3 tips to help manage stress

Stress is a condition that increases the load on a system – on top of its normal capacity.

Stress that is short lived and mild can be healthy as it leads to adaptations. However prolonged or uncontrolled stress can have a negative impact, creating feelings of tension, overwhelm and depression.

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is responsible for the stress response. There are two parts to the ANS - the sympathetic and the parasympathetic – they are both constantly in play, regulating our involuntary functions such as digestion, blood pressure, heart rate, tissue repair and immune system.

Our Sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as “Fight or Flight” - when it is active our body is flooded with adrenal hormones, heart rate goes up and energy is released to the large muscles groups ready for us to fight or run away – this is very useful if we can actually want to go for run - but not very useful if we are sitting at a desk, or in traffic.

The opposite side of the nervous system, the para-sympathetic is activated by the vagal nerve and is referred to as “Rest and Digest” it triggers the metabolism/digestion, immune system function, regeneration of cells and detoxification. Heart rate variability (HRV) is used to measure the tone of the vagal nerve, and is a marker of sensitivity to stress. There are ways to measure your HRV – and it is built into devices such as Garmin watches, and then returned as “stress measurement” to the user.

In order to maintain physiological balance in the body, known as homeostasis, both branches of the ANS are necessary for our survival. In terms of keeping our body alive and healthy, one branch protects us from dangers from without (sympathetic) and the other branch from dangers from within (vagal/parasympathetic). High HRV is an indicator that your body is responsive to both sets of inputs (sympathetic and parasympathetic) and that you are capable of adapting to your environment and performing at your best. Tracking your HRV is an excellent metric to use as part of your overall fitness.

Negative consequences arise when stress is persistent and the Sympathetic system is dominant. Overproduction of adrenal hormones (mostly cortisol) evokes a pathological effect on cognition, growth, reproduction, immunity - and in the long term can lead to chronic disease such as diabetes, and heart disease.

So what can you do?

1. Learn to active your Para-sympathetic nervous system and reduce the dominance of the sympathetic nervous system.

· Effective and immediate is breathing - make your exhalation longer than your inhalation, you can do this periodically throughout the day – perhaps when waiting for a meeting, a coffee, or a friend to arrive – instead of checking your phone

· Mindfulness throughout the day - take a few seconds at the beginning of each new task to focus on what you are doing.


2. Increase Heart Rate Variability to improve Vagal nerve tone

· Balance of Macro nutrients at every meal – at least 20% calories from protein

· Nutrient dense diet and variety in your diet

· Balance of Cardio and strength/resistance training

· Reduce: alcohol intake, processed foods, chemical toxins – artificial colours, flavours, - as these reduce the body’s ability to detoxify

· Improve Sleep quality (reduce blue light to increase melatonin reduce cortisol)

· Increase time spent in nature

· Develop relationships for social and emotional support


3. Supplement with essential nutrients to support your nervous system

Whilst these essential nutrients can be gained from your diet, when you are under constant stress they are “used up” at a greater rate, short term supplementation is a excellent way to help you manage stress

· Magnesium - essential for energy production and stress management and sleep

· Taurine /B vitamins – help manage stress response

· Fish Oils - reduce inflammation and improve cognition

· Vitamin D – bone health and mood regulation


This article was written by nutritionist Tamara Madden from www.madonnutrition.com.au

Tamara can be reached at tamara@madonnutrition.com.au - please ask her if you would like some help choosing supplements, she can set you up an online account for practitioner prescribed supplements.