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The Science of Stress

A scientific and practical look at stress management with certified health-coach

I’d like to ask you : what if you could change your lifestyle today and start feeling better tomorrow? Somehow this feels like it’s too good to be true, right? Contrary to your first impressions, I believe we can transform our overall health and mindset at any given moment. All you need are simple dietary and lifestyle changes.

Making the decision to get health back on track is a daunting task, I definitely see a lot of hesitation and fear in my clients when they decide to start working with me. Common concerns are : “Where do I begin?”,“What if I fail?”, and “Is this right for me?”. I’m here to let you know that getting started is the first step, and having chosen to read this article is a sign that you are on the right path. You got this! While diet and overall mindset is incredibly important for your overall health, I’d like to take the time to go through one of the main obstacles for living your best, healthy life : stress.

The Science of Stress

Did you know that over 75% of doctor visits are stress related? Take a second to let that sink in. It’s absolutely incredible that so many of the imbalances and diseases in our bodies are caused by our inability to slow down and release stress. Nature designed the brain to deal with only one lion roaring at us at a time. Not the entire jungle turning against us.

Before you can really tackle the obstacle of stress, it helps to know the science behind it. Here is a breakdown of our nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the ‘fight or flight’ nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system is the “rest and digest” nervous system - responsible for digestion and elimination and serves to regulate restoration, rebuilding and repair of the body as well as stimulates immune function at night while we are sleeping. The two work together to maintain homeostasis – this is the balance of internal physiological mechanisms essential for all living organisms.

It is important to realise that when the sympathetic nervous system is dominant, the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system are proportionately shut down, the body cannot deal with both at the same time.

Our nervous system is designed to provide us with the reflexes to ‘fight or flight’ when we’re in danger. Cortisol, adrenaline and glucose flood the bloodstream to give us a burst of energy to deal with threats. But these powerful chemicals are not meant to course through the body for more than a short time. If we’re truly in danger, we fight or run and then quickly recover, as the adrenaline and cortisol are reabsorbed into the body’s system and our breathing slows to normal.

When we’re chronically on high alert with our busy and often stressful lifestyle, experiencing overstimulation in our day to day life, watching anxiety-producing news reports, engaging in a poor diet, living off of coffee, paralysed with anxiety and constantly on our phones, unfortunately a return to relaxation doesn’t occur promptly for most people. The extended release of stress hormones have adverse effects on your body, causing inflammation, disrupting the natural balance required for optimal health, lowering your immunity defences, energy storage, digestion, speeding up the ageing process, and increasing the body’s susceptibility to illness.

Symptoms of a sympathetic nervous system dominance:

● Poor digestion and absorption of nutrients

● Increased fat storage and disrupted hunger cues

● Bloating

● Constipation, diarrhoea

● Anxiety

● Poor sleep

● Muscle tension

● Inflammation

● Poor immune system

● Orgasm/sexual inhibition

● High heart rate

● Restless/agitated

Stress-Reducing Practices

There is no doubt that nutrition is crucial for our overall well-being but until you manage your stressors, you won’t digest properly. Finding ways to activate the relaxation response is vital.

To do this, you will need to find and address the root cause that triggers the stress response. This is the most important thing to identify. To calm yourself while you figure this out, I like to do a practice called ‘Belly Breathing’. You can imagine what this looks like, right? The belly slowly rises and falls. The practice of slow, deep breathing informs the body that ‘it’s safe now’. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system and returns the body to a relaxed state of functioning: it helps to slow one’s heart rate, reduce anxiety and even lower blood pressure. This is also a great practice to do before eating as it gets you back into the ‘rest & digest’ state and may help with IBS symptoms.

Here is a great belly breathing exercise called the 4-7-8 breathing technique by Dr Weil, here is how to do it in a step by step breakdown:

Step One : Make yourself comfortable, either sitting up or lying down. Place one hand on your belly and another on your chest to feel your diaphragm as you breathe for a count of 4 seconds, breathe in through your nose, feeling your stomach push against your hand as air fills the deepest point in your lungs. Note that your chest should remain as still as possible. This helps train our bodies to breathe into our bellies instead of our chest when we take a breath.

Step Two : Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds

Step Three : Exhale through your lips for a count of 8 seconds while tightening your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward

Step Four : Repeat this cycle 3 to 4 times or as desired

Some easy, every day hacks for you to get to a better place with your nutrition are :

- Practise mindful eating – prioritise a 30 min slot for your meals, eat with no distractions, put your phone away (I know, easier said than done).

- Chew each mouthful of food until it is a liquid before swallowing to fully break down your food, this will allow proper release of digestive enzymes and nutrient absorption in your intestine for your body to function optimally. It will help your body relax and digest as much as possible. I know it can be difficult at first, especially if you’re used to eating quickly and multitasking at the same time, but it is worth it. Chances are, you will start noticing a difference in how you feel after meals.

- If you are the kind to lean towards comfort foods when stressed, have healthy snacks prepared in the fridge, foods you enjoy. Healthy doesn’t need to be boring, consider delicious chocolate protein balls, crudité and hummus, apple and almond butter, berries and Greek yoghurt, boiled eggs, nuts and seeds, a protein shake… time to get creative!

And here are a couple of practices to bring into your everyday life that will help with body, mind and spirit.

- Journaling is a great tool for stress relief, there is no wrong way to do it!

- Consider meditation : look for apps like Headspace, Calm or Meya (it is a Music app that goes beyond meditation) as well as guided meditations on YouTube, like Joe Dispenza. If you only have 5 mins, listen to Kylie Lewis, she instantly lifts your mood!

- Prioritise SLEEP! Make sure you’re getting 7-8 hours a night. Good sleep is also critical for stress and weight management. Try to establish a sleeping routine to unwind and relax – this is what works for me: take a warm shower or bath, light some essential oil candles in your bedroom, read a few pages of a book, practice belly breathing as you are about to fall asleep. I am also taking a “ Night Time” supplement with magnesium and natural herbs from “Together Health”, it works wonders! Honestly this sleeping routine has improved my sleep immensely. Give it a go!

Stress is a killer. Period. Take control of your stress and you will instantly be in a healthier place.

I would love to share my expertise on the other ways you can achieve your healthiest YOU. If you feel you would benefit from a Health Coach, book a complimentary consultation with myself, on my programme Life Style By Myriam Armstrong' Looking forward to helping you on your journey.


Myriam Armstrong

Certified Health Coach

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