5 Simple Ways To Manage Stress
Published on: 28 May 2021
A life absent of stress is almost unattainable in our fast-paced society. While reducing our stressors can be hugely valuable, and something we should endeavour to do, at times this is beyond our control. One thing we can control however, is how we respond and learn to cope with the stress in our lives. Rather than aiming to completely eliminate our stress, we must adapt and find the calm within the chaos.
First, let’s begin by understanding the impact of stress on our body. Whether it be emotional, mental, physical, biochemical or of environmental cause - stress all feels the same to the body. Whether you’re running late and stuck in traffic, under pressure with work deadlines, getting chased by a wild animal or even if you’ve overdone it with the coffees - it all elicits the same response from the body. Our body cannot differentiate between life-threatening stress and the modern day stress we feel from work pressures, relationships, and the fast-paced lifestyles we lead. Different situations may cause more or less of a stress response, but essentially the underlying mechanism is the same: an elevation in stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and a redirection of blood flow to our arms and legs - an involuntary mechanism so that we can run away from things that might kill us. This is the “fight or flight” nervous system.
When our stress response is activated, the body switches from our parasympathetic nervous system or “rest and digest” to our sympathetic nervous system or “flight or fight.”. This way of operating demands an increased energy supply. Our body moves away from burning fat (a more slow-release source of energy), to our fast fuel system of burning carbohydrates. This means overworked adrenals, depleted nutrients and sugar cravings..things we definitely don’t need after weight loss surgery. When we live in this high stress state for a prolonged period of time we become more at risk of more serious complications such as hormonal imbalances, high blood pressure, mental illnesses, and weight gain; the things we tried to contain or eliminate by having bariatric surgery in the first place.
It’s important to acknowledge however, that stress isn’t all bad. Our stress hormones are not only essential for our survival, but they also help us to keep alert and motivated. It’s our natural peak of cortisol in the morning that helps us to get out of bed. Having no stress in this day and age would be unrealistic and likely unproductive. Rather, we need to channel this stress in a constructive way and keep it from getting out of hand.
Some steps you could take to help improve your stress management include:
Incorporate a breathing practice into your daily routine. This could be in the form of meditation, or simply taking 10 deep belly breaths at the most stressful time of your day. Studies have shown that diaphragmatic breathing may be effective in reducing cortisol levels and improving mental function. You’ll be surprised at how simple and fast-acting this is to ease tension.
Consider a magnesium supplement. Magnesium is involved in many different stress and energy pathways in the body, one of which being the production of our calming neurotransmitter, GABA. Magnesium may also help to relax muscles and support a more restorative sleep.
Ensure your body is getting an adequate supply of nutrients such as B vitamins and minerals. B vitamins are water soluble vitamins which are involved in many stress and energy pathways in the body. When we are stressed, these nutrients are more readily depleted and on top of this, absorption of these can be limited at times due to your surgery. This can mean there are less resources left over for other important processes such as sex hormone production, and over time put us at risk for nutrient deficiencies.
Ensure you’re getting quality restorative sleep. Various studies have highlighted the association between poor sleep quality and higher perceived stress and even weight gain. Sleep is fundamental in allowing our bodies to repair and regenerate. Adequate sleep is essential not only to help us cope better with stress, but also to feel energised, have a healthy immune system, and optimise overall health and wellbeing.
Go easy on the coffees. Every time we have caffeine, it stimulates our adrenals to produce stress hormones. If your daily routine is already enough to get these pumping, you probably don’t need the extra help. While coffee might seem like the lifeline getting you through the day, you might consider reducing your intake and seeing how you feel. I recommend delaying your first coffee by at least one hour, to let your cortisol do it’s natural peak and dip - this way you’ll get more out of your coffee without overstimulating your adrenals. If you have to have a second one, also have it in the morning as caffeine can take hours to break down in the body and any later in the day may have an impact on your sleep. Lastly, remember that caffeine interferes with the absorption of calcium; another good reason to limit your intake.