Updated: Apr 14, 2021
Life is stressful these days, and it’s important to have a stress-relieving tool kit that helps you to rest, digest, unwind and get the sleep you need to stay healthy, balanced and resilient. What does stress look like? Stress is the body’s reaction to a challenge. Though stress is often perceived as bad, it can actually be good in some respects. The right kind of stress can sharpen the mind and reflexes. It can help your body perform better, or help you escape a dangerous situation. Stress produces a physiological reaction in your body. Hormones are released, which results in the physical sensations of stress. These can include slowed digestion, shaking, tunnel vision, accelerated breathing and heart rate, dilation of pupils and flushed skin. This process is often referred to as the “fight, flight, freeze” response. A system that has evolved to help us survive. Your bodies is ready to either run away from the stressor, stay around and fight against it or keep quiet and small hoping to be overlooked. 3 types of stress Acute stress - this can be getting nervous about an event, or the response to a one-off incident like an accident Episodic Acute - a recurring stress pattern that happens again and again leaving you frequently anxious and worried Chronic stress - long term stress that relentlessly wears away at you. This can be physical or emotional. If you don’t see an end in sight, if you are facing something that has no way out, then you are likely to begin suffering from chronic stress. This type of stress eventually begins to affect your mental and physical health.
The physical effects of stress can include:
fast heart rate
pain in the back or chest
cramps or muscle spasms
pins and needles sensations
Emotional reactions can include:
Stress-associated behaviours include:
food cravings and eating too much or too little
sudden angry outbursts
distractions and avoidance
drug and alcohol use
nail biting, skin picking, hair pulling
If stress becomes chronic, it can lead to several complications, including:
high blood pressure
lower immunity against diseases
loss of libido
YOUR TOOL KIT
One effective way to support your brain and body in staying calm is to increase your levels of an amino acid called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA for short. GABA reduces mental and physical stress, eases anxiousness, creates a calmness of mood and induces sleep. A growing body of research shows that low levels of GABA can be a factor in overthinking, feelings of anxiousness, tension and associated concerns, like difficulty sleeping. A Harvard Medical School study published in the journal Sleep found that people with chronic sleep problems had 30% lower levels of GABA than normal. Benefits of GABA Through its calming effects on your brain it:
Reduces mental and physical stress
Eases feelings of anxiousness
Decreases muscle tension
Creates a calmness of mood
Supports balanced blood pressure
Helps to induce sleep
So if you often feel worried, tense, overwhelmed or have trouble falling asleep due to racing thoughts, GABA could be the key to calming your mind, soothing your nervous system and helping you power down at night to get a good nights sleep.
5 Ways to Increase GABA
1. De-stress with meditation or yoga. Many studies have shown that meditation and meditative movement practices like yoga or tai chi have scientifically confirmed benefits, including increasing GABA and easing stress and anxiousness. Research has also shown that people who meditate have increased levels of GABA and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. If you struggle to meditate think about the activities that help your brain get into a relaxed state - like walking, reading, listening to music, podcasts, audiobooks, cooking, art, cleaning And these can be your meditation.
2. Get moving to boost GABA. In addition to its well-known stress relief benefits, regular exercise helps to increase GABA in the brain. Low impact cardiovascular activities are the best: nothing beats a good long walk. Bringing to a consistent exercise routine into your life can help increase your GABA levels over time. Forest bathing and walking in green spaces, especially evergreen woodland, are fantastic ways to boost your GABA levels and destress. Phytoncides are emitted by plants and are absorbed through our skin and lungs to help reduce cortisol and help us to relax.
3. Eat foods that contain GABA or support its production. GABA is produced in your brain from glutamate, another amino acid that is generally abundant in the human diet. It’s found in particularly high concentrations in these foods:
Aged, cured and preserved foods, including cheeses and meats
Slow-cooked meats and poultry
4. Vagus nerve stimulation The vagus nerve system acts to counterbalance the fight or flight system and can trigger a relaxation response in our body. It is one of the cranial nerves that connects the brain to the body. The vagus nerve is a major part of how our bodies and brains function and by stimulating it you can boost the GABA in your brain. Here are some of the best ways to stimulate your vagus nerve:
Deep belly breathing (Square breathing)
Cold water showers/swimming
High fibre diet
Can you bring more of these into your everyday life?
5. Supplements Theanine, Magnesium, Vitamin B, Probiotics and Glutamine L-Theanine L-theanine is found in tea - especially green tea - and it promotes relaxation and facilitates sleep by contributing to a number of changes in the brain: Boosts levels of GABA and other calming brain chemicals. L-theanine elevates levels of GABA, as well as serotonin and dopamine. Lowers levels of “excitatory” brain chemicals. At the same time it is increasing chemicals that promote feelings of calm, L-theanine also reduces levels of chemicals in the brain that are linked to stress and anxiety. Enhances alpha brain waves. Alpha brain waves are associated with a state of “wakeful relaxation.” That’s the state of mind you experience when meditating, being creative, or letting your mind wander in daydreaming. Alpha waves are also present during REM sleep. L-theanine appears to trigger the release of alpha-waves, which enhances relaxation, focus, and creativity. Making green tea your drink of choice is a great way to boost your GABA levels. Magnesium Magnesium has been shown to modulate GABA activity in the brain. It does this by facilitating GABA neurotransmission and boosting its effects of relaxation. Magnesium also helps to relax the central nervous system and your muscles. It does this by helping to activate the parasympathetic nervous system – that is responsible for helping us to rest and digest and reducing cortisol levels. We can find magnesium in foods such as avocado, nuts and seeds, legumes and some wholegrains. However, some studies have shown that supplementing with magnesium can be very effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety. Vitamin B6 GABA is produced via the activity of an enzyme called glutamic acid and GABA, which requires vitamin B6 as a cofactor. Studies show that the B6 levels of an individual have significant effects on the central production of both GABA and serotonin neurotransmitters that prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety. B6 can be found in all animal products, as well as grains, pulses, eggs and dairy. Probiotics Gut bacteria including the Bifidobacteria family and by the Lactobacillifamily have been shown to produce GABA. This further strengthens the increasing evidence for the gut-brain connection and that having a healthy microbiome in your gut is a crucial pillar in brain health. To balance your mood with foods rich in probiotics and prebiotics try adding these: 1 Chicory, endive, lentils, asparagus, beans, garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, beets, broccoli) 2. All fermented foods 3. Whole fat live yogurt Other life changes can reduce gut damage + also boost your gut health significantly: 1 Eat more fibre (fresh vegetables, whole fruit, whole grains) 1 Reduce junk + processed food 2 Reduce sugar (high quality maple syrup + honey contain prebiotics) 3 Increase Omega 3 intake (nuts, seeds, olives, fish) 4 Drink less alcohol 5 Increase antioxidant foods (berries, turmeric, green tea) And Glutamine Is a vital nutrient for the brain helping you to feel calm and relaxed as it reduces anxiety, depression and improves sleep. Glutamine also helps your intestines to rebuild and repair improving gut health and digestion. You can read more about Glutamine here. It’s pretty amazing how nutrients can help isn’t it? We all tend to eat the same sorts of foods each week which means that over time we start to miss some crucial nutrients. It means that we end up with deficiencies and gaps without even realising it. This has a huge impact on how our bodies and brains work. We adjust and just think that it is our normal. It’s just what we have to put up with. But this isn’t the case. You can make a change. That’s where a high quality supplement can help fix the deficiencies and fill the gaps. Your health and your life feels transformed. You can reduce your stress, have abundant energy and joy comes back into our lives. Calm Me Are you looking to naturally enhance your mood? Are you struggling with anxiety, stress and poor sleep and would like something natural to help?
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