share some tips to support your powerful adrenal glands with food and nutrients as well as a few other techniques.
Eat Your Way to Better Health
- Protein at Every Meal. Protein is essential for restoring tissue and muscle. A clean, lean protein will keep you satiated, balance your blood sugar, and give you sustained energy. Aim for 1.5 to 2 gm times your body weight.
- Anti-Inflammatory Sides. Along with protein at every meal, add an anti-inflammatory side. Chronic fatigue can make you feel like your joints and muscles are on fire. Introduce slices of avocado, guacamole, or a simple green salad or vegetables with your meals. Fibre and antioxidants also assist in detoxification, which means fewer toxins put pressure on your adrenals.
- Quality Mineral Sea Salt. When our adrenals are over-tapped, it can upset our sodium levels. Adrenally fatigued clients often notice strong cravings for salt. Do not add salt to your diet from packaged and processed foods but with tiny pinches on your meals with good quality sea salt that come naturally with additional minerals, micronutrients, and sodium to rebalance your electrolytes.
- Pepitas Seeds. The mighty pumpkin seeds are full of magnesium, zinc and fibre and assist with blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Researchers even suggest that the antioxidants in pepitas can reduce adrenal changes that occur with chronic stress.
- Healthy Fats and Carbs. Healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil are essential in making happy hormones. Healthy carbs like brown rice, quinoa, legumes, root vegetables, and sweet potatoes are essential for consistent, daily muscle and brain energy. These types of carbs are rich in vitamin B, which our adrenal health thrives on. Both are essential macronutrients, fats and carbohydrates and are important when recovering from any illness, especially adrenal fatigue.
Workplace fatigue is very real at 3 pm. It is often combined with adrenal fatigue. Do not be the person that skips breakfast and lunch or eats like a bird like salad only to become the human vacuum at 4 pm with jelly snakes, chocolates, and muffins that are the size of a doorstop (yep, I know what it’s like to be hangry!) and other fast, grab and go goods.
Other Ways To Defeat Chronic Stress
Get Enough Good Sleep
Quality sleep is another important element of keeping our adrenal glands functioning properly. Aim to get 7-10 hours of uninterrupted, deep sleep every night. This will reduce the amount of stress hormones your body produces and help regulate your cortisol levels.
If you're following the food recommendations above, you may already be noticing an improvement in your sleep. Here are some more tips for getting more quality ZZZs:
- Avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime to allow your mind and body time to relax and wind down.
- Make sure your room is dark and quiet to help you sleep better too.
- Taking a magnesium supplement before bed can also be helpful for getting quality sleep.
- Finally, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to keep your circadian rhythm in check.
Good sleep hygiene is essential for living a healthy life, so make sure to take the time to create good habits and prioritise getting restful sleep every night.
Engaging in regular physical activity can help reduce stress hormones and balance your cortisol levels. Aim to get moderate exercise at least three times/week, alternating with restorative activities such as yoga or stretching.
Additionally, try to get a good sweat going with more vigorous activities like running, lifting weights, or playing sports. This can help you feel energised and give you the motivation to stay focused on your goals.
Finally, make sure to listen to your body and not overdo it. Rest days are important for allowing your muscles and nervous system to recover.
Mindfulness is defined as paying attention to the present moment without judgment and can be an effective way of reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Through regular practice, mindfulness can help you gain better awareness of your thoughts and feelings, improve concentration, and cultivate a sense of calmness.
Consider participating in mindful activities such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation. Additionally, engaging in guided imagery and mindful breathing can help improve your overall wellbeing.
The Simple Way To Get Started Preventing Burnout, Reducing Stress & Feeling Better
We have many great tips and research in the Science of Workplace Wellbeing online programs. These programs are educational and fun - what I like to call ‘edu-tainment’ for happy, healthy, productive, zesty employees. And you get CPD points!
These workshops cover:
- What to eat
- How to avoid sugar crashes and cravings
- Improving sleep and stress
- Gut health and its link to cognitive function and mood
And so much more. Plus, you can even earn CPD/CE points.
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