Stress of the modern age

Stress’ is a word that we hear more and more frequently in our modern age. The epidemic of stress is a growing concern and the implications that it has to our physical and mental health are dramatic.

The effect it can have on our food choices is astounding and the long term effects of high stress and poor diet combined are underrated and yet very much detrimental to our health. ‘Work related stress’ is at the forefront of factors that cause stress in our lives.

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Work, work, work

Work related stress and fatigue is defined as ‘the harmful physical or psychological reaction that occurs when people are subjected to excessive work demands or expectations’.

The statistics from the Labour Force Survey show that in 2014/15, stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health. The occupations and industries where stress is most prevalent are public service industries; such as education, health, teaching, business, media and public service professionals.

Symptoms of stress

The symptoms of stress are series and wide-reaching:

Anger, short temper, depression, anxiety, changes in behaviour, food cravings, lack of appetite, frequent crying, difficulty sleeping (physical and mental), feeling tired, difficulty concentrating, chest pains, constipation and/or diarrhoea, cramps or muscle spasms, dizziness, fainting spells, increased heart rate, irritations (rashes, eczema), nail biting, nervous twitches, pins and needles, feeling restless, a tendency to sweat, loss of interest in sex, muscular aches/tension, frequent viral infections such  as colds and flu, mouth ulcers and sores.

Stress should be taken very seriously, if not addressed and treated properly it can inflict long term illnesses. This can include, diabetes, depression, mental health problems, heart and cardiovascular problems and bowel/digestive problems.

Stress and diet

Under stressful, conditions the body consumes nutrients more rapidly than it would in normal circumstances.

These include:

B vitamins:  help the body to cope with stress as they they are involved in metabolism and control the nervous system

Proteins:  Assist in growth and tissue repair

Vitamin A: Essential for normal vision

Vitamin C: Protection of the immune system and lowers cortisol in the body.

Magnesium: helps with Muscle relaxation, fatty acid formation, making new cells and heart beat regulation.

In addition, being stressed can negatively impact on our dietary choices, as foods high in sugar and fat, the ‘junk and convenience’ foods, are craved. The irony is that these dietary choices put further pressure on our bodies as they use up more nutrients to be broken down than they provide, if they provide any at all. We become more nutrient deficient and thus less able to cope with the next round of stress than comes our way.

Unhealthy eating habits caused by stress

work related stress and fatigue_2

Certain unhealthy habits are made far worse by feelings of stress.

These include:

– Fast food intake
– Forgetting / Skipping meals
– Coffee (caffeine) intake
– Eating the wrong food types
– Taking up quick fix (fad) diets
– Constantly picking at foods

Following this way of eating can lead to:

– Negative hormonal side effects
– Weight issues
– Poor health and immune system
– Imbalance in blood sugar

Eating to combat stress

A balanced diet is key to protecting your body from the impact of stress, this includes three meals a day plus healthy snack. It is bad practice to go hungry!

– Complex Carbohydrates from wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, quinoa, oats

– Protein from meat, oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, sardines), chicken, lentils, dairy  (cheese, milk, plain natural yoghurt, eggs)

– Fats from nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts) and seeds, olive oil.

– Vitamins and Minerals from rainbow coloured fruit and vegetables. Aim to include at least fist fist sized portions of fruit and vegetables a day (green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach should be consumed daily).

And remember, stay away from:

– SUGAR: Does not contain any beneficial nutrients. It is responsible for super high energy levels which are followed by super low energy. Avoid it!

ALCOHOL: Drains your B vitamin resources.

– CAFFEINE: Puts the body in a state of stress which depletes the B vitamin reserves when dealing with a problem. Caffeine can also make you hyperactive and nervous which has an affect on sleeping patterns.

Now that you understand stress, it’s causes, triggers and effects, you can consciously reach out and stop the stress cycle today.

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