NOURISHING SELF CARE FOR THERAPISTS AND TEACHERS
by Christina Pandolfo, MS, OTR/L (School-Based Occupational Therapist, Ascend Rehab Services, Inc.)
Part 2: The Effects of Chronic Stress and How to Help Repair the Damage
Many of us say it often, myself included: “I’m so stressed”. We are overwhelmed by our to-do lists, balancing work and home, and ever-growing expectations of our time. So, what exactly is stress? Simply put, stress is the body’s way of responding to demands that could be from a variety of positive and negative sources that could be physical, emotional, environmental, or mental in origin.
As humans, we are designed to be very well-adapted to handle acute stressors – in fact, our bodies are made to respond to stress to help ensure our survival. Back in ancient times however the stressors were ‘fewer and more acute’ unlike the chronic stress experienced by many of us today in modern society.
During the body’s stress response, the amygdala (the almond-shaped structure in the brain) senses danger and activates ‘an internal alarm’, which prompts the body to release adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol. This is a process that is known as ‘fight or flight’ and is designed to protect us from ‘specific and brief’ danger, like a tiger or a lion chasing your ancient ancestor. This extra adrenaline and cortisol that is released in the body during ‘fight or flight’ gives us the ‘quick boost’ we need to either stay and fight or run away.
Stress becomes a major issue when it is ‘prolonged, overwhelming, or traumatic’. During chronic stress, the state of ‘fight or flight’ is prolonged, and our bodies are unable to achieve a state of balance or ‘homeostasis’ which leaves us hormonally and chemically off balanced (Ortner, 2013). Under chronic stress our bodies are more inclined to become ill. Chronic stress has been linked to many diseases including: heart disease, digestive issues, sleep problems, depression, decreased memory, lower immunity, and body pain (Ortner, 2013).
Now that we have reviewed stress and its effects on the body, let’s talk about repairing the effects of stress, starting with our nutrition.
Three Key Nutrients to Help Support Chronic Stress
In addition to eating a well-rounded whole foods diet, there are specific nutrients that we need to eat regularly to help ensure that our bodies have as much support as they need to have, especially when we are under (chronic) stress.
Vitamin B5, Vitamin C, and Magnesium are three key nutrients that help to support adrenal hormone production, electrolyte balance (along with potassium) and enzyme reactions. It also helps to replace these key nutrients when lost under chronic stress. Potassium is another key nutrient that helps support adrenal hormone production.
Vitamin B5 food sources can be found in: Broccoli, Egg Yolks, Legumes, Mushrooms, Nutritional Yeast, Oats, All Meats, Organ Meats, Peanuts, Poultry, Seafood, Soybeans, Split Peas, Sweet Potatoes, and Whole Grains.
Vitamin C Food Sources (Including Bioflavonoids) can be found in: Apples, Bell Peppers, Cantaloupe, Citrus, Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, kale), Kiwi, Papaya, Parsley, Spinach, and Strawberries.
Magnesium Food Sources can be found in: Almonds, Blackstrap Molasses, Broccoli, Flaxseeds, Halibut, Kelp, Pumpkin Seeds (Raw), Spinach, Summer Squash, and Swiss Chard. Dark green vegetables help to calm the body and provide minerals (including magnesium) which helps to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system to help calm us down and reduce the effect of stress on our bodies.
Potassium Food Sources can be found in: Asparagus, Barley, Basil, Beets, Cabbage, Carrot, Celery, Cherry, Cilantro, Cucumber, Garlic, Ginger, Escarole, Kale, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Okra, Papaya, Radish, Spinach, Swiss Chard, and Tomatoes.
In addition to increasing the above nutrients, try to decrease eating refined carbohydrates since that stresses out our bodies by creating blood sugar swings! If you have any known food sensitivities, try to omit them from your diet since that may stress out our bodies as well.
Questions about this blog series? Contact Christina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Self Care!!