This article was created by BlogHer for Nature Made.
While stress has always been inevitable, the events of the past calendar year may be causing you to experience it even more these days. Whether it’s the monotony of endless Zoom meetings or having to work from home while juggling your kids’ remote learning schedules, it has likely crept its way into your everyday life. With that in mind, BlogHer editorial director Nikki Brown sat down with Dr. Susan Mitmesser, Head of Scientific Research for Nature Made, for a discussion about stress and how to manage it during BlogHer Health. Ahead, Dr. Mitmesser explains what we should know about stress, and offers her expert advice for managing it.
There are two types of stress: acute and long-term
“When we have a stress response, that response is meant to protect our body,” Dr. Mitmesser says, “so you’re going to have an immediate reaction. That is acute stress; you can feel your heart racing, you can feel your muscles [get] tense.” An example of this, she says, is being startled by a dog while out for a walk. Your body’s way of responding may be to protect itself by running. Once you’re confident that you’re out of harm’s way, your heart rate eventually normalizes, as your body releases tension. “Chronic stress [on the other hand] happens from our day to day stressors,” she says. “Paying bills, responsibilities, jobs, hectic schedules…even being isolated at home for long periods of time can lead to chronic stress. When we ignore chronic stress, this can lead to long-term health [issues].”
Not all stress is bad
“Not all stress is negative,” Dr. Mitmesser says. “Stress can also motivate us; it can help us prepare and plan. It’s when you have chronic stress that [it] can have a long-term impact on your health.”
Look out for common warning signs of long-term stress
According to Dr. Mitmesser, irritability, an inability to focus, a change in sleep habits, and headaches are among the most common signs of long-term stress.
Sleep is one of the most important factors when it comes to addressing stress
“Sleep and stress are really interconnected,” says Dr. Mitmesser, adding that being stressed can lead to a harmful cycle. “If you’re stressed you’re not able to sleep; if you’re fatigued because of a lack of sleep, it causes more stress.” Dr. Mitmesser recommends getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night, noting that eight is generally the sweet spot for most adults. “When we sleep that’s our recovery and repair period, and you need that amount of time for all the repair and recovery to happen.”
A balanced diet is crucial
“When you’re stressed, the worst thing you can do is go for calorie-dense foods that are comfort foods,” Dr. Mitmesser says. “They typically won’t have all the vitamin and mineral nutrients you need to help your body combat stress.” Instead, she suggests consuming fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc. Foods with fatty acids, like salmon, are also good options, as they’ve been shown to boost mood and overall wellbeing.
Exercise is key
“Exercise has been clinically shown to reduce anxiety and depression,” Dr. Mitmesser says, adding that when you exercise your body releases endorphins, which help you feel good and help give you a sense of wellbeing. Though it’s great to get in rigorous cardio when you can, it’s not necessary every day. A simple, brisk ten-minute walk can also be effective.
Supplements may help
Dr. Mitmesser cites L-Theanine, an amino acid that’s naturally found in green tea and black tea, and GABA, as supplements that can calm the mind. “There’s an herb that I really like, and it’s called ashwagandha,” she says. “It’s clinically shown to reduce stress and relax your body, and it does it via one of those stress hormones, cortisol.”
If you missed BlogHer Health, you can see the full event, including Dr. Mitmesser’s discussion, here.