Physiology of Stress – AKA What’s Happening in my Body?
Noticing that feeling of your heart beating faster, you’re suddenly sweating and your breathing quickens? These are signs that your stress response has kicked in.
Our stress response is designed to keep us safe, sadly it hasn’t evolved at the same rate as modern society. In the past, if the body sensed danger, our parasympathetic nervous system kicked in for survival. To escape from a predator or survive during a famine. Now, more often than not, we’re getting worked up about presentations to senior executives, passive aggressive emails or having to share a “fun fact” about ourselves during an ice breaker exercise.
Not only are we dealing with the above, psychosocial stressors, we also need to consider the physical and physiological stressors our body is dealing with:
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Low Blood Sugar
- Poor Sleep
- Pain conditions (old injuries, migraines, endometriosis, fibromyalgia)
What Happens in the Body When Stressed
A stressor will trigger the brain to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is designed to get the body ready to run, fight or hide. This leads to an increase in blood flow to our brain and muscles. The body also mobilises glucose into the bloodstream (we need energy for all that fighting we need to do)! However processes non-essential for survival get reduced resources – primarily the digestive system, the reproductive system and the skin barrier.
Physiology of burnout
The issue we face is that when we live in a state of chronic stress, we are literally in survival mode and the body doesn’t have a chance to function optimally. Our adrenal glands, which are responsible for the production of our main stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol, have a safety mechanism. The body does not deal well with cortisol constantly flying all over the place so we can get to a stage where the body will down regulate the production of our stress hormones – hello burnout. I like to tell my clients that they are on standby mode; you’re functioning, the body is doing what it is designed to do, but we need to work out what we need to power up again.
Something we don’t talk about enough is that there are different stages of burnout – before you reach exhaustion, there is a stage where you are running on stress hormones, have frenetic energy and won’t have a cold or any kind of illness for a long time. You might feel like you are SUPER productive and buzzing on stress hormones, but your body can’t sustain this and you might start having issues getting to sleep and become more and more reliant on caffeine – listen to these signs.
Blood Sugar Balance + Beating the Slump
One of the biggest pieces to get in place to support the body during times of stress is to eat to support blood sugar regulation. If you’re noticing post lunch lethargy, take a look at what you had for your lunch. Make sure that your meals are balanced – by this I mean that they are made up of protein, healthy fat and carbohydrate. Balanced meals help to slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream after a meal and contribute to balanced mood + energy throughout the day. Our blood sugar and stress response are closely tied up together, if we’re eating foods that contribute to big spikes and slumps in our blood sugar, the stress response starts to get involved. No thanks, it has enough on its plate as it is.
3 Ways to Support Your Body (and Team) Through Stressful Times
Don’t skip breakfast friends 🍳
When blood sugar drops too low your stress response kicks in to bring it back up again. A balanced breakfast avoids this. A Breakfast Wrap Box is an ideal addition for a team meeting and it hits all those components you need for a balanced brekkie.
Balanced meals for the win 🏆
Protein + healthy fat + carb = balanced. Balanced meals help to reduce blood sugar spikes and therefore also slumps after eating.
Circadian rhythm support ☀️
Stress can impact our sleep. Something that is really helpful is as much exposure to natural light close to waking as possible. Why not take a walk + talk catch up with a colleague – you can grab a coffee from Pure to brighten your morning even further!
If you want to talk about superfoods, I don’t think we hear enough about broccoli. This vegetable is absolutely packed with vitamin C – which we need in truckloads when the body is managing with stress. It’s also brimming with liver loving compounds that support the healthy breakdown of hormones (yes, there IS an unhealthy way to break them down).
Pure’s Crudite Box contains broccoli along with some of my other favourite veggies, along with a big pot of houmous for dipping. Delicious, crunchy and a perfect accompaniment to your main meal!
Takeaway Health Tip
Meal Timing to Support Stress
As you might have gathered by now, blood sugar regulation and the stress response are tightly linked. When the body is stressed, it is key that we don’t leave long gaps between meals as this can contribute to low blood sugar and the stress response swoops in to release cortisol and increase blood glucose.
Try leaving a maximum of 4 – 5 hours between meals. If you know you’ll struggle (particularly between lunch and dinner for most of us) then grab some Protein Powerballs from Pure or another protein dense snack that will support you throughout the afternoon.