How is your breathing right now? Obviously functional, you’re still alive – but is it rapid, shallow or perhaps you even notice you’re holding it every now and then? Where are your shoulders? Slumped forward or perhaps elevated so high it looks like they’re attached to your ears? Another giveaway sign is muscular tension – perhaps it’s in your brow, your jaw or your hands – clenching, gripping, cramping or clicking away periodically.
In case you haven’t guessed it, these are just some of the common physical presentations of stress, there are many more such as low mood, irritability, changes in appetite and poor sleeping patterns. The list goes on and if left unchecked, can lead to some serious negative effects on your health.
What can I do to manage my stress?
We are all exposed to different types of stress on a daily basis; it is how we react to a given situation that will determine our physical and mental response. Some people seem to have a very high capacity for handling stress, some of us struggle a bit more, so let’s look at what you can do to manage your stress before it creates a health problem.
- Exercise regularly – it decreases stress hormones, increases ‘feel good’ chemicals, reduces fatigue and may improve your future reactions to stressors
- Relax – try a relaxing breathing technique, go along to a yoga class, get a massage, do something for you
- Become an ace at time management so you don’t feel pressured or rushed
- Don’t procrastinate – get the hard jobs done early while your energy levels are higher
- Sleep for 7-8 hours undisturbed to allow the body to rest and repair
- Eliminate stimulants such caffeine, alcohol, sugar and refined carbohydrates, these can contribute to anxiety, insomnia, depletion of essential nutrients and be very taxing on the adrenal glands
- Identify and eliminate food allergies or intolerances
- Supplement with specific nutrients to help combat stress – B group vitamins, particularly B5 & B6 and the minerals zinc and magnesium are some of the most well-known ones. Then there is L-theanine from green tea which is not as well-known but is emerging as being the main player responsible for green tea’s ability to soothe and uplift mood
Now some of these tips are pretty self-explanatory, but when it comes to supplements it can be tricky to weed out the good from the not so good. Magnesium is a classic example of this – there are many different compounds magnesium can be bound to – some of these offer their own health benefits and some can in fact be detrimental to your health. Because magnesium is such an important nutrient for so many things, including reducing the physical symptoms of stress, it’s a good idea to learn a bit more prior to purchasing and taking it. Before we get to list of things to look for in a supplement though let’s review the role of magnesium in the human body.
Magnesium – the relaxation mineral
Involved in more than 300 biological processes in the body and found in all tissues (mainly in bone, muscle and brain) magnesium is a mineral that is essential for our health.
The list of health benefits magnesium provides is long. It is required for healthy transmission of nerve impulses, cellular energy production, electrical conduction in the heart, stable blood sugar levels, production of mood related neurotransmitters, normal physical and emotional relaxation, and healthful sleep.
Magnesium is often thought of as the relaxation mineral; anything that is tight, irritable, crampy or stiff – be it a body part or your mood – is often a sign of insufficient magnesium. Unfortunately our modern day living of high stress, poor diet, excessive caffeine, soft drink and alcohol intake, easy access to medications have all contributed to the decline in our levels of magnesium.
When it comes to choosing the right magnesium supplement for you there are a few key factors to understand:
- Total elemental magnesium
When you look at a product label you will usually see a large figure for the compound the magnesium is bound to (i.e. magnesium amino acid chelate, magnesium orotate, magnesium citrate and so on). This is not the total elemental magnesium. Each compound yields a varying amount of elemental magnesium and this should be listed separately – this is the figure you want to look for when comparing different products. A common amount of elemental magnesium in supplements is between 150-300mg per capsule.
- The bioavailability of the form of magnesium
Not all forms of magnesium can be easily utilized by the body. The higher the solubility the greater the bioavailability and the easier it is for your body to use. So while forms such as magnesium oxide and magnesium hydroxide (marine magnesium) contain a high amount of elemental magnesium, they have very poor bioavailability so you’re not really getting as much magnesium as it appears.
- Potentially harmful forms
While you would generally consider magnesium to be a safe nutrient, there are some forms that when taken as a concentrated supplement can be damaging to your health. Marine magnesium which is magnesium hydroxide, also known as milk of magnesia, can cause a laxative effect. When taken long term this can lead to a loss of electrolytes and cause symptoms such as cramping….which is possibly one of the reasons you started taking it in the first place!
- Cofactors that improve the bioavailability and health benefits of magnesium
As with all nutrients there are factors that help to improve absorption, and factors that hinder it. Vitamin B6, vitamin D, selenium, calcium and potassium are involved in magnesium absorption and metabolism; the reality is that calcium and potassium can be found in abundance in our diet and typically do not require supplementation.
Other nutrients to help you relax
Getting good levels of B-group vitamins on a daily basis is also important. B-group vitamins are well known to support our nervous system and are particularly useful during times of tension. While each of the B vitamins has a specific benefit they have been found to work best when taken together, collectively they are known as the ‘anti-stress’ vitamins. Although these are quite easy to come by in a good diet, during times of stress the body has a much higher requirement, which is why they are often included in stress related supplements.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that is found in all tissues and fluids in the human body; deficiency of zinc has been associated with a range of mood disorders. While zinc is found in many varieties of food (meat, eggs, seafood, nuts, whole grains, pumpkin seeds and mushrooms), the soil levels in New Zealand are not very high, meaning that we simply do not get very much of it from our diet and many of us would benefit from a top up in supplement form.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that helps with relaxation and quality sleep. It does this by supporting healthy levels of neurotransmitters, namely dopamine and serotonin and supporting alpha-brain wave activity, which is the dominant brain wave shown when our mind and body are awake but relaxed. It is believed this is why green tea still has an overall calming effect despite having low-moderate levels of caffeine which of course usually stimulate the nervous system.
In conclusion, the best way to manage your stress is to eat well, avoid known stressors, exercise regularly, get sufficient sleep, and when that still isn’t enough, look for a top quality supplement with magnesium and other supportive nutrients and you’ll be feeling much more relaxed in no time.
Want more tips on getting a better night’s sleep? Read our article “Expert advice: 5 Tips to Get a Better Night’s Sleep Tonight” here http://www.beaconhealthadvice.com/expert-advice-5-tips-to-get-a-better-nights-sleep-tonight/