The need to travel elicits different reactions in different people. For some people, thoughts of travel cause tremendous stress and anxiety as there is a concern about claustrophobia, air pressure, worries about forgetting to take medication at the prescribed times, concerns about making it to the airport or train station on time, jet lag, fear of forgetting something important at home and a multitude of other concerns. Let’s take a closer look at what stress is and ways that stress can be combated with the proper nutrients.
What is Stress?
Stress is a response that is geared towards protecting our well being, both inside and out. It is a necessary response as the body is constantly adjusting to changes in our moods and surroundings. We employ what is known as the “fight or flight response” when something (anything at all) threatens our existence in any way. This response has been part of the body’s response since the beginning of time. Adrenalin starts pumping as our body prepares to deal with the stressful situation we are presented with. The heart rate increases as does blood pressure and breathing becomes more rapid. We have engaged what is referred to as the “stress response” at this point in time.
What was described in the paragraph above is what is known as positive stress because our bodies are preparing themselves to react to a threat or a challenge put upon us. Positive stress is normal and inherent. On the other hand, negative stress is when a person feels that he or she is no longer able to cope with a life situation and the pressure has simply become too much to handle. All in all this breeds feelings of being out of control and extremely fearful for the outcome of what appears to be an impossible situation.
There is no such thing as a life free of stress. It would seem welcome but it is impossible. To live in this world is to feel the effects of stress. However too much stress in the wrong direction (i.e. negative stress) can cause serious health complications, in particular by disabling the overworked immune system. Research has shown that a very high percentage of sicknesses are in one way or another, related to the negative side of stress.
Symptoms of Stress
Stress leaves a trail of symptoms, some physical, others emotional, and still others, relationship oriented. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Physical Symptoms of Stress
There are many physical manifestations of stress. Some symptoms also spring from other physical illnesses while many can simply arise because of the stress. These symptoms include sleep disturbances, tension or migraine headaches, eating disorders, weight loss or gain, a host of stomach problems (such as acid stomach or upset stomach, gas, heartburn, cramps or irritable bowel syndrome), constipation or diarrhea, fatigue and hair loss. Other symptoms include neck, back or shoulder pain, muscle tension, irregular heartbeat, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, chest pain, sweaty palms, shortness of breath or the onset of asthma, cold hands or feet, jaw pain or periodontal disease, skin problems (such as eczema, hives, excessive itching, dry skin, psoriasis and tics), reproductive problems, inhibition of growth development (in children) and finally, a higher susceptibility to catching head colds, bronchitis, flu, and other respiratory related infections.
Emotional Symptoms of Stress
Many emotional indicators of stress can be as bad as physical symptoms. Sometimes they are worse as they can be more easily hidden and are sometimes more difficult to diagnose. Emotional responses to stress can wreak havoc in many areas of your life including family, friends, other personal relationships, and performance at work and/or school. These symptoms include high levels of anxiety and nervousness, moodiness and depression, frustration and a tendency towards irritability, butterflies in the stomach, phobia and substance abuse (alcohol or drugs). Other symptoms include difficulty concentrating on tasks, an inability to think and reason clearly, problems remembering simple things, inappropriate reactions to situations and feelings of one’s life spinning out of control.
Relational Symptoms of Stress
The delicate balance of many types of relationships is often upset when a person is struggling under a tremendous amount of stress. Family and personal relationships are sometimes pushed to the near breaking point and work situations often become problematic. These relationship oriented symptoms include a lack of interest in social activities, an argumentative state, conflicts erupting with employers and/or co-workers, domestic violence, overreactions to ordinary, everyday problems of life, job hopping and sometimes even incidences of road rage.
What Causes Stress to Occur?
Events and/or situations in and of themselves are not stressful; instead it is a person’s perception of them that triggers the stress response. Stress comes about when a person believes they are facing a threatening or tension-filled situation such as a job interview or a heart to heart talk with a parent, spouse or child. Stress also derives from situations that are perceived as difficult to handle or meet the challenges of, such as a first date. Generally the higher expectations you have for the outcome of an event, the higher level of stress you will experience. Learning not to over think or overanalyze a situation is a step in the right direction to eliminating a certain degree of the stress involved. Also sometimes lowering expectations is the healthier way to go. The sayings “Aim high!” or “Shoot for the stars!” cannot realistically be applied to all situations, especially when the expectations cause needless amounts of negative stress. No one needs an extra burden of stress as most people have enough all ready.
How Nutrients Fight Stress
High levels of stress deplete your body of nutrients a little at a time. Help combat this problem by eating a balanced diet. Below are examples of dietary sources that you should consume on a regular basis to help keep you healthy, feeling good and looking terrific!
Studies have shown that calcium regulates heart rhythm and plays a key role in muscle and nerve function. Stress reduces the body’s ability to absorb calcium. To help alleviate this problem, try eating smaller, more frequent meals and cut back on caffeine to help boost absorption.
Dairy products, almonds, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, kidney beans, sardines and tofu
Walking hand in hand with calcium is magnesium. If you want to encourage restful sleep make sure to get enough magnesium. This mineral helps to relax your nerves and muscles. It has also been shown to ease migraine headaches, muscle tension, nausea and depression, all of which can occur as a result of stress.
Bananas, black beans, chard, figs, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, spinach, squash and walnuts
The complex carbs found in whole grains boost energy and vitamin B6 levels. Vitamin B6 blocks disruptions to the immune system and triggers the release of the “feel-good” neurotransmitter serotonin.
Whole grains, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, legumes and oatmeal
Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and are packed with phytonutrients which fight free radical damage and are essential for a healthy, well functioning immune system. Something to keep in mind is that baked potato skins are loaded with dietary fiber, which helps the digestive tract run smoothly and also wards off stress-induced problems such as stomach cramps and diarrhea.
Potatoes (as previously mentioned), cabbage, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, strawberries and sweet peppers
This essential fatty acid promotes heart health and reduces blood pressure. It can combat fatigue, poor concentration and depression. It is important to bear in mind that moderation and variety reduces your risk of mercury intake from fish. Canned tuna has relatively low levels of mercury in it (“light” contains less mercury than “white” albacore tuna).
Tuna, salmon, halibut, herring, flax seeds, dark leafy green vegetables and nuts
Pure, uncooked plant oils are essential for heart health, hormone production, nerve impulses and energy. Insufficient fat in the body negatively affects the immune system and has been linked to anxiety, depression and mood disorders. It is important to note that oxidation from air or heat exposure alters the molecular structure of a fat. Therefore it is wise to toss out any oils that smell bitter or rancid. When in doubt, throw it out!
Beef, chicken, olives, eggs, avocadoes, canola and olive oil