There are many things you can do to help your body and mind stay calm and cope with elevated stress levels during the current global health crisis. Starting with strategies to support the foundation of your health is paramount when it comes to stress adaptation.
Get enough sleep.
Prioritize getting 7–8 hours of sleep each night. Sleep is when healing and repair occur in the body, so proper rest is necessary to be able to combat stress throughout your waking hours. Your brain releases the hormone melatonin to help you fall and stay asleep. You can take melatonin in supplement form before bed to ease you into sleep with no habit-forming effects.
Proper nutrition can counterbalance the negative impact of stress by supporting your immune system, stabilizing mood, and reducing blood pressure. Choose whole grains to get your B vitamins, including pantothenic acid (vitamin B5); fruits and vegetables for their sugar-balancing fibre, vitamin C, and phytonutrients; lean proteins for a healthy immune system; and foods rich in omega-3 fats to combat inflammation.
Be physically active.
Exercise is an excellent way to reduce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and increase endorphins that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Regular exercise for 20–30 minutes a day can improve circulation, increase self-confidence, relax you, and help you feel happier. Engage in activities that you enjoy and can do at home if you need to, such as yoga, dancing, or circuit training.
Get outdoors for a brief break.
Fresh air is powerful and the beauty in nature is very grounding, whether you are walking down a tree-lined city street or hiking through a dense forest. Take five minutes outside to rejuvenate and reset the stress button.
Your body is composed of 60% water, so it’s no wonder that hydration is essential for healthy coping mechanisms to the stress response. You are also more likely to become dehydrated when under stress because your heart rate goes up and you breathe more heavily, causing a loss of fluids. Sip stress away with water and herbal teas, and avoid caffeinated or sugary drinks that can dehydrate you.
Balance blood sugar levels.
The most significant internal stressor is blood sugar fluctuation. Avoid refined sugars and processed foods that can cause spikes and drops in blood sugar, inducing unnecessary spurts in cortisol (the stress hormone). Minimize blood sugar imbalances by eating at regular times, incorporating protein with each meal, choosing low glycemic index foods, and increasing your fibre intake with whole grains or supplemental fibre.
Seek micronutrient support.
Physical and mental stress may cause the body to use up more vitamins and minerals – especially B vitamins and magnesium – contributing to stress-related health problems such as general malaise, fatigue, muscle tightness, and the inability to focus. Vitamins B5 and C are important for a healthy stress and antioxidant response. They are water soluble, which means your body doesn’t store them well and you need to consume them on a daily basis from whole foods and supplementation. It is harder to get adequate magnesium from food to counter what is lost while under stress. Try taking a powder form of magnesium citrate in warm water to support muscle tension and better quality sleep.
Adapt to stress with herbal support.
Adaptogens are a class of herbs that support your adrenal glands and improve your body’s ability to handle stress. Rhodiola and ashwagandha are examples of adaptogens. Nutrients involved in maintaining balanced brain chemicals include L-theanine and GABA; they support healthy neurotransmitter levels and provide a sense of calm.
Remember to breathe.
Deep breathing techniques can be very useful for reconnecting your body and mind and stopping the stress response. Set aside 10–20 minutes during the day to take deep breaths and consciously relax to bring awareness away from your worries and quiet your mind.