How to destress naturally: top lifestyle and nutrition tips for reducing stress

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Stress is a much talked about subject.  In small doses it can be motivational but frequently it is detrimental to our health and needs to be managed. 

It can be difficult to eradicate stress completely but there are some nutritional and lifestyle changes that you can make which can help.

This Stress Awareness Month Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer tells us how.

Feel alive with Vitamin B5

The family of B-vitamins complement each other really well.  However, vitamin B5 stands out from the crowd when it comes to managing stress.

Vitamin B5, also called pantothenic acid, is needed to effectively produce our stress hormones (namely cortisol and DHEA) from the adrenal glands.  Our natural ‘fight or flight’ response is an essential bodily function, providing us with the motivation and energy to deal with difficult situations. However, the body doesn’t like to be in this state too much.  Too much stress depletes production of these hormones over time, which can make us feel more agitated and stressed.

Foods,Highest,In,Vitamin,B5,(pantothenic,Acid).,Healthy,Food,Concept.

Foods such as mushrooms, meat, dairy produce, beans, lentils and nuts and seeds are great sources of vitamin B5 and can better help the body deal with stressful events.

Cut down on the agitators

We often reach for alcohol or sugary treats when the going gets tough.  However, these are stimulants, which release adrenaline, kicking off the stress response.  This then produces the opposite effect of what we actually need which is to feel calmer.

If life is stressful, then the body needs to be treated calmly. Green tea does contain a little caffeine but also has some theanine, a calming amino acid, so try to make some swaps from fully loaded caffeinated drinks.

shutterstock_391949488 green tea Nov16

Additionally, there are many very acceptable non-alcoholic beverages around now, so you don’t have to feel you’re missing out. And why not save the sugary snacks for one treat day per week?  Your body will thank you for it.

Make an achievable plan

Many of us write a daily job list and this can feel overwhelming because there is often far too much on the list to be achieved sensibly in one day.  However, why not break each challenge down into much smaller tasks, so that one big task looks much more achievable?

shutterstock_243120193 woman writing in note pad diary Feb17

It’s always a good idea to write things down that either need to be done or that are causing stress.  And then sit quietly with the list and see what is realistic without being over ambitious in what can actually be completed.  Just by listing things rather than it all spinning around in your head, can make everything seem rather more doable and less stressful.  Plus, it’s a great feeling when you can cross things off the list.

Get some help from nature

Nature has provided us with a wealth of health, from nutrient-packed foods to herbal helpers. Top of the herbs list are ashwagandha, ginseng and rhodiola, which are all adaptogenic herbs.  This means they support the body to better cope with stress, helping you feel calmer and more in control.

shutterstock_390988804 green leafy vegetables Dec16

Additionally, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Pak Choi are great sources of the mineral magnesium, which helps muscle relaxation.  If you find switching off in the evening difficult, then make sure you include some of these veggies in your evening meal to help calm the mind and body.

Exercise your stresses away

Exercise can be a great way of alleviating stress for many people.  And whilst some of us might find doing a big workout in the gym most effective, others may opt for a gentle stroll in the fresh air to blow away stress.  Do whatever works for you: if adrenaline is powering through your veins, it needs an outlet and taking some form of exercise can really do the trick.

shutterstock_218997220 woman walking trainers Mar18

Another effective way to reduce stress is to do some exercise where you have to concentrate on the game (such as tennis or even table tennis). This keeps your mind distracted from any mental issues, helping the brain unwind and re-set.

So, whilst we can’t completely avoid stress in our lives, we can hopefully minimise its impact with a few lifestyle changes.

Stay well.

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

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Five top tips for a peaceful night’s sleep

Woman asleep in bed

We all long for a restful night’s sleep and to wake up feeling fully refreshed.  But, how much attention do we really pay to our sleep hygiene? 

Are we really giving ourselves the best opportunity of getting some good shuteye?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for ‘cleaning-up’ your bedtime routine.

Your day is as important as your night

What you eat and drink during the day has a massive impact on how well you sleep.  For example, if you’re overloaded with caffeinated or fizzy drinks, or alcohol, these are all sleep disrupters.  It’s best not to have anything caffeinated or stimulatory after lunchtime.  Whilst the effects of caffeine may wear off after a few hours, they have a lasting effect on blood sugar balance which will stimulate stress hormones, keeping you more awake.

A glass mug of coffee alonsgside some biscotti

Additionally, drinking alcohol during the evening (or even throughout the day), may make you feel drowsy at bedtime, but it will still disrupt your sleep.  Waking in the middle of the night is pretty normal after a ‘heavy night’ again partly due to imbalanced blood sugar levels and dehydration.

Stress can keep you awake

Most of us lead busy and, often, stressful lives.  However, it’s how we deal with stress that has the biggest impact on how well we sleep.  If you’re constantly juggling during the day, then your adrenal glands that secrete stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, require some support to help you feel more balanced and calmer.

A range of fruits and vegetables

To work effectively, the adrenals need plenty of vitamin C, found in most fruits and vegetables.  Therefore, make sure you’re eating plenty of colour every day.  The more stressed you are, the more vitamin C you’ll burn.  Additionally, the family of B-vitamins, especially vitamin B5, is key to good adrenal function.  Include plenty of fish, eggs, broccoli and legumes in your diet – all especially rich in vitamin B5.

Take some herbal helpers

There are several herbs, known as adaptogens, which balance the body and help support it through stressful times as well as regulate sleep patterns.  The herbs ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng will all provide great help at getting sleep back on track.

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Sleep patterns can often be disturbed because cortisol levels are too high in the evening.  In these cases, cortisol maybe low in the mornings (when it should be higher) which is why some people struggle to get out of bed.  Adaptogenic herbs are effective at getting stress hormones back into good balance.

Adopt a regular routine

Just as the body loves (and needs) to be fed regularly, it craves a regular sleep pattern.  Sleep is essential for the body to rest, repair and detoxify.  The body is much better able to complete all these functions if it’s used to a regular routine.  For example, try to go to bed at roughly the same time each night and get up at the same time.

CLose up of an alarm clock and a woman getting out of bed to represent getting up at the same time every day

Good sleep hygiene means trying to achieve seven or eight hours of sleep per night.  If this is a struggle for you because you wake early, then find a sleep or calming app that you can use if you find yourself waking too early.Try to resist the urge to get up, just because you’ve woken up.  You can re-train your body, it just takes a little patience and perseverance.

Don’t sleep with electronics

Falling asleep in bed with your laptop, tablet or phone is definitely not good sleep hygiene. Research suggests that emissions from electronic devices can have a negative effect on the body.  Try and keep electronic devices out of the bedroom and resist the urge to use them in the hours leading up to sleep too. Blue light keeps up awake, so it can have an adverse effect on how easily you can fall asleep.

CLose up of a woman relaxing in the bath reading a book, surrounded by candles

Instead, have a warming bath, maybe adding some Epsom salts, rich in soothing magnesium. Play some gentle music, spray some lavender on your pillow and grab your favourite book.  You’ll be amazed just how effective a strong bedtime routine can be when trying to get sleep on track.

Your body works hard for you so treat it to the best rest you can!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

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Natural ways to a stress-free Christmas

A woman relaxing at christmas with her eyes shut in front of a christmas tree

The lead-up to Christmas is traditionally a very stressful time of year.  There’s always so much to do and often many people to please. 

What you eat and how you plan your time can really help support your health and minimise stress, so you can fully enjoy the festive season.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three top tips for a stress-free Christmas.

Load up on magnesium

Nature has supplied us with everything we need in terms of nutrients.  The good news is that the mineral, magnesium, is especially calming.  Whilst magnesium is important for energy production, it’s also needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body.  This includes playing a role in the production of the brain’s neurotransmitters, especially calming GABA which decreases activity in your nervous system. Magnesium also helps manage the body’s normal stress response as well as aiding muscle relaxation.  No wonder it’s known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’!

A range of foods containing magnesium

Foods high in magnesium are going to become your best friends over the next few weeks.  Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and kale, wholegrains such as oats, almonds, dairy foods, beans, and meat should all be on the menu.  It may also be worth taking a magnesium supplement.  If you take it about an hour before bedtime, it can help you to sleep peacefully too.

Try some calming herbs

Just as nature has delivered us calming nutrients, it’s also delivered calming herbs. And there are many ways you can use them in meal preparation.

Clearly, time is a precious commodity right now, so spending hours in the kitchen is not on the menu.  However, basil is a tonic for the nervous system: it’s calming and can also help digestion.  Why not use it in an easy chicken pasta dish, using whole wheat pasta (which contains more magnesium and B-vitamins) or with mozzarella cheese and buffalo tomatoes drizzled with a little olive oil?  Two easy supper suggestions.

Mozzarella, tomato and basil salad

Camomile is a popular calming tea which is especially good before bedtime, as is mint tea which is soothing for the digestive system.  Additionally, rosemary adds a wonderful taste and aroma to many different dishes. Think roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, lamb, chicken, soups, or simply rubbed over chunky bread with a little olive oil.

A bunch of fresh rosemary and dried rosemary in a pot

Some herbs can act as both an energy stimulant as well as encouraging calm and relaxation.  They are known as adaptogenic herbs; ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng will all have this effect.  They are best taken in the morning in supplement form to help with energy levels, but because they manage the stress response, they body will also feel calm and better able to sleep.

Make time for relaxation

Unfortunately, we often push ourselves very hard at this time of year.  This can suppress immune function making us susceptible to all the nasty colds and bugs flying around, not to mention leaving us feeling low and tired.

The good news is there are many relaxation apps you can download and listening to them won’t eat too much time out of your day.  Meditation can take a little practice, but an app can really help guide you along the way.

Close up of a woman in lotus position meditating

The benefits of relaxation are far-reaching not just at this time of year but for long term health and longevity.  Try and allocate around 20 minutes a day. Just listening to a relaxation app and being still for a short time will refresh your body and mind.

It’s important to give back to the body what it needs.  While it’s working hard and functioning day to day, it’s easy to forget that the stress response uses up more nutrients (especially magnesium and the B-vitamins, which are essential for energy). Therefore, it should be properly fuelled with nutrients and lifestyle changes, so it continues to work as it’s best for you.

So, just a few small changes can make a massive difference to how well you cope over the next few weeks and can hopefully help you have a happier Christmas.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts