The Effects of Stress
Stress causes a cascade of effects throughout our bodies and minds. We know that mental health and physical health are closely related, and therefore stress can really affect our musculoskeletal system. There is also evidence that stress hormones pass through the placenta to your baby. Holding excessive tension in our muscles over a prolonged period can increase the risk of headaches, joint pain, muscle strains, ligament sprains and indigestion. Long-term stress can have serious health implications such as increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and lowering our immunity.
5 Ways Reduce Stress
1 – Stress time-line
Pregnancy is an exciting time that can also bring natural feelings of anxiety or worry. It is important to take a positive approach and process any subconscious thoughts that might be causing undue stress. Drawing a timeline of your life, and noting any times of physical or emotional pain can be a good way of identifying stress. Talking with family and friends if you feel comfortable doing so, or a therapist, is a good way of processing these feelings and leaving them in the past.
2 – Time away from your thoughts
You have a lot to think about! If it is your first pregnancy you might not know what to expect, and will certainly have lots to think about. Try to take time away from your thoughts and not let them play over and over again. It is important to take regular breaks to think about something else and relax your mind. This might be a coffee with a friend, reading a fictional book, meditation, yoga, and a walk or shopping. Stress can leave us feeling tired, anxious and foggy. A little strategic relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, ‘zen’ – whatever you want to call it -can make us more present, able to concentrate and able to make better decisions.
Meditation is easier than you think. In fact you probably do it on a regular basis without even knowing. Something as simple as staring distantly out of the train window instead of reading your emails will have significant mental health benefits. I will admit that being told to think of absolutely nothing is almost impossible. Being given a subject, or one thing to focus on is much easier. Many relaxation practices focus on breathing because it encourages us to tune in to our bodies, slow our natural breathing rate, and has the bonus effect of relaxing our nervous system. There are other methods that include focusing on how parts of the body feel – for example a body scan starting at the feet and moving up to the head and neck. This takes your awareness away from negative or stressful thoughts and allows the body to calm down. Meditation comes in many different forms. Going to the gym is one form of meditation – not only is exercise great for our physical health, but it can massively improve our mental health too.
3 – Grounding Techniques
When our thoughts are persistent we must remind ourselves that we have the power to choose one thought over another. ‘Grounding’ is a really good way of doing this. It involves looking at, smelling, tasting or feeling something relaxing e.g. lavender essential oil, trees and rolling hills, creamy silk or iced water. Something this simple can actually turn our bodies from a state of stress to our ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nervous functions. Our breathing rate slows, our pulse rate drops, blood returns to organs for important digestion and hormone functions imperative for good health. Carry some essential oils in your handbag for a quick way to relax when you are out and about.
4 – Eat Well
A mediterranean diet rich in fruit, nuts, protein, herbs and spices helps us to balance blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation. False sources of energy such as caffeine, alcohol and sugar should be avoided, particularly when we are stressed. They are also thought to trigger anxiety or panic attacks. Inflammation is usually a good thing – our bodies attempt to protect and repair itself. When inflammation becomes chronic, it is actually having a negative effect and potentially creating pain where there is not longer physical tissue damage. Stress also increases the level of inflammatory markers in our blood. Foods such as fish oils, chia seeds and turmeric are natural anti-inflammatories that nourish our body, and don’t put the additional stress on our organs that some drugs do. Stress inhibits our immune system, making us more susceptible to colds and flu. A lower immunity means me are more likely to get ill, and less able to overcome current illness. Echinacea is a nice herb that can be taken in tincture, tablet or dried form. Swap your caffeinated hot drink for chamomile, echinacea or dandelion tea. Lots of research has been done on the ‘brain-gut axis’ and the close link between inflammation in the gut, and inflammation in the brain. Eliminate inflammation and candida in the gut by eating well for you. Nutrition is very personal so use a food diary or intolerance test to work out what you should avoid. Taking probiotics improves the healthy bacteria in the gut, and has been found to improve brain function and mood. Probiotics can also be found in live yogurt and kefir.
5 – Sleep Well
Sleep is so important for essential growth and repair to take place. Insomnia can enable the negative cycle of stress. Try essential oils such as lavender and valerian on your pillow, feet or temples before you go to bed. You can also get food-grade essential oils and add them to your cooking. Turkey contains tryptophan, which boosts our mood and helps us sleep.
Article written by Ms Holly Siddall M.Ost, a Registered Osteopath practicing from Chelsea Pharmacy Medical Clinic, 61-63 Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, SW3 3DH. Holly combines the three modalities of osteopathy and medical acupuncture and sports massage into pioneering treatments designed to maximise the functionality of the bones, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues, to reduce pain and tension, and promote localised healing. An Osteopath’s role is to support you and your body during and after pregnancy to promote a healthy and enjoyable experience.
Feature Image Credit: Shrewd Mummy