It is the first week of Australia’s new financial year. Most of us have managed to survive our June 30 deadlines but the after effect has many playing catch-ups with the rest of our work life, and it has many people feeling run down and stressed out.
While in sporadic bursts stress can help us achieve our goals, too much for too long can leave us strung out and even ill.
And when you are stressed and tired you are more likely to skip your session at the gym and opt for a high carb, high calorie snack instead of your regular lunch.
This is why it is important to give your body the love it needs when it is under stress and help to manage normal functionality and performance.
Kate Troup, Naturopath and Founder of W8less, a simple program which helps you to understand how your body works and how to meet your health goals, spoke with Business Insider about why it is so vital that people stay on top of their health during the busy business season, and how your can manage your stress levels with some easy to follow techniques.
Here are Troup’s nine tips for de-stressing your work day and fuelling your body with the nutrients it needs.
If you want to be a Ferrari, you need premium fuel. Fast food, takeaways, junk food and sugar will not get you to the finish line. Your brain simply won’t work properly if it’s fed sugar and cheap fats, and if your brain isn't at its sharpest, then your workload will seem even more unmanageable and your stress levels will creep up even higher.
Real food is food that’s as close to its natural state as possible, or is a whole food rather than a list of ingredients. Having a couple of boiled eggs for breakfast sets you up for the day far more than a bowl of cereal made up of refined and processed grains.
If you want to stay sharp and focused throughout the afternoon, then a salad of raw vegetables, tinned salmon and brown rice for lunch will do the trick. Base the bulk of your diet on vegetables, good quality meats, eggs, fish and raw nuts and you’ll be amazed at how well you feel.
Coffee is simply fanning the flames and amplifying your stress levels. You’ll sleep better and, counter-intuitively, your energy levels will increase without it. When you’re stressed, your body tips over into its adrenaline-driven fight or flight state.
Your blood pressure and heart rate increases, you become hyper, irritable and even anxious, and importantly, the higher functioning executive part of your brain that you need for clear and logical thinking starts to power down, making you less productive and efficient. Caffeine stimulates the production of adrenaline, so if you’re already stressed, then a cup or two of coffee could be enough to tip you over into fight or flight.
Interestingly, caffeine doesn’t seem to help improve performance or increase alertness, unless you regularly consume it. It’s thought that the boost you feel after having a coffee is simply the reversal of withdrawal symptoms.
Decide whether you are an owl who sleeps and wakes late, or a lark who does the opposite. Working with your natural biorhythm means that you can more efficiently add hours to your day when you need to by working late or starting early when your brain is more alert.
Working with your natural biorhythm means that you are more likely to nail your to do list and still have energy to burn. Working when your body really wants to be asleep though requires the production of your stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, which just perpetuates stress-related health problems. Have you ever been utterly exhausted but unable to sleep? That’s because you’ve exposed yourself to your stress hormones at the wrong time or for too long.
Sleep deprivation (and we’re only talking 17-19 hours without sleep here, not days on end) has the same negative affect on performance as the legal driving blood alcohol limit. Would you go to work drunk every day?
Napping gives your brain and nervous system a quick re-boot to meet the demands of your day. Do it for less than 30 minutes before 3pm and it won’t stop you falling asleep at bed time.
A naturally occurring amino acid in green tea, called L-theanine, stimulates alpha brain waves, the very ones that are produced when you meditate. This has a calming effect that doesn’t make you sleepy, and in combination the caffeine that’s also present, increases alertness and mental performance.
L-theanine has also been shown to mask the signs of sleep deprivation by keeping your mind sharp and mood stable.
Meditation is more about science and the neuroplasticity of your brain than monks, incense and chanting. Regular meditators show less activity in the fight or flight centre in their brain when faced with a stressful situation.
This means that they continue to use their rational frontal cortex when the rest of us have been sent into a tail spin and lost the ability to think clearly. Lower blood pressure, better sleep and less food cravings are other good reasons to introduce some brain down time into your day.
Did you know that chronic stress shrinks your brain and impairs concentration and memory? The good news is that recent research showed that having higher blood levels of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish was associated with a larger brain volume.
The omega-3 EPA has been shown to reduce anger and hostility, and help alleviate depression, while DHA helps to reduce stress. You should eat plenty of oily fish too but to match the dose used in scientific research, you need to take 2,000mg of EPA and DHA per day.
Dehydration also causes brain shrinkage which has a negative impact on higher level functioning, and even mild dehydration causes inability to focus, fatigue, stress and headaches. Increase water, herbal teas and green leafy vegetables.
Both chronic and acute stress have a significant effect on your immunity, in fact there’s a whole field of science based on this link, called psychoneuroimmunology. Simply put, this means that when you are stressed you produce fewer of the cells that you depend on to keep you well, making you much more vulnerable to picking up infections.
Just a few days of stress has been shown to reduce the production of natural killer cells which help fight off viruses. Long term stress weakens your whole immune system, including the cells responsible for fighting tumours.
Working to reduce the impact that stress has on your body not only helps to make you feel better and perform better, it will also help to keep your immune system strong and prevent the coughs and colds that are common this time of year.
Stress is beneficial when it gets us out of bed ready to face the day, or gives us a buzz when we reach our goals, but if it’s making you irritable, moody and starting to impact on your sleep, immune system and ability to think clearly, then it’s time to start making changes before something blows!
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