It is Time to Relax
For many of us being constantly stressed feels like just a
fact of life. But for most of us, it
doesnít need to be. This article will
outline what you can do to minimise the stress in your life. It will also help you better handle the
stress that is inevitable.
Stress manifests itself in humans in many obvious ways, but
also in many pernicious ways. Anxiety,
sleep disorders and behavioural changes are all common and obvious results of
stress. But hormonal changes caused by stress can also lead to heart disease,
stroke and weight gain.
Minimising stress and leading a relaxed life is an ideal
goal, but it is simply a dream for many.
Even if you canít minimise the stressors in your life, there are some
steps you can take to minimise the negative
effect they have on your life.
In the coming weeks, we will be exploring some of the most
common negative effects of stress and how best to combat them and get on with
life. Topics will include Getting a Good
Nightís Sleep, dealing with anxiety and managing mood swings.
How to get a good
One of the first ways that stress manifests itself in humans
is that we have trouble sleeping. There
are many physical changes which occur within the body close to bedtime and we
need to help the body along. There are
two important hormonal changes. First,
stress causes the release of cortisol.
Cortisol has the title ĎThe Stress Hormoneí because we release large
amounts of it during stressful events.
But it is always present to some degree in the body, in higher amounts
during the day and lower amounts at night.
Here are some simple tips to increase your likelihood of
getting a good nightís rest.
1. Donít work in the bedroom. That includes
emailing and work phone calls. You want
your body to associate the bedroom with relaxation and if youíre working in bed
late at night, your stress hormone will remain high and your sleep hormone
(melatonin) will not rise the way it should.
levels are strongly influenced by
bright light. If you want to be asleep
by 11pm say, then you should start turning the lights down and surrounding
yourself with softer light at least an hour earlier. Your body will naturally react to this by
increasing melatonin levels. Youíll be
surprised at how much easier it is to fall asleep when you do put your head on
3. If there are major stressors in your life
that play on your mind at night, it is no wonder you canít get to sleep. But lying awake at night worried and tired
isnít going to solve anything. It is easy to say, but extremely hard to
implement in practice. Fortunately there
are some guide books and CDís which can help. Rick Collingwoodís
is an example as is Giovanni Lordiís
Toolbox 4 Life.
4. Cut out or cut down the alcohol. Alcohol is a crutch for the stressed the
world over. It is easier to get to sleep
after a few drinks but reputable studies have shown that your sleep quality is
reduced as you sober up through the night. The effects are more pronounced the
higher the intake. One to two drinks
doesnít seem to have a particularly negative effect. But in higher amounts the benefit of nodding
off quickly is eaten up by a more disruptive second half of the night. Additionally, the alcohol itself is doing you
damage and in higher doses may leave you hung-over.
5. Make yourself physically tired. Many workers with sedentary jobs are
mentally exhausted at the end of the day, but theyíve done very little physical
exercise. So the body isnít tired. This can lead to restlessness and trouble
sleeping at night. Studies have shown that people who do regular exercise also
sleep better. This is important because
it is counter-intuitive. If you arenít sleeping well, then you wake up tired,
the last thing on your mind is fitting in a workout.
Moreover, the prospect of cutting your
already inadequate sleep even shorter by getting up early for a workout seems
like insanity. But it works and it will start working immediately. With improved quality of sleep, you can get the same
amount or even slightly less, and yet start to feel more refreshed and
energetic every day.
There is a catch. Vigorous exercise within a couple of hours of
bedtime at night will stimulate the heart and muscles and increase core body
temperature, which will make sleep more difficult. So the key is to time your
exercise for earlier in the day. All the
other benefits of exercise will remain, and youíll benefit from an easier nightís
If you must occasionally exercise late at
night, reverse the normal pattern and donít exercise too intensely. Just go for
a walk around the neighborhood. It will be better than doing nothing, but
wonít negatively interfere with your sleep.
Get the right ingredients for sleep. The complex bio mechanics of the body require
the right ingredients. Here they are:
Vitamin B6. We mentioned melatonin (Ďthe
sleep hormoneí) earlier. The body needs
Vitamin B6 in order to produce it, so consuming foods rich in Vitamin B6 will
assist this process. Fish is a good source, particularly salmon and tuna.
Vitamin B6 can also be supplemented either on its own or in a
Calcium. Research suggests that if someone is
deficient in calcium, they may have trouble falling asleep. Calcium is easily supplemented through dairy
products or some excellent non-dairy options, such as
Similarly to calcium, there is some research that magnesium
deficiency adversely affects sleep. Cashews, beans, spinach and whole wheat are
all good sources of magnesium and may assist sleep for those deficient in
magnesium. Of course it can also be
supplemented with a product like Dr
Cabotís Magnesium Powder.
Carbohydrates. This is a tricky one. Consuming high Glycaemic Index (GI)
carbohydrates increases the tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan is a
sleep-inducing amino-acid. The effect is more pronounced as the ratio of high
GI food increases. There is still some
advantage gained when, for instance white rice is consumed with protein, as
opposed to brown rice with protein. But
for those watching their weight, higher GI foods may contribute to weight gain. A careful balancing act is required here and
individuals may want to experiment with the foods they eat and their weight to
decide what works for them.