Building Resilience Through Lifestyle Management
In part 1 and part 2 of this series on stress, we looked at the common effects that stress has on our physical and mental health as well as the close connection between the main stress hormone, cortisol, and our immune system. We looked at the management of stress as an investment in our personal lives and long-term goals, but also as an investment for businesses and corporations; an opportunity to improve upon performance and productivity while developing a positive culture and improving talent retention.
Lastly, it's about time we talked about what to do about stress, and how to develop resilience to stress. By nurturing our ability to hone these tools to maximize resilience, we can create the world we want to live in - personally, professionally, and also at the corporate level.
The Refuelling Principle
Within reason but as much as possible, try to wake up, eat, exercise, work and go to sleep at approximately the same times each day. Training your body to understand when to release specific neurotransmitters and hormones and to drive blood to the acutely required organs and tissues, while giving it predictable opportunities to recover from stress, is the first and most important step in managing cortisol release.
Improvements = Stress + Recovery/Adaptation
Any improvement, whether physical (ie. building muscle or burning fat), physiological, or mental/emotional is an adaptation of your body to a stress (whether you perceive it as positive or negative stress), and this only occurs when your body has an opportunity to rest and recover. Rest, routine and recovery enables our parasympathetic nervous system, which is also essential for optimizing digestion (more on this later), and allows us to shut down our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight, stress response).
Try the following tips for your next meal:
- Take 2-3 deep breaths before meals
- Put away your phone and other electronic distractions
- Try not to work through your lunch/ look at the computer monitor
- Actively think about the content of your meals
- No exercise right after meals
- Smell, taste and experience your foods as you prepare/cook them
Individualism in Relaxation Activities
Since every individual is unique, each person’s choices of ways to relax often differ. Whether it’s restorative yoga, dancing or painting, it is important to engage in relaxation activities that you prefer on a regular basis.
At the end of the day, chronic stress is unavoidable in the modern-day life. However, with the support of proper diet, supplementation and lifestyle tweaks, we can all keep our stress levels under control. Remember, it’s the little changes that will make the difference in the long run! The more you can take on from a (diet and) lifestyle perspective, the less you'll depend in external meals of management such as supplements and/or medications.
Blood Sugar Management
When we are under stress, the release of cortisol causes our blood sugar level to spike which in turn can result in weight gain and insulin resistance (potentially leading to Type-2 Diabetes) in the long run and caninduces more frequent sugar cravings. If you aim to regulate your blood sugar level throughout the workday, consider the following two macronutrients
Research has shown that increasing the daily protein intake helps to regulate blood sugar level and increases energy throughout the day. Examples of good dietary protein sources are:
- Non-GMO beans including soybeans (tofu), chickpeas, lentils
- Hemp seeds
- Fish, ie. cod, sockeye salmon
- Chicken breast
- Lean red meats
Dietary Soluble Fibre
Amongst other health benefits, incorporating dietary soluble fibre in meals has been proven to slow down the rate of which glucose/sugar enters into the blood stream post meals. Great sources of soluble fibre include:
- Legumes (such as beans and lentils)
- Apples (pectin content)
- Sweet potato & yam
- Chia seeds
Micronutrients in Stress
When we are under stress, the demand for micronutrients significantly increases. However, many people often go for low nutrient density "comfort" food under a stressed state especially due to ease of access. The following micronutrients should be considered when planning out the daily meals.
Reduces oxidative stress and aids in cortisol management. Examples of foods which are high in vitamin C are:
- Kiwi fruit
- Bell peppers
Magnesium mitigates the release of cortisol and other stress hormones, thus reduces the effects of chronic stress. Good sources of foods that contain magnesium are:
- Swiss chard
- Dark chocolate
- Pumpkin seed
- Black beans
This group of vitamins help the body fight against chronic stress through various ways such as helping the body to increase the ability to cope with stress. You can obtain B vitamins from many sources of whole foods including:
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Brewer’s yeast
- Red meats
Herbs that help us adapt to, and build resilience to stress, and/or have effects on cortisol release from our adrenals include:
These adaptogens give you a more energy and typically are excellent immune-boosters as well. These herbs may help us feel a bit stronger and powerful, but can also be over-stimulating if you are more "tired and wired", but are most effective when people are burned out and may be having episodes of depressed mood:
- Panax (Korean, Red) ginseng
- Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng)
These more "yin" herbs have a more calming, stabilizing effect and can help us stay more focused. They are best matched with people when we are thriving under pressure but crashing at the end of the day, and have a great deal of generalized anxiety:
- Ashwagandha (Withania, Indian ginseng)
- Skullcap (Scutellaria)
Think you're burned out?
We highly recommend dried urine testing for the purposes of assessing adrenal dysfunction. If you are looking to confirm adrenal dysfunction and/or establish a baseline measure, be sure to consult your experienced and licensed healthcare practitioner.
These modern tests are the new standard for adrenal function testing and have major benefits and advantages over blood, salivary and standard urine tests.
Catherine is a Holistic Nutritionist whose passion lies in educating and empowering corporate professionals to achieve optimal well-being. She designs and coaches her clients through individualized action plans which incorporate elements of diet, lifestyle and supplementation. Since life is a marathon not a sprint, Catherine’s mission is to show working adults how career and life goals can be achieved without sacrificing physical and mental health.
Dr. Jason Marr ND arms urban professionals and students of professional studies with the pragmatic tools to maximize performance, productivity and resilience. Using an evidence-informed, holistic and integrative approach, Dr.Marr is a productivity and performance coach for anyone who is striving to be awesome. He works best with executives and entrepreneurs who are also balancing the challenge of being or becoming a new parent.