Rooted resilience – navigating stress and overwhelm
To supplement or not to supplement? Many individuals ponder this question, often claiming that a well-balanced diet should be enough for all their nutritional needs. If only it were as straightforward as it sounds! The reality is that we all go through diverse stages in life which come with unique nutritional demands leading to increased nutrient needs.
Certain health conditions and medications may also hinder nutrient absorption, or we have dietary gaps or a higher demand for nutrients such as athletes or those who lead highly active lifestyles for example.
We also all come with a travel companion called stress that tends to accompany us on our journey albeit at various times throughout our lives. Thankfully, we have inbuilt mechanisms which we call the ’stress response’ to help us cope with the many challenges that we can face.
More than an emotional state
Our natural stress response is an evolutionary adaptation that has helped humans and other animals survive threatening situations. When the body receives the signals from the brain that we are in danger it starts a cascade of events that prepares the body to either deal with the threat it is faced with or flee from it, this is what has been termed the ‘fight or flight’ response. The brain sends signals to the hypothalamus which then activates the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands to release the appropriate chemical messengers such as the hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
This results in increased blood pressure, the release of stored glucose from the liver and muscles, turning fatty acids into energy as this can then help prepare our body especially the muscles, to get us out of the way of any danger.[i]
This system is known as the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), which is how our primal instinct helps us navigate threats, and when the threat is dealt with or removed, chemical messengers signal us to return to calm or normal homeostasis.
Acute stress vs chronic stress
Fight or flight responds to moment-by-moment threats, however, it is important to distinguish between acute stress which prepares the body for rapid action to get out of danger to a repeated, long-term stress response which, over time alters our ability to adapt. The long-term stress response can trigger changes in metabolism, and affect our cardiovascular, immune, digestive, and hormonal systems which result in symptoms such as:
- Blood pressure changes
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Hormonal issues
- Mood changes
- Anxiety and palpitation
- Digestive issues
- Sleep irregularities and so much more
Whilst we can respond to stressful events, it is not always the sudden dramatic events that floor us but the quiet insidious build-up of modern living that takes its toll over time. We are living with information overload, relentless connectivity, social pressures, a faster pace of life, juggling family and work, and financial worries. This can all lead to a state of burnout, which is defined as a maladaptive response to chronic unresolved (or ongoing) stressors.[ii]
Breaking the cycle of stress
When we are in a state of fight or flight or burnout, it can be difficult to change our poor eating habits initially as this is where we often find comfort. Adding a supplement(s) can be beneficial, especially where fatigue, sleep issues, anxiety and cravings feature strongly.
What type of supplement to take and dosing will depend on factors such as age, symptoms, nutrient reserves, current diet and lifestyle, energy levels, digestive health etc. There are certainly several supplements that could be considered during times of high stress or feelings of being overwhelmed which include:
- B Vitamins
- Vitamin C
- Saffron and other adaptogens.
- Magnesium, potassium, and other electrolytes minerals.
Supplementing may help with calming, sleep and bridging the gap in our diet as our nutrient demand increases, however, it is important we make some modifications to our lifestyle where we can otherwise it is like putting sellotape over a leaky bucket, it will only hold for a short time.
Working on our sleep routine, relaxation, mindfulness, boundaries, reframing, and other practices such as reconnecting to nature can be powerful and effective.
Ecotherapy – nature’s therapeutic power
Taking time out to share our energy with nature has been shown to reduce psychological stress whether that is a day on the beach, a walk in a forest or sitting in a green area exposed to natural light. Studies have shown that as human beings develop in natural environments they naturally become more therapeutic to human health and well-being. Running outdoors instead of a treadmill, walking in nature instead of an urban environment and sitting in forest environments offer us greater levels of restoration. [iii]
Embracing nature can offer immediate results and for most people, they can integrate this into their life more readily than initial dietary changes. It can be as simple as sitting outdoors in a park, or in the garden, opening the windows and allowing as much natural light in as possible.
The World Health Organisation stated that stress is the ‘health epidemic of the 21st century as it has now become a major concern of the modern era[iv]. Here in the UK, November has a national stress awareness day in the UK, which serves to highlight the overwhelming stress of everyday life, especially on mental health.
Nurture from nature is a powerful antidote to the stress and overwhelm of modern life, it should not be seen as a luxury but more of a timeless sanctuary that mother nature has gifted us to help us navigate and thrive through our life’s journey amidst its many twists and turns.
[ii] Khammissa RAG, Nemutandani S, Feller G, Lemmer J, Feller L. Burnout phenomenon: neurophysiological factors, clinical features, and aspects of management. J Int Med Res. 2022 Sep;50(9):3000605221106428. doi: 10.1177/03000605221106428. PMID: 36113033; PMCID: PMC9478693.
[iii] Ewert A, Chang Y. Levels of Nature and Stress Response. Behav Sci (Basel). 2018 May 17;8(5):49. doi: 10.3390/bs8050049. PMID: 29772763; PMCID: PMC5981243.
[iv] Singh A, Arora M, Sharma V, Kotwal A. Stress: Prevalence and correlates among residents of a suburban area. Ind Psychiatry J. 2019 Jan-Jun;28(1):98-102. doi: 10.4103/ipj.ipj_33_18. Epub 2019 Dec 11. PMID: 31879454; PMCID: PMC6929229.