This week is certainly up there as one of the most stressful I’ve had all year. The deadline to get our book to the printers is this Friday. With recipe testing, editing, referencing, macronutrient information and image design to finish, my ‘to do’ list went way beyond overwhelming at times. Running a business I’ve been here before and luckily I’ve made time to develop coping mechanisms that enable me to nail these projects without letting my health suffer in the process. I thought I would share with you 3 things that really helped me over the last few days when the going got really tough.
We talk a lot about stress across Fitter Food content because it has the ability to make or break optimal health. I’ve recapped some stress busting essentials below because it never hurts to hear these again:
The Stess Busting Basics
- Walk don’t run – nourish your adrenal health with some daily movement that doesn’t elevate cortisol too much.
- Make time for some daily stretches and deep breathing – I’m lucky I’ve found a couple of yoga classes I love with Adam Hustler and Laurella Fox-Pitt where they emphasis slow flow, meditation and long savasanas, when you find the right coach yoga truly feels like a massage for your mind.
- Take regular breaks (ideally with some fresh air) – I try and take 10 minute breaks across the day and my longest is around 3pm-5.30pm when my energy levels are getting low, I try to get outside and have some face-to-face human interaction just to remind myself I can talk as well as type 😉 Use a free app like Workrave to make sure you do this.
- Have an Epsom salts bath – Magnesium is the calming mineral so it’s great to support you in times of stress. You can use epsom salts, magnesium spray or lotion or Nutri’s Megamag Calmeze can be useful as a night time drink.
Setting The Scene
Over the years I’ve taken a lot of time to reflect on how stress impacts upon my health both physically and mentally. Running a business there’s no escaping the rocky times, sometimes I’m almost too scared to open my email inbox or even look at my phone. Stress is part and parcel of life for all of us, but what’s important is that you adapt how you perceive a stressor and how you let it effect you.
I’m pretty in tune with my body and notice how my sleep patterns, breathing, attention span and digestion begin to alter when I’m residing a little too much in “fight or flight” mode. I find it hard to fall asleep and I wake up far too early in the morning. We’re living with Matt’s mum at the moment and she wasn’t too impressed at me boiling the kettle at 4am the other day (in my defence it was for a green tea!). I find it hard to focus on small things and ‘be in the moment,’; I either work or think about work. Normal conversations, small talk and anything that involves relaxing actually becomes hard work for me, this is probably due to the large amounts of dopamine crashing around my brain 🙂
In stress mode we breathe differently with shorter breaths from the chest. When I feel myself getting overwhelmed I breathe much quicker. My digestion always suffers as I physically tense my stomach, maybe subconsciously I’m trying to make up for the lack of exercise and doing some desk crunches! The opposing mode to ‘fight or flight’ is “rest and digest” so it’s pretty much a given you may suffer digestively when adrenaline and cortisol are dominating the nervous system. I use these physiological signs now as a warning that I’m pushing myself too much and need to adapt my nutrition and put some key stress management strategies in place to act as damage limitation until I can get the situation back under control, this experience of stress should never be long term.
Alongside the basics these 3 simple things below really helped me through the most stressful week. Remember these are not necessarily solutions for everyone, they worked for me because the symptoms I experience tell me that stress is messing up my blood sugar levels, digestion and emotional health.
1. I Increased Fat Intake
As my working hours increased considerably I needed to be able to concentrate for long periods of time and stay fuelled to help me focus. I didn’t want to be faffing around with food preparation or have hunger disrupt my workflow. With digestion below par I needed lots of calories but not huge meals.
High fat foods really work in this situation, the bigger calorie hit can keep you sustained and many fat based foods don’t require much preparation (I snacked on tinned oily fish, nuts/nut butter, avocado or full fat dairy). Appetite can be hugely affected by stress as your body starts to demand quick sources of energy, many people get serious sugar cravings. The satiating effect of fats can help buffer this, plus the sleep disruption I experienced would have compromised my insulin sensitivity so higher fat intake during stressful situations suits me better from a hormonal perspective too.
I also topped every meal with fermented veggies and drank Kombucha. Last time we wrote a book I hammered my health and my immune system suffered, I woke up one morning with a coldsore from lip to my eyebrow (this is no lie) I couldn’t leave the house for days! We’re pretty time poor right now and don’t have time to make our own ferments so I grabbed some raw sauerkraut and kimchi from Vadasz Deli at Borough Market and some kombucha online. I’ve also been making a fresh ginger and kale or spinach smoothie most days to get a good dose of antioxidants.
I’m still conscious of my carbohydrate needs so in the afternoon when the essential tasks are out the way and I’m relaxing a little more I have a big salad with some fruit followed by an early dinner which is mainly carbohydrates and protein. We often suggest this as a model of eating for weightloss to our members as it helps to keep energy and appetite levels stable in the day. Also as I’m not moving as much as usual or training a higher fat model of eating is serving my needs right now. As soon as the book is complete and I resume my exercise routine I will increase my carbohydrate consumption and frequency again.
FYI these Collagen Chocolate Bites were a lifesaver too (so good I popped them in our second book!) There are some studies suggesting dark chocolate can support adrenal dysfunction (although the funding of the study is a little suspicious) nevertheless cocoa is packed with antioxidants and minerals, the collagen provides gut health support and the salt helps adrenal function. I thought I’d share the love and give you the recipe below:
Collagen Chocolate Bites
- 200g 85-90% dark chocolate, melted
- 30g goji berries
- 20g cacao nibs
- Pinch of Himalayan Pink salt
- 50g hydrolysed collagen
1 Prepare some chocolate moulds by placing them on a baking tray (so they are easy to transfer into the fridge)
2 Place the melted chocolate in a mixing bowl and add the goji berries, cacao nibs, salt and collagen and combine thoroughly.
3 Place spoonfuls into the chocolate moulds.
4 Place in the fridge to set for one hour.
2. I Practised The Attitude Of Gratitude In Intervals
Once we’ve activated fight and flight mode we’re more prone to anxiety and fear, as your stress load increases these emotions can escalate. Spending a few moments each day practicing the attitude of gratitude not only helps you balance this but I also think it really helped to ground me. Sometimes when we’re stressed things seem more important than they really are, we start to confuse tasks with life and death situations. It is recommended you start or finish your day with a gratitude journal to help with this, listing the things you are grateful for in life. However, I took time out in the day as soon as events took place to be grateful for each of them. Every time a member of the Fitter Food team jumped on email and sorted something, every call or text from my mum, every time Matt went to great lengths to make me laugh or Hamish crawled on my lap for a cuddle, I stopped in my tracks, moved away from my laptop and appreciated them there and then. I felt an immediate sense of calm upon doing this, coupled with the realisation that no major crisis would occur if I didn’t manage to send THAT email today.
3. I listened To This Every Morning
I stumbled across this on YouTube looking for some acoustic songs and instantly loved it. It has that familiar U2 sound I grew up listening to and helped me reconnect with a pre-digital, less stressful time in my life. I played it every morning as I started to work through my toughest tasks for the day. The fact the Edge doesn’t think he can sing is also remarkable, it helped me through a few moments of self doubt, please take five minutes to lose yourself in this:
Music is so incredibly powerful, studies indicate that music around 60 beats per minute can cause the brain to synchronise with the beat and encourages alpha brainwaves, the brainwave present when we’re relaxed. Researchers at Stanford University stated “listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication” and should be used regularly as an easily accessible, stress reduction tool.
Apparently, Native American, Celtic, stringed-instruments, drums and flutes are some of the most effective at relaxing the mind (I think that’s why I love movie scores so much, they often use these). Sounds of rain, thunder and nature sounds are also particularly relaxing in studies.
Unless you’re listening to a spin class soundtrack you’re unlikely to know the beats per minute of a track but you really don’t need to as the research suggests the most important thing is that you like and enjoy the music for it to have the desired calming effect.
Music can also have a fantastic energising effect if you’re flagging. Matt got me U2 tickets for my birthday so I got to see them live last week (a lifelong ambition!) They were awesome and I’ve been listening to various concerts all week on Youtube to relive the amazing experience and a great night out with Matt. If you’re fellow U2 fan indulge yourself in this, 43 minutes in makes me tingle and had me bopping in my seat all week!