The 3 Pillars Technique to Unwind from Stress and Anxiety.
It’s very natural to feel unusually stressed, anxious, frustrated or even a little low from the many challenges of these uncertain times. Nutritional Therapist Jackie Newson explains how The 3 Pillars Technique of diet, sleep and exercise are key to your physical and mental health and wellbeing. Now is the perfect time to upgrade your physical activity, review your quality of sleep and refresh your eating habits for a healthier lockdown lifestyle1.
Your New Year resolutions may have taken on a different meaning this year. Rather than learning a new language or starting a new hobby you are more likely to be wanting to find new ways to manage stress and depression. Familiar pastimes are reassuring and may keep you feeling more grounded as you explore ways to cope with your ‘new normal’.
When faced with an ongoing situation that you have no control over you may find it helps to take on a lifestyle strategy that makes the pressures of life work for you rather than against. The 3 Pillars Technique takes advantage of what mother nature has to offer and focus on modifying three fundamental areas of your lifestyle so you can experience an improved sense of wellbeing.
PILLAR 1 DIET - CHANGE WHAT YOU EAT!
Decades of research have shown that the chemistry and function of the brain is influenced by what you eat. Because so many nutrients play an important role in brain function, any small nutrient deficiency could result in a change in mood. But eating too many stimulants like sugar, alcohol caffeine and even processed foods also have a reputation for heightening stress in the body.
Sugar and stress
Sugar and foods high in refined carbs are broken down quickly, creating a rapid rise in blood sugar and spikes in insulin which triggers the release of stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol from the adrenal glands. These stress hormones instruct the body to temporarily release more sugar into the blood and this is how ongoing stress keeps you trapped in a constant see-saw effect on blood sugar imbalance, insulin and stress hormone rollercoaster ride which could impact your mood, energy and sleep.
Another common mood-food link is that foods which your body may have developed a sensitivity, intolerance or allergy to, may trigger an immune response in your gut initiating the release of neurotransmitters and digestive symptoms accompanied by lethargy, anxiety and depression. If this sounds familiar to you, then keeping a food and symptom diary is a quick and easy way to identify specific foods that may be affecting your sense of wellbeing.
Balance is key
There is no shortage of evidence to support the importance of maintaining a well-balanced diet for staying healthy. Eating a wide range of natural foods provides the variety of biologically active compounds found in food known to have a direct effect on the cells and tissues in the body. Some of these phytonutrients have been found to influence stress, mood and immune function in a positive way.
Many of these health-promoting phytonutrients are found in abundance in colourful fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices. So bringing more colour and flavour into your daily diet could do wonders for your health and wellbeing. If your diet is lacking in these fresh foods, then you could always turn to a nutritional supplement to help support your body’s natural ability to rejuvenate and manage the daily pressures of life more effectively.
Start menu planning and fill your days with foods that are shown to put a pep in your step and lift your mood. Eggs, nuts, seeds, turkey, cheese, tofu and salmon all contain tryptophan an amino acid needed to produce serotonin – a mood-lifting hormone.
To optimise the effects of serotonin it’s best to combine these foods with some carbohydrates like oats, potato or rice. The carbohydrate content promotes insulin release, which gives the tryptophan a better chance of reaching the brain where it can influence your serotonin levels.
Eggs and fish also contain taurine an amino acid that helps to calm or stabilize an excited brain. Taurine is similar in structure to the brains natural calming neurotransmitter GABA, which may explain its anti-anxiety effect. Taurine also reduces the release of the hormone adrenaline, helping to regulate stress.
Some mushrooms such as reishi, turkey tail, maitake and cordyceps are packed with protein and more importantly contain bioactive compounds which support the production of immune cells and are particularly useful during times of stress2. Medicinal mushrooms have been used for decades as an addition to standard health care in China and Japan3. These mushrooms are available dried for use in soups, stews, curries or even as a tea infusion or medicinal mushrooms are also as a supplement.
Swap your morning coffee and afternoon tea for a refreshing mug of green tea which is natural rich in L-theanine, another amino acid that influences mood and relaxation by increasing alpha brain wave activity. Studies show that green tea gets to work in as little as 30 minutes4! L-theanine is thought to support serotonin and dopamine, which lift mood, promote muscle relaxation and improve sleep.
A number of studies show that theanine helps with the physical aspects of stress including high heart rate and blood pressure5. Look for a good quality matcha green tea, which has the greatest percentage of L-theanine. Another herbal tea for maintaining serenity when life is challenging is liquorice root which may help regulate the stress hormone cortisol6.
Now more than ever we have become acutely aware of how important it is to keep a healthy immune system. Ongoing stress and eating a diet high in sugar, processed foods, alcohol and caffeine may compromise sleep and your immune system. Supplementing with nutrients that help support energy and immune function offers some reassurance during these stressful times.
Vitamin C - known to contribute to normal immune function and you can’t beat it in terms of affordability and ease of use. Vitamin C is widely available in an assortment of supplemental forms to suit everyone from young children to the elderly. Powder forms are generally inexpensive and can be easily be mixed into foods and smoothies. Powders also allow you to choose how large or small a dose you would like, without the inconvenience of taking multiple tablets or capsules.
Whilst you are looking after your immune health, you are also supporting a system that regulates your mood and stress levels because research shows that vitamin C contributes to normal functioning of the nervous system. Good food sources of vitamin C include peppers, strawberries, citrus fruits, blackcurrants, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes and parsley.
B vitamins - often recommended for the fitness enthusiasts since they support energy-yielding metabolism. Specific B vitamins such as vitamin B6, B12 and folate, also have an important role to play in the normal function of the immune system. A liposomal form of B complex vitamins gives you rapid results too, so is the perfect option alongside vitamin C for an immune partnership.
Vitamin D - If you really want to crank up the fight against seasonal bugs, look no further than vitamin D, a nutrient that is increasingly regarded as a front runner for immune defences. Studies show that vitamin D plays a key contribution to maintaining normal immune function. Popping a compact vitamin D3 spray in your pocket means you will always have some handy when the skies are grey and sunshine vitamin D is evading you.
When if comes to natural remedies to sooth your mood and mindset, mother nature has provided a wealth of choice from botanicals grown in all corners of the world. Harvested, dried, expertly extracted to concentrate the bioactive phytonutrients and crafted into tinctures, teas and capsules for your convenience.
Rhodiola rosea - also known as golden root, has been used in Russia for centuries to cope with the cold Siberian climate and stressful life. Russian research has shown that Rhodiola may support tolerance to physical and mental stress7. Rhodiola works on an area of the brain called the hypothalamus to increase resistance to toxins and stress. It is also thought to help support stamina and endurance and influence levels of the happy hormones, serotonin and dopamine8.
St John’s Wort – is recognised worldwide as the most reliable herb to help maintain healthy emotional balance and to support the nervous system8. St John’s wort has been valued for its therapeutic properties as far back as Roman times. It is one of the most popular and well-studied botanical extracts relating to mental health issues8. St John’s Wort is generally well tolerated, but those taking anti-depressants or contraceptive medications should avoid this herb as it may interfere with the medications.
Echinacea - This is a popular winter remedy that has been used traditionally for centuries, but in the last 20 years the focus has been on its immune supporting properties. Research suggests that echinacea contains compounds that support immune cell activity and may have mild antimicrobial factors. Some studies have found echinacea extracts may be therapeutically beneficial for the common cold by decreasing the severity and frequency of symptoms9.
Astragalus - An adaptogenic herb that is commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for fatigue, frequent colds and shortness of breath. Modern day research is focussed on its immune supporting polysaccharides, saponins and flavonoids. Currently Western health practitioners recommend Astragalus for its restorative action on the immune response9.
PILLAR 2 SLEEP – START A BEDTIME ROUTINE
The need for sufficient and good quality sleep is a basic biological drive as important as thirst and hunger and a vital part of life. Although it is often thought of as a passive activity, good quality and adequate sleep is now recognised as an essential aspect of health.
During sleep, repairs take place throughout the cells and tissues of the body and the brain takes a break to deal with any problems or stresses. If you don’t achieve a good night’s sleep, your ability to deal with stress is decreased and your mood and energy may be greatly impacted. Prolonged and severe lack of sleep has also been shown to impact the immune system12.
Establishing a consistent sleep pattern that allows for eight hours of quality rest each night can be transformational in terms of general wellbeing. What’s more, when it comes to maximising health benefits, sleep experts suggest that every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight13.
10 tips for deep restorative sleep
Avoid caffeine in cola, tea, coffee, chocolate and other energy drinks – it may keep you awake!
Eliminate alcohol – which interferes with REM sleep, causing sleep disruptions. Those who drink before bedtime often suffer from insomnia and feel excessively tired and sleepy the following day14.
- Go to bed at the same time every night, this helps establish a sleep routine.
- Use your bedroom purely for sleeping – this means no electronic devices, no screens, no phone, no TV!
- Keep your bedroom cool and well ventilated.
- Block out the light, keep your bedroom dark, invest in blackout blinds.
- Dips in blood sugar may make it hard to sleep or interrupt your sleep. A snack of oatcake and nut butter may help.
- Relaxation before bedtime - read a book, hot bath with Epsom salts and lavender oil to help relax your mind and ease tension from muscles.
- Many people find taking a magnesium supplement an hour before bedtime is helpful.
- Meditating, yoga or breathing exercises before going to bed or listening to relaxation music may help you drift off to sleep.
- Herbal secrets
Using alcohol as a sedative is definitely not a good idea but natural herbal remedies may just help you get off to sleep more easily especially if you suffer from insomnia.
Ashwagandha - another adaptogenic herb highly valued in Ayurvedic practice, shown to increase the body’s tolerance to various stressors. Ashwagandha is believed to be a natural nervous and musculoskeletal system tonic, helping the body to relax and sleep15. The benefits of this adaptogenic herb have been observed in a successful gold standard trial where individuals suffering from stress took 300mg of Ashwagandha daily for two months16.
Lemon balm – is a calming herb member of the mint family used as far back as middle ages to reduce stress and anxiety, to promote sleep improve appetite and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion.
Valerian – is thought to increase the brain levels of the neurotransmitter GABA. Multiple trials have shown that it significantly improves sleep quality and what’s more it is safe and does not lessen daytime alertness17.
Chamomile –contains apigenin which is believed to relax muscle and reduce anxiety, helpful calming effects for encouraging sleep19. Chamomile tea has been shown to improve sleep quality amongst women suffering from fatigue, insomnia and post-partum depression18.
Lavender – contain chemical constituents believed to interact with the olfactory system of the brain that controls the sleep-wake cycle19. Some studies have suggested that lavender soothes insomnia and improves sleep quality19,20. A few drops of lavender oil on a pillow may be helpful for encouraging deep, restorative sleep.
PILLAR 3 EXERCISE – TIME TO GET MOVING
There is nothing better for using up excess stress hormones than a good workout. Thousands of studies have identified that regular exercise helps combat chronic stress. Exercise is thought to improve mood by increasing circulation to the brain and releasing endorphins that promote feelings of euphoria and lift mood and energy1.
How much is enough?
The World Health Organisation recommends at least 2½ to 5 hours of moderate aerobic activity a week plus some muscle strengthening exercises on two or more days a week21. Recent research shows that short bursts of exercise throughout the day can be equally beneficial to health, as long as you reach a total of 30 minutes a day22.
Take the stairs
Something as simple as running up and down the stairs several times a day, can get your heart rate pumping. Research presented by the European Society of Cardiology has shown that if you can climb four flights of stairs (60 steps) in less than a minute, this indicates good heart health and means you are at a reduced risk of developing heart disease23.
Aerobic exercise may help against depression since it raises endorphin levels and stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine which is related to mood. A small study published recently in Psychological Medicine Journal (2020), showed that aerobic exercise was more effective at alleviating depressive symptoms in adults with major depression than simple stretching exercises24.
When embarking on a new exercise plan or stepping up the intensity of your existing workouts it’s good to be mindful that your muscles may benefit from the extra nutrition.
Magnesium - Adequate magnesium intake is particularly important if you’ve made a commitment to ramping up your exercise routine. It contributes to normal muscle function and protein synthesis as well as electrolyte balance, all of which are vital to get the best from your fitness sessions. Magnesium is a powerhouse mineral involved in over 300 metabolic reactions in the body and as your physical activity increases, so does your need for magnesium25,26.
Although magnesium is plentiful in many foods, as you up scale your exercise sessions you may not be reaching the levels your body really needs. In fact, research shows that people who take part in high-intensity exercise consume significantly lower amounts of magnesium than is required for additional physical exertion.
Adding a well absorbed liposomal form of magnesium to a diet rich in green leafy vegetables and whole grains is an easy fix. Liposomes offer rapid delivery and maximised absorption – just what you need for optimal muscle support.
Vitamin D - Although this sunshine vitamin is mostly associated with immune health, it also plays a vital role in the maintenance of normal muscle function. Vitamin D deficiency is common amongst those living in parts of Europe where exposure to sunshine during winter months is often minimal.
Older adults with darker skin are also at higher risk of a vitamin D deficiency. This is reflected in studies that show muscle performance in the elderly improves with additional vitamin D27. If you fall into any of these categories, you can maximise on the benefits of your exercise plan by supplementing with vitamin D3. The easiest way to support seasonal sunshine dips is with a handy pocket size oral vitamin D3 spray balanced with vitamin K2.
Zinc - One of the disappointing things about ageing is that muscle mass and strength diminish. The good news is a regular exercise routine can bring positive benefits. Challenging the muscles helps to build them up but you also need to produce a good supply of protein which requires a number of important nutrients including zinc.
Studies show that zinc contributes to normal protein synthesis, so if you’re an avid exerciser then packing zinc rich foods into your diet is a good idea. Zinc is mainly found in meat, eggs and seafood. Although wholegrains and legumes also contain zinc, these foods contain high levels of compounds called phytates, which inhibit zinc absorption28. Vegans who may be concerned about their zinc levels are encouraged to take a well-absorbed zinc acetate supplement.
New ways to be active
Exercise doesn’t have to mean joining a gym or taking up jogging there are many straightforward pastimes that are classed as exercise, housework for one, gardening another or taking the dog around the park a few times. Try to find something that fits in to your lifestyle. For exercise to be sustainable you need to love or at least enjoy what you do!
Jacqueline Newson BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy
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