Working 11 hours a day means that I don’t have much time to myself, and if I’m not careful, my stress levels can quite easily skyrocket, particularly as I am naturally an anxious and stressed kind of person anyway. The past few years, as I have been learning more and more about nutrition, I was progressively more convinced about the healing power of food, to the extent that I couldn’t comprehend how anything else could affect my health all that much. But, I´ve come to realise that this isn’t actually quite true. I’ve started to think that perhaps I actually got it all the wrong way round. Below I explain the 5 reasons why I have come to realise that your mind-set is actually more important to your overall well-being than the food you put into your mouth.
- Stress can cause heart attacks. There is increasing evidence that high stress levels are more of a contributor to heart disease than having too much cholesterol circulating in the body. Dr. Paul J. Rosch at The American Institute of Stress believes this to be so. He explains this through the fact that the brain sends signals to every cell in the body. This has been demonstrated by EEG waves; a method which records the electrical activity of the brain. In fact, research shows that any changes in your emotions are reflected in the EEG waves of someone. Considering that the electromagnet field round the heart is 5,000 times greater than the brain, it is easy to see how if someone in stressed, this will be communicated negatively to their heart. This is also why there have been cases of heart attacks in young healthy people, whilst older people, eating an unhealthy, artery-clogging diet, do not get heart attacks (if they are very calm and do not suffer from stress). It was actually this fact which was the 'light-bulb moment' for me. I came across it when I was watching a documentary called Statin Nation, and it made me realise how much my stress levels must be affecting my health.
- High stress levels can damage your relationships. I´m the kind of person that when my stress has been progressively building up for a couple of weeks/months, I will just completely break down eventually. This will either be in the form of lashing out at those closest to me (and usually yelling and slamming every door in the house) OR having a melt-down in which I just cry and get really depressed about everything. In fact, research has found that even mild levels of stress can make us fly off the handle: A recent study by neuroscientists at New York University found that stress can impair our ability to keep a grip on our emotions. In their study, researchers taught subjects stress-control techniques. But after participants were put under mild stress by having their hands dunked in icy water, they couldn’t easily calm themselves down when shown pictures of snakes or spiders. I had one of these melt downs when my boyfriend came to visit me in Madrid a few weeks ago, and it really made me realise that if I want to avoid having breakdowns every time he comes to visit me because I’m so stressed, then I really need to take control of my stress levels better.
- Stress causes acne. One of the main reasons that I really want to get my stress levels under control is because there is increasing evidence that stress causes acne. In 2003, a Stanford University study published in the Archives of Dermatology found that college students had acne flare-ups during exams, a period in which they reported more stress, compared to periods without testing. Acne severity correlated highly with increasing stress, the researchers concluded. I've come to realise that much of my skin issues could be due to my stress levels. I don't know why it took my so long realise this, but whenever I have been through a period of intense stress, my skin has simultaneously flared up. I often find that after a relaxing weekend, my skin is much clearer. Then, during the week when I'm working and super busy, my skin starts to break out again! My skin is also so much better after a relaxing holiday. I don't think it's ever been clearer than when I got back from the yoga retreat earlier this year, and again when I came back from a month in the Bahamas. I'm sure that is not a coincidence. I'm not saying that stress is the only contributor to acne as there are many others such as nutrition, hormones, environment (pollution), hygiene, and the products you are using on your skin... But stress is definitely a huge contributor to it all. Some researchers are suggesting that if you are already acne prone, stress will make you break out more, because you only need one factor to be out of balance in your body for it to show on your skin. But, if you are not prone to breakouts, then you have to have at least 3 factors out of balance to experience a breakout. These factors could be nutrition, hormones, environment, etc.
In order to try and improve my mind-set, I have begun practicing 10 minutes of meditation daily (using the HeadSpace App – because I just feel like it’s super easy and convenient to use). I’ve also begun to finally practice yoga on a consistent basis. Previously, I have done yoga on and off, usually averaging once a week (and generally less than that if we’re really honest) but now, I have started doing it every other day. I have discovered an amazing yoga instructor here in Madrid (with an International class) and have started going regularly. Although I am still struggling with my stress levels, things are definitely improving, as overall, I feel so much less stressed than I did a few weeks ago. The most annoying stress symptom I get is a feeling of tenseness on my forehead, just above my eyebrows, which never completely goes away during the week. Another way I have tried to improve things is by speaking to my boss about it and asking to change around my hours, so that I am now getting to the office at 730am and leaving at 530pm. This just works better for me because I am able to go to yoga or exercise in the evening, have time to relax and cook dinner, and can get an early night. Before I wasn’t leaving work until about 8pm, and I just felt like I was rushing around constantly with no time to myself. Never be afraid to speak up about these kind of things if you value your health. I could have easily stayed silent and kept on doing what I was doing before, even though it was proving quite damaging to my health and stress levels.
Any additional suggestions for methods of getting into a better Headspace (particularly if you are a stress head like me) would be much appreciated, so please leave them in the comments below!